Want to cut down on crime? Install a community garden, increase public library funding, and start talking to your neighbors.
It’s been a long time since the American engineering community gave a higher grade than a D to the country’s infrastructure. By Klinenberg’s (Sociology/New York Univ.; Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, 2012, etc.) account, there are other benefits to infrastructure besides simply getting us where we want to go safely and allowing our toilets to flush. What he calls “social infrastructure,” for instance, provides us with physical spaces where we can gather to solve problems and simply be together: Churches, libraries, public swimming pools, and the like are important centers of community-building and social cohesion. It is telling that public enterprises such as libraries and low-income child care are in a state of collapse thanks to our apparent dislike for paying taxes to support them; private enterprises that provide “third spaces,” neither home nor work but somewhere in between, are doing better and “help produce the material foundations for social life.” As the author notes, scholars such as Jane Jacobs long ago pointed out the importance of private enterprises such as grocery stores, barbershops, and cafes in the lives of neighborhoods and communities; where areas lack such amenities, crime and alienation run high. Yet the public goods do the heavy lifting. Those child care centers foster "bonds of friendship and mutual support” among parents, again building community in ways that only they can do. Klinenberg examines new manifestations of social infrastructure enterprises—e.g., farmers markets and organizations such as Growing Home, a clearinghouse for community gardens that “foster interactions within and across generations, resulting in less social isolation as well as more cohesion, civic participation, and neighborhood attachment.”
Fine reading for community activists seeking to expand the social infrastructure of their own home places.