A new study by Deakin University reveals the pressures faced by families living in high-rise apartments to have a healthy social life.

Covering parents living in newer developments within the City of Yarra in Melbourne, the study carried out by Deakin’s School of Health and Social Development found that families with young children had a tough time meeting up and mixing with other young families. This was attributed to a lack of both indoor and outdoor space along with noise and privacy concerns that limited social interactions between young families.

While families wanted more opportunities for social interaction, they were inhibited by design barriers inherent in high-rise apartment buildings of three levels or more, says lead researcher Dr Elyse Warner.

According to Warner, small-sized apartments without ready access to outdoor spaces for children to play combined with concerns over disturbing neighbours meant families often didn’t organise playdates or host social gatherings. Though the importance of social connections to one’s health and wellbeing is understood, these buildings are designed for single people and couples without children, and don’t accommodate the needs of families.

High-density living in the City of Yarra, which includes the inner-Melbourne suburbs of Richmond, Collingwood, Fitzroy and parts of Carlton North, Alphington and Fairfield, has gone up from six percent  of all dwellings in 2006 to 37 percent in 2016. However, more and more families with children are moving into these residences.

Developers should, therefore, improve the allocation of social spaces within these developments as well as regulate noise better. Councils should also provide spaces to build community connections – the City of Yarra could provide family-friendly outdoor spaces such as covered barbecue areas and play spaces in parks and recreation reserves, creating all-weather places for families to meet and socialise outdoors.

The study “Surface acquaintances: Parents’ experiences of social connectedness and social capital in Australian high-rise developments” by Dr Warner and her Deakin colleague, Dr Fiona Andrews, has been published on Science Direct.