Housing and Friendship

In Vox this week, David Roberts has a great piece on the connection between housing and friendship.  In addressing why the role of friends tapers off in our middle years, he shines the spotlight on housing designed around cars:

Why should it require explicit scheduling to see a friend who lives “within striking distance”? Why shouldn’t proximity do some of the work? That answer, for many Americans, is that anywhere beyond a few blocks away might as well be miles; it all requires a car. We do not encounter one another in cars. We grind along together anonymously, often in misery.

Car-based urban design, according to Roberts, limits spontaneous contact, which is a key ingredient to building friendships:

I read a study many years ago that I have thought about many times since, though hours of effort have failed to track it down. The gist was this: The key ingredient for the formation of friendships is repeated spontaneous contact. That’s why we make friends in college: because we are, by virtue of where we live and our daily activities, forced into regular contact with the same people. It is the natural soil out of which friendship grows.

How do we increase spontaneous contact? First, according Roberts, is better public spaces:SunwardCohousingPlayStructure2005

One is living in a real place, with shared public spaces, around which one can move relatively safely. It seems like a simple thing, but such places are rare even in the cities where they exist. (I live in North Seattle, undoubtedly coded as urban for census purposes, but my walkshed is pretty lame. Meanwhile, a few miles south of me they’re building million-dollar single-family homes square in the middle of a perfect walkshed, right across from the zoo.)

The second, is co-housing:

The idea behind baugruppen, and co-housing generally, is that it’s nice to live in an extended community, to have people to rely on beyond family. It’s nice to have bustling shared spaces where you can run into people you know without planning it beforehand. It’s nice to have friends for your kids, places where they can play safely, and other adults who can share kid-tending duties.

SunwardPiazzaGathering2005We at the Lab like to say “when people say they loved their time in college, we don’t think they were talking about the classes or parties…they were talking about living near their friends.”  How can we design housing and neighborhoods to promote friendship?