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The future of family home

Those of us living in vibrant globally connected cities are experiencing a housing affordability crisis. We accept the stacking of small residential units ever higher into the sky as the solution for abating the rising cost of housing. While we focus our attention on affordability, we overlook an equally important aspect of housing: its social sustainability. “You measure what you care about”, is an appropriate adage in this context. We have no shortage of real estate data related to the cost of residential properties, but what is missing is data on the correlation between mental health and the design of our buildings and cities. We are social animals and how we live is important to our health.

By David Peterson

Our architecture needs to be shaped by social considerations if we are to contend with social isolation. This is particularly necessary for the most vulnerable in our society. Children, seniors, and those with special needs are like the canary in the coal mine: they are the early warning indicators of our collective health. When we examine the sociological data, it is apparent that we also have a mental health crisis. Social isolation has a pernicious effect on us. The slow erosion of our mental health is easy to ignore, until we examine the long-term trends and see the steady rise in anxiety and depression.

Most troubling is the research which highlights the rise in the poor mental health of our children [1]. The good news is that we already have architectural solutions that can create a greater measure of social connectedness and solve questions of affordability. What is shared in this article can be best understood, not as architectural projects, but as a demonstration of positive socio-economic typologies.

Bubble wrapped and screen addicted is the unfortunate description which is being applied to an increasing number of children. We could also add depressed and anxious. on the next page are reproduced from information taken from researcher Jean Twenge’s recent book, iGen, Why today’s super-connected kids are growing up less rebellious, more tolerant, less happy and completely unprepared for adulthood. Shockingly, the data illustrates that there are over 100,000 deaths linked to childhood suicide. Fortunately, we can reverse this troubling trend. The answer resides most fundamentally in a return to children playing face-to-face.

This seems too simple an answer to be true, until we examine all that happens when children play, especially in children 0-7 years old. “Outdoor environments fulfill children’s basic needs for freedom, adventure, experimentation, risk-taking, and just being children. [2] “To learn about their own physical and emotional capabilities, children must push their own limits. How high can I swing? Do I dare go down the slide? How high can I climb? Can I go down the slide headfirst? To learn about the physical world, the child must experiment with the physical world. Can I slide on the sand? Can I roll on grass? What happens when I throw a piece of wood into the pond?

David Peterson is Principal of David Peterson Architect  in Toronto.