Breaking ground in removing social barriers

City of Barcelona launches innovative strategy to tackle loneliness.

In a pioneering effort, the municipal government of Barcelona, Spain in 2020 launched a ten-year strategy to reduce isolation and loneliness (PDF) in the city. Elected councillor Joan Ramon Riera Alemany recently spoke about the history and goals of the project at Hey Neighbour Collective’s Living Together Symposium.

“Over the past 150 years, the primacy of the individual over the collective has meant less community interaction and greater isolation,” declares the strategy document. “We no longer have the support of extended families, but instead create small nuclear families. In the work sphere, independent office jobs have replaced the cooperative tasks of the countryside and industry.”

And in spite of, or perhaps in part because of, the prevalence of online social networking, the report notes that, in Barcelona, “one in four children aged 10 to 12 feel that they do not have enough friends; and one in four people aged 65 and over have felt a lack of companionship in the past twelve months.”

Alemany explained in his symposium presentation that the City has so far dedicated about 7 million euros (about $10 million CDN) over ten years to implement the strategy. At the same time, the municipal government calculated that it currently spends about 20 million euros annually on hundreds of initiatives that, at least in part, directly or indirectly address isolation, such as telecare services for the elderly and support services for youth and families.

One of the main goals of the first phase of the strategy, reflected in many of the initiatives described in the recently released Action Plan (PDF) (currently only in Catalan), involves surveying, studying, and data-collecting with a view to better understanding how isolation and loneliness are affecting people’s lives, and what can be done to turn the tide.

The longer-term goals are already wide-ranging. These include efforts such as “restructuring parts of the city” to improve use of urban and park spaces by groups, facilitating young people more often living near or with older people, and identifying lonely individuals and helping them address emotional and practical challenges that may be limiting their ability to socially connect.

Listen to city councillor Joan Ramon Riera Alemany’s whole presentation and Q&A in the Day 1 symposium talks starting at 43:15.