The COVID-19 pandemic reinforced how vital social connection is for healthy and thriving individuals and communities. Lacking social connection has been linked to a multitude of physical and mental health outcomes, including greater risk for mortality and morbidity. In fact, it carries a risk that is comparable to, and in many instances, greater than other widely documented risk factors such as smoking and obesity. Given the magnitude of risk, there is growing awareness and urgency to consider and address social connection as a social determinant of health at all levels.
Multiple components of the built environment can influence social connection throughout one’s life. The built environment can impact social connection at the individual-level (e.g., personal connections, interpersonal interactions) and at the ecological or neighborhood-level (e.g., neighborhood and community ties, societal implications). Thus, it is crucial to consider the role of the built environment in shaping social connection through micro- to macro-level processes, as well as how it can be used as a vessel for change. This will require intentional planning of the public realm we navigate, as well as interdisciplinary, coordinated action that bridges research, policy and practice to promote socially connected communities where all individuals can thrive.