Background: In response to increasing social isolation in cities, social connectedness has become a key objective of urban health and sustainability agendas—prompting investments in local planning solutions to facilitate social interactions and inclusion. However, social connectedness is not consistently operationalized, limiting our understanding of its relationship with built environments and health.
Objectives: To situate social connectedness in healthy cities research, including clarifying its meaning and measurement, and the potential mechanisms between built environments, social connectedness, and health.
Methods: Drawing from contemporary literature, we define social connectedness and outline a framework of constructs and measures relevant to a built environment context. We then present a conceptual model with pathways linking built environments, social connectedness, and health.
Results: Social connectedness is defined as an organizing construct encompassing structural, functional, and quality indicators of social relationships. To situate social connectedness in healthy cities research, we present an adapted conceptual model that acknowledges: (1) social connectedness as a distinct element of social cohesion and precursor to social capital; (2) social and physical environments as mediators between fundamental causes and individual health; (3) built environments may influence social connectedness through physical and cognitive mechanisms; (4) assessment of social connectedness at multiple spatial scales; (5) interactions between individual and contextual influences, with potential to impact health positively or negatively; (6) neighbourhood factors (e.g., violence) as mediators between built environments and social connectedness.
Conclusion: Comprehensive measurement and clear conceptualization of social connectedness is crucial to advancing evidence on its relationship with built environments and health.
Sones M, Firth CL, Fuller D, Holden M, Kestens Y, Winters M. Situating social connectedness in healthy cities: A conceptual primer for urban health research and policy. Poster presentation submitted to: American Public Health Association Annual Meeting and Expo; October 2020; virtual meeting.