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Why Building Strong Communities is More Important Than Ever

Article Summary:   Everyone wants to feel a connection.  We need an emotional connection to people, places, and things we love. But technology and the social distancing required to avoid Covid-19, have made us feel more isolated and lonely than ever.  Who knew the answer to feeling connected was right in our own backyards, around the corner, and down the block?  The answer is a strong and vibrant neighborhood. Our communities can make us feel connected again and help us heal.  In this article, learn the impact social connection, economic opportunity, and crime rates have on building stronger connections and better communities. Approximate Read Time: 3.5 minutes

Building strong communities has always been important.  Strong communities improve the health and welfare of all residents living in them. Additionally, strong communities help to reduce loneliness, create economic opportunities, and reduce crime rates.  Neighborhoods are built around connection and a shared sense of belonging to something big and important.  But social connections have been getting weaker, even before the Covid-19 pandemic.  And Covid’s lockdowns and mandated social distancing have resulted in even greater isolation than before.  That can lead to anti-social behavior and crime, threaten our communities and the very fabric of our nation.  Now is the time to refocus our neighborhoods and understand why building strong communities is more important than ever.

Social Connection is the Cornerstone of Strong Communities  

There is a wonderful, circular link between strong social connections and strong communities.  Social connection is the greatest predictor of long-term health and happiness.  Support within social groups who live in the same neighborhood helps improve the quality of life and keeps communities safer.  So socializing with your neighbors is a win-win for everyone.

Social connection increases both physical and mental health.  A study released by Stanford University cites individuals with strong social connections are 50% more likely to live longer than those who are isolated.  Furthermore, having lots of social ties can lower inflammation and strengthen the immune system. Support from neighbors can shorten the recovery time from injury and disease while encouraging better self-care.  Better self-care keeps everyone healthier.  Those who are isolated and lonely are more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and anti-social behavior.  Vibrant neighborhoods build social connections, and strong social connections build vibrant neighborhoods. 

The Growing Problem of Loneliness

Loneliness is a big problem in our communities and around the world.  And it has been a growing problem for a long time.  In a report released by Cigna, there has been a 13% rise in loneliness since 2018.  And it affects people from every walk of life.

  1. 63% of men and 58% of women reported feeling lonely or isolated on a regular basis.
  2. People aged 18 to 22 years were the most lonely age group in the survey.
  3. 73% of very heavy social media users reported feeling lonely.  Even 52% of light social media users feel that way.

It’s gotten worse since the Covid lockdowns.  Time Magazine reports that since lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, as much as 47% of American adults report feeling lonelier than usual.  Now that the lockdowns and mandated distancing are over, our communities can help us heal and feel more connected again. 

Strong Communities Create Opportunities

Local businesses are among the building blocks of strong communities.  They help to define the character of the neighborhood.  They offer products and services that cater to the specific needs of those who live nearby. Local businesses help to increase the variety of products available and often offer local artisans an outlet to sell their work. This keeps more money in the community instead of giving it to a big box store based far away.  As the local economy gets stronger, the quality of life rises for everyone.

Sunny and Jordan Alexander support local businesses, like Spaddy’s Coffee shop in Ballast Point.

Local businesses also offer jobs to local residents, including first jobs for young adults, a career in the service industry, or a part-time gig for someone recently retired.  Jobs give everyone a greater sense of self-worth and confidence. It is important to support local businesses whenever possible.  They are the economic driver of our neighborhoods.  They build social connections and are a critical part of strong communities. 

Stay Safe in a Strong Neighborhood

People living in strong communities help keep it safe.  Neighborhood watch committees guard against criminal activity keeping everyone safe.  They help parents keep children out of harm’s way and appreciate the work of local police departments.  According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, evidence suggests that community policing can improve communities’ relationships with law enforcement.  Community policing can also contribute to strategies such as hot-spot policing that seem to reduce violent crime. 

Collective efficacy is a term used for people living in a neighborhood who feel connected and have a shared responsibility to their community.  The strongest communities have strong collective efficacy. It’s also an accurate predictor of crime.  The HUD study found that building collective efficacy is far more important to controlling crime than fixing signs of physical decay. It recommends strategies to organize community residents and encourage collective work on social control. A partnership with local law enforcement may be useful when implementing this strategy, but the residents of a community must drive this effort.

Crime has more than an economic consequence.  What Works for America says crime can lead to social isolation, encourage unhealthy behaviors by changing perceived risks, and heighten stress levels. Such elevated stress may make it difficult for children to focus in school and to learn.  In the long run, it may compromise their immune systems and increase their vulnerability to disease. 

The Sunny Side of the Street

Building strong communities is everyone’s job, and it’s more important than ever.  You can do your part in big ways and with simple gestures, like watching out for an elderly neighbor.  Regardless of what you do, you will feel good about yourself and strengthen your social connections.  That will result in a stronger sense of community and keep the circle of social connection and strong communities going.

 I’m Sunny Alexander, and I live with my family in South Tampa, Florida.  I believe in strong communities. I’m a US Army veteran dedicated to social connections, supporting local businesses, and improving the quality of life for everyone living in my community.  To learn more about how you can get involved, visit my website. There you hear from local leaders on the issues facing South Tampa and tell me how you feel.  Plus, discover great local businesses to support. Join me on the Sunny Side of the Street.