Two articles published online last week stood in stark contrast to each other. The press release from the Mercer survey reported that Vancouver, British Columbia is once again in the top five most liveable cities in the world.1 Vancouver has ranked as high as number one in previous surveys and is always in the top ten cities of the world. The other article was published in the Globe and Mail and reported the findings of a "Table Discussion" carried out by the Vancouver Foundation.2 They set out to determine the key issues for members of the Vancouver community. One would predict that such concerns as homelessness and affordable housing would be on the list; and indeed they were. But what is surprising is that the survey showed that "the top issue on the minds of the majority of those being interviewed was not one that had been in the headlines: the growing sense of isolation in Metro Vancouver."3
While living in a great city with a large number of people with whom to interact, many people still feel isolated and alone. This is a sad commentary on my city and it is also part of a growing problem in many other cities in Canada and the US. The American author, Robert D. Putnam, in his book, Bowling Alone, suggests that since 1950 there has been a continual decline in the number of in-person social contacts between people in the United States. Furthermore, "Matthew Brashears, a Cornell University sociologist who surveyed more than 2,000 adults from a national database found that from 1985 to 2010, the number of truly close friends people cited has dropped -- even though we're socializing as much as ever."4 The conclusions made by these various authors suggest that we are living in a culture in which people are withdrawing into more technological forms of contact and are investing less in in-person forms of social interaction. The result is a sense of isolation and loneliness.
Much more could be said of this and we could point to other trends in our culture such as how the entertainment we consume is becoming more and more individual (listening to music through our ear-buds; watching movies on our tablets or phones). In future postings we will explore this subject more deeply. For now I leave us all with one suggestion and even a challenge. Take the first step! We know that people around us are lonely and isolated and perhaps we feel a measure of this ourselves. What might happen if we invited that neighbour over for dinner? What if we truly got to know the person living beside us? It might be a risk worth taking.
1 (Mercer: Mags Andersen 2011)
2 The Globe and Mail article suggests that this was a survey but the report itself available at http://www.vancouverfoundationvitalsigns.ca/wp-content/uploads/community-conversations/Vancouver_CC_FINAL.pdf refers to this process as a "Table Discussion."
3 (Mason 2011)
4 (Potter 2011)
Mason, Gary. "Alone, so alone, in Vancouver." The Globe and Mail. November 24, 2011. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/opinion/alone-so-alone-in-vancouver/article2246891/ (accessed November 26, 2011).
Mercer: Mags Andersen. "2011 Quality of Living worldwide city rankings – Mercer survey." Mercer. November 29, 2011. http://www.mercer.com/qualityoflivingpr (accessed December 02, 2011).
Potter, Ned. ""More Facebook Friends, Fewer Real Ones, Says Cornell Study"." ABC News. November 8, 2011. http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/facebook-friends-fewer-close-friends-cornell-sociologist/story?id=14896994 (accessed December 2, 2011).
The Vancouver Foundation. "Community Conversations." Vancouver Foundation. 2011. http://www.vancouverfoundationvitalsigns.ca/community-conversations/ (accessed December 3, 2011).