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Palaces for the People: How Social…

Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight… (2018)

by Eric Klinenberg

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1316140,346 (4.16)5
"An eminent sociologist--and coauthor, with Aziz Ansari, of the #1 New York Times bestseller Modern Romance--makes the provocative case that the future of democratic societies rests not only on shared values but also on shared "social infrastructure": the libraries, childcare centers, bookstores, coffee shops, pools, and parks that promote crucial, sometimes life-saving connections between people who might otherwise fail to find common cause"--"The future of democratic societies rests not only on shared values but also on shared "social infrastructure": the libraries, childcare centers, bookstores, coffee shops, pools, and parks that promote crucial, sometimes life-saving connections between people who might otherwise fail to find common cause"--… (more)



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Sociologist Eric Klinenberg begins with a fatal heat wave in Chicago in the summer of 1995. Sociologists studying it tried to figure out why some neighborhoods had people suffering more or dying from the heat, while others seemed to have better support in place. Accounting for wealthy and poor neighborhoods didn't quite cover the split, as some less well-to-do neighborhoods had even better survival rates. From there, Klinenberg begins his argument about the importance of social infrastructure, those places where we gather - libraries, bookstores, college campuses, parks, churches, and more - that allow us to build relationships in our neighborhoods and communities.

The beginning of the book especially focuses on libraries, the way in which they support the community with programs and a third space, connecting multiple generations and building relationships. No one who knows me will be surprised by the fact that this was the part that interested me most. Even when he starts talking about other avenues that personally interest me less, however, Klinenberg makes a strong argument that we should start thinking about these spaces in a variety of ways, from how we address crime (cleaning up areas that are abandoned or overgrown makes a huge difference) to functional infrastructure in dealing with storm surges being made beautiful spaces to bring people together. He may be, I think, a little on the idealistic side but his ideas are worth thinking about and bringing before city planners. I have not heard many - well, any before him - people talking about social infrastructure, and I will start paying attention to ways in which his ideas play out in the public sphere. I will also keep it in my back pocket that while I can't always point out to a quantitative result in the daily work I do, I make a qualitative difference in the lives I touch every day at work, at church and at play. ( )
  bell7 | Oct 15, 2019 |
This highly readable book based on academic research by sociologist Eric Klinenberg makes the case for the importance of what he calls “social infrastructure.” He defines social infrastructure as “the physical conditions that help social capital develop.” Social capital is the set of connections with others (in this case, in your local community) that helps you get through life successfully and improve your personal situation. Klinenberg looked at urban, rural, and suburban communities and identified ways in which their physical infrastructure provides (or doesn’t provide) ways for residents to connect with each other. Public libraries are a key example throughout the book, but Klinenberg also discusses childcare centers, schools, bookstores and coffeeshops, churches, community gardens, community centers, and children’s sports groups. He argues that it is crucial for people from different backgrounds to get to know each other in person (not just online) in order to be able to work together and survive when natural disasters and civic crises occur, as they do increasingly often. ( )
  DeniseBrush | Sep 22, 2019 |
A celebration of the infrastructure that makes communities healthy and strong, primarily libraries but also other spaces that citizens can and often must interact with people not like them, and figure out how to get along. Libraries are, of course, powerful engines for fighting inequality because of the access to information they provide—and increasingly they provide access to other things, including space just to be for people who don’t have other places to go, even as we defund them around the country. Other aspects of social infrastructure include public transit, public schools, and even privately owned but open to the public places like coffeehouses. There’s also the benefit of public space: not just the health benefits, but sociability and safety benefits as well when public spaces are attractive. Klinenberg builds on the missed opportunity of “fixing broken windows,” pointing out that the central concept that led to criminalizing so many mostly minority people was supposed to be about property. What if we’d taken that example/metaphor seriously, instead of policing for nuisance crimes, and focused on rehabilitating abandoned or neglected property instead of on arresting people doing potentially annoying things in public? Using evidence from the US and elsewhere, Klinenberg suggests that investment in cleaning up dangerous and unsightly pieces of property has significant benefits in reducing crime and enhancing community interactions, which then provide protective structures for people facing hard times. ( )
1 vote rivkat | Dec 4, 2018 |
How properly designed public space can affect society and individuals for the better. ( )
  lilibrarian | Oct 22, 2018 |
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