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Chapter 6 - Socializing in Communities

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 January 2023

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Summary

In a New Yorker article published in June 2021, Clare Sestanovich extols “the joy of crossing paths with strangers.” The author describes fleeting but meaningful encounters with strangers and friends on the streets of New York City. According to the author, these moments were made possible by intentional urban design in spaces like subway stops and busy pedestrian intersections that allow for casual social contact. However, the trends described in previous chapters such as sprawl and low density, make these sorts of chance meetings less common. Cities, we argue, can facilitate gatherings both large and small, spontaneous, and planned when properly designed.

This chapter defines and discusses the decline in social capital and community gathering and the health repercussions of this trend. Then, it introduces urban design features of various scales that can be incorporated in cities to make them organic meeting places and ends with a case study of the High Point community in West Seattle, Washington, USA.

6.1 Urban Loneliness in the Social Media Age

Poor urban planning practices are a partial explanation for the decline in social capital according to Robert Putnam in his book Bowling Alone (2000). Putnam defines social capital as the collective value of all social networks and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for one another. Putnam’s theory of social capital and its decline in society has held up through the decades and has been cited as a partial explanation for the recent rise in political extremism (Cox et al. 2020). Many studies have shown significant correlations between social capital and individual health. Being part of a social network acts as a buffer against stress, which can be beneficial for both physical and mental health (Eriksson 2011). Yet, the definition of social networks has shifted in recent years.

The beginning of the 2020s made clear that society has truly entered the digital age. The decade opened with the COVID-19 pandemic, which ushered in an era of remote everything: work, school, even remote family gatherings, and holiday celebrations. These conditions became more extreme during the pandemic; however, they are a natural continuation of past trends.

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Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2022

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