Measures to strengthen social connections of people living in apartments is part of a new plan to improve social sustainability in the City of Sydney, which could include block parties and “community concierges”, and requiring more communal spaces in new developments.
The city has 75 per cent of its population living in high-density apartments – expected to grow to 90 per cent – with 40 per cent living alone. A survey of residents found that less than half were satisfied with feeling part of the community, with 51 per cent of residents reporting they were neutral, unsatisfied or very unsatisfied. Only just over half thought they could get help from neighbours if needed.
With increasing levels of density, the city says improving social cohesion is crucial to mitigating the challenges of high-density living, including issues relating to noise, parking and pets.
As part of its draft 10-year sustainability action plan – A City For All– going on exhibition, the city is putting forward a “vertical communities” program designed to strengthen the social connections of people living in apartments.
“We plan to work with owners’ corporations, strata committees, developers, universities and apartment residents to strengthen social connectedness using targeted vertical community-building strategies,” the plan says.
“The city will develop pilot programs based on best-practice approaches in other Australian and overseas cities, and test the results with a view to rolling out successful models. We will experiment with ‘community concierges’ and ‘vertical block parties’, and will enable the delivery and activation of indoor and outdoor communal spaces in new developments.”
The report said high-rise residents perceived their building to be “a community”, and that providing more communal spaces could foster social connections by providing more opportunities for casual social interaction, helping to improve wellbeing and reduce social isolation.
“The city will explore avenues to encourage residential developers to provide shared spaces, including through its planning guidelines.”
It will also produce “liveability toolkits” for developers, architects and planners to “promote best-practice planning frameworks for universal design, healthy, safe built environments, and age-friendly and child-friendly cities”.
Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said there were many issues raised in consultation with the community, including “housing affordability and homelessness, rising inequality, a sense of safety and belonging in our neighbourhoods, access to green space for us and our pets, access to good public transport, and a sustainable natural environment that supports our health and wellbeing”.
“With a fast-growing population and large scale urban transformation underway, we know the decisions we make today and over the coming decade will affect our children and our children’s children,” Ms Moore said.
“We are committed to making Sydney a city for all, where progress is measured by community resilience and social justice, not just productivity.”
Ms Moore said at the heart of the plan was the First Nations community, “with a pilot program employing Aboriginal guides that will help forge a greater connection between our city’s parks and open spaces and our vital Gadigal history”.
The plan has received the tick of approval from Australia Institute chief economist Richard Denniss.
“Ensuring that jobs, income and housing are distributed fairly across a city is not just good for social cohesion, it’s good for the growth of the city as a whole,” Mr Denniss said.
“While there are no simple solutions for ensuring housing is affordable and the distribution of opportunities equitable, the simple fact is that cities that turn their backs on such problems will not just cause harm to the most vulnerable members of the community, but to the strength, resilience and prosperity of the city as a whole.”
Other actions in the plan include:
- A Sydney food business incubator– a three-year pilot project involving the City of Sydney, University of Sydney, federal and state governments and social enterprises. A food business incubator would support disadvantaged people to start their own food business, supported by vocational education and training. This model for addressing food insecurity and inequality has been established in many US cities and globally.
- Supporting socially responsible small businessesto deliver positive social impacts in the local area, strengthen their corporate responsibility and economic inclusion outcomes and improve their socially responsible procurement and work practices.
- Supporting digital inclusion– the city will use digital technology to improve service delivery and stakeholder engagement.