The Atlantic - May 2019
Americans who live in communities with a rich array of neighborhood amenities are twice as likely to talk daily with their neighbors as those whose neighborhoods have few amenities. More important, given widespread interest in the topic of loneliness in America, people living in amenity-rich communities are much less likely to feel isolated from others, regardless of whether they live in large cities, suburbs, or small towns. Fifty-five percent of Americans living in low-amenity suburbs report a high degree of social isolation, while fewer than one-third of suburbanites in amenity-dense neighborhoods report feeling so isolated.
These new findings are based on a nationally representative survey that measured how closely Americans live to six different types of public and commercial spaces: grocery stores; restaurants, bars, or coffee shops; gyms or fitness centers; movie theaters, bowling alleys, or other entertainment venues; parks or recreation centers; and community centers or libraries. By combining these spaces into a single scale, we were able to identify three distinct community types: high-, moderate-, and low-amenity neighborhoods. Americans in high-amenity communities live on average within walking distance of four of the six types of neighborhood amenities. Americans in moderate-amenity communities are on average no more than a short car trip (five to 15 minutes) away, while low-amenity residents live on average a 15-to-30-minute drive from all six types of amenities.
We found that 23 percent of Americans live in high-amenity communities, close to half (44 percent) live in moderate-amenity communities, and one-third (33 percent) live in low-amenity communities. But more notable is the effect that living near these amenities has on how we relate to our communities and to one another.
While high-amenity residents exhibit a range of more positive social behaviors and attitudes, it’s also true that these communities are geographically and demographically distinct from moderate- and low-amenity communities. High-amenity neighborhoods tend to be more urban and include a greater proportion of white non-Hispanic residents and residents with more formal years of schooling. To fully capture the independent influence of neighborhood amenities, we constructed three statistical models that controlled for these important geographic and demographic differences. The results show that even after taking account of educational background, race and ethnicity, ideology, income, age, and urbanity, people who live closer to neighborhood amenities are more trusting, are less socially isolated, and express greater satisfaction with their community. ...
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