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Danielle Paradis explores what makes Edmonton a great city.

Eat, Pray, YEG: on the loneliness of cities

Columnist Dani Paradis on the urban isolation and the researchers tackling it.

Metro file

Before last November I’d never lived alone.

Now, on the cusp of thirty, I find myself living a coming-of-age movie cliché. You know the one: woman leaves long-term relationship and begins a journey to find herself. Eat, Pray, YEG.

So far, I’ve found that living alone is a big adjustment. It’s lonely. I’ve also found that I am not alone in that loneliness.

We hear a lot about living in a society of isolation. A google search of “lonely Edmonton” offers several Kijiji and Craigslist postings, and a Lonely Planet article about interesting things to do in Edmonton.

I think it’s fair to assume that loneliness is something almost everyone struggles with at some point, but as a middle-class, university-educated person, I’m lucky in many ways.

According to researchers, the loneliest are often those who are marginalized in other ways, like newcomers to the country, or indigenous people moving from reserves to the city.

New services are looking to fill that gap.

NorQuest College and the Edmonton Public Library recently completed the first year of a study that tackles loneliness and belonging among those on the margins of society.

The study included “anybody that has to rebuild their life or is working to make a better life,” says researcher Marlene Mulder, who is leading the study along with Bob Marvin.

“So obviously lots of newcomers to Canada. Also lots of indigenous people who have settled in the city or have changed their lifestyle,” she says.

However, many participants had advanced degrees or romantic partners, both factors that Marvin notes you might think would guard against isolation.

Of the initial group, 24 per cent had a university degree or college diploma, and 21 percent were in a relationship with a spouse or partner.

“It is surprising, huh? Goes against stereotypes,” Marvin says.

For me, loneliness has been tolerable because of new friends and family. For many of the people in the study, agencies and social workers fill that role.  

For all of us, hope remains essential to make it through tough times.

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