Social Balconies: A Cure for Urban Loneliness?
Job opportunities, entertainment, location and infrastructure are all features of urban life that draw individuals to the cultural melting pot of the metropolis. Conversely, these attractions also contribute to an individual’s growing sense of loneliness as people move, often by themselves, in pursuit of these things.
High-rise condos and apartment developments continue to favour a limited number of people, supporting the rising trends in the number of people living in single-person households. In fact, this is becoming the most common Canadian household configuration according to Statistics Canada. Currently, more than one quarter of all households in Canada are composed of just one person. Sounds lonely, right?
That’s because it is. Loneliness is now considered a public health problem that detrimentally affects our overall well-being. Technologically speaking, we have never been more connected, but out in the real world, our meaningful social connections have crumbled. High-rise residents are swallowed by privacy and isolation, shrouding neighbours under a veil of mystery. Instead of chatting with their next door neighbour over the fence, high-rise residents are limited to awkward 30-second elevator rides and thin smiles if you happen to pass them in the hallway. Because of the structure of high-rise environments and the individualistic/secluded features they tend to enhance, face-to-face time is more limited, as are opportunities for connection and creating a sense of community.
Staircase to Community
While high-rises and apartments save precious city space, they are not built to save our social relationships. From a building perspective, enabling communities usually comes in the form of communal rooms, many of which are used infrequently due to their intimidating nature. However, a more convenient and innovative idea may be the answer— social balconies.
This is a modular system that connects pre-existing residential balconies to one another using staircases. The intention is to connect residents from various levels with one another, in hopes of strengthening community ties within the building. Instead of using balconies for storage or drying laundry, social balconies re-imagine this infrastructure as a cure for social isolation, helping achieve social fulfillment in the most convenient manner possible—right outside your door. By establishing new spaces for conversation, the system has a subtle way of implementing social cohesion between residents of varying professions, income, race and culture.
The concept was designed to accommodate almost any building type with high levels of customization to fit the context of the neighborhood. Planter boxes are also incorporated in the design with the intention of sparking interaction and creating more inviting semi-public spaces. In contrast to the internal building hallways, the social balconies transform the exterior to a vibrant social space where residents can get to know each other and regularly engage in meaningful interaction.
Is Convenience the Key?
In climates where people spend long winters indoors anticipating sunshine, social balconies facilitate an opportunity for people to connect without venturing too far out into the cold. Once the weather is warm, the balconies will facilitate community bonding where people can come together and trade cool beverages and warm laughs. Residents can relax, share meals and grow plants together, and because this space is an extension of home, it supports socialization with less pressure attached.
But will the idea work? That’s the million dollar question.
Balconies are often a huge selling point for building owners and connecting them by staircase strips potential residents of private outdoor space. It could also very well be that people with connected balconies don’t have an interest in socializing and maybe one of the neighbours prefers to spend time alone. However, friendships can be made solely on the basis on convenience. This happens in work environments every day. By making connection easily accessible, social balconies provide the infrastructure needed for fruitful relationship building. While not a sure solution, the concept does have merit. Although it might not be a solution for everyone, this balcony hack offers a new and intimate form of social infrastructure in our ever lonely world.
Erinn joined the IBI Group team in 2018. Dedicated to learning and constantly improving her knowledge base, she enjoys researching and crafting content about the fascinating fields of architecture, landscape architecture, Smart Cities and their impact on society. Her recent work includes writing historic interpretive panels for a mixed-use redevelopment situated on a well-known aviation site.
Lead image by Edwin Van Capelleveen