Cover image for Palaces for the people : how social infrastructure can help fight inequality, polarization, and the decline of civic life / Eric Klinenberg.
Title:
Palaces for the people : how social infrastructure can help fight inequality, polarization, and the decline of civic life / Eric Klinenberg.
Title Variants:
How social infrastructure can help fight inequality, polarization, and the decline of civic life
ISBN:
9781524761165

9781524761172

9781984822413
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Crown, [2018]

©2018
Physical Description:
277 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Contents:
Introduction: The social infrastructure -- A place to gather -- Safe spaces -- Learning together -- Healthy bonds -- Common ground -- Ahead of the storm -- Conclusion: Before we lift the next shovel.
Abstract:
"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"-- Provided by publisher.

"An eminent sociologist and bestselling author offers an inspiring blueprint for rebuilding our fractured society. We are living in a time of deep divisions. Americans are sorting themselves along racial, religious, and cultural lines, leading to a level of polarization that the country hasn't seen since the Civil War. Pundits and politicians are calling for us to come together, to find common purpose. But how, exactly, can this be done? In Palaces for the People, Eric Klinenberg suggests a way forward. He believes that the future of democratic societies rests not simply on shared values but on shared spaces: the libraries, childcare centers, bookstores, churches, synagogues, and parks where crucial, sometimes life-saving connections, are formed. These are places where people gather and linger, making friends across group lines and strengthening the entire community. Klinenberg calls this the 'social infrastructure': When it is strong, neighborhoods flourish; when it is neglected, as it has been in recent years, families and individuals must fend for themselves. Klinenberg takes us around the globe--from a floating school in Bangladesh to an arts incubator in Chicago, from a soccer pitch in Queens to an evangelical church in Houston--to show how social infrastructure is helping to solve some of our most pressing challenges: isolation, crime, education, addiction, political polarization, and even climate change. Richly reported, elegantly written, and ultimately uplifting, Palaces for the People urges us to acknowledge the crucial role these spaces play in civic life. Our social infrastructure could be the key to bridging our seemingly unbridgeable divides--and safeguarding democracy."--Jacket.

Klinenberg makes the provocative case that the future of democratic societies rests not only on shared values but also on shared "social infrastructure." He shows how the libraries, childcare centers, bookstores, coffee shops, pools, and parks can promote crucial, sometimes life-saving connections between people who might otherwise fail to find common cause. -- adapted from publisher info
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Summary

Summary

An NPR Best Book of 2018
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

An eminent sociologist and bestselling author offers an inspiring blueprint for rebuilding our fractured society.

We are living in a time of deep divisions. Americans are sorting themselves along racial, religious, and cultural lines, leading to a level of polarization that the country hasn't seen since the Civil War. Pundits and politicians are calling for us to come together, to find common purpose. But how, exactly, can this be done?

In Palaces for the People , Eric Klinenberg suggests a way forward. He believes that the future of democratic societies rests not simply on shared values but on shared spaces: the libraries, childcare centers, bookstores, churches, synagogues, and parks where crucial, sometimes life-saving connections, are formed. These are places where people gather and linger, making friends across group lines and strengthening the entire community. Klinenberg calls this the "social infrastructure": When it is strong, neighborhoods flourish; when it is neglected, as it has been in recent years, families and individuals must fend for themselves.

Klinenberg takes us around the globe--from a floating school in Bangladesh to an arts incubator in Chicago, from a soccer pitch in Queens to an evangelical church in Houston--to show how social infrastructure is helping to solve some of our most pressing challenges: isolation, crime, education, addiction, political polarization, and even climate change.

Richly reported, elegantly written, and ultimately uplifting, Palaces for the People urges us to acknowledge the crucial role these spaces play in civic life. Our social infrastructure could be the key to bridging our seemingly unbridgeable divides--and safeguarding democracy.


Author Notes

Eric Klinenberg is a professor of sociology at New York University and the editor of the journal Public Culture. He has written several books including Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America's Media, and Modern Romance.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Sociologist Klinenberg (coauthor of Modern Romance) presents an illuminating examination of "social infrastructure," the physical spaces and organizations that shape the way people interact. Touring libraries, playgrounds, churches, barbershops, cafés, athletic fields, and community gardens, Klinenberg identifies the ways such spaces help prevent crime, reduce addiction rates, contribute to economic growth, and even ameliorate problems caused by climate change. He visits geothermal pools in Iceland, open to the public day and night, which provide a place for people to commingle despite the frigid weather; the Metropolitan Oval soccer complex in Queens, N.Y., where for the past 90 years local youth of all backgrounds have played sports; and the floating schools and libraries located on the riverbanks around Bangladesh that host courses on literacy, sustainable agriculture, and disaster survival, while also providing shelter to citizens unable to afford conventional protection from the region's catastrophic floods. Klinenberg's observations are effortlessly discursive and always cogent, whether covering the ways playgrounds instill youth with civic values or a Chicago architect's plans to transform a police station into a community center. He persuasively illustrates the vital role these spaces play in repairing civic life "in an era characterized by urgent social needs and gridlock stemming from political polarization." (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


New York Review of Books Review

HOW FASCISM WORKS: The Politics of Us and Them, by Jason Stanley. (Random House, $26.) Looking across decades, Stanley argues that Donald Trump resembles other authoritarian nationalists, and places him in global and historical perspective to show patterns that others have missed. LEADERSHIP: In Turbulent Times, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. (Simon & Schuster, $30.) Four exceptional presidents - Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson - give Goodwin the opportunity to offer moral instruction for future leaders. THESE TRUTHS: A History of the United States, by Jill Lepore. (Norton, $39.95.) This sweeping, sobering account of the American past is a story not of relentless progress but of conflict and contradiction, with crosscurrents of reason and faith, black and white, immigrant and native, industry and agriculture rippling through a narrative that is far from completion. PALACES FOR THE PEOPLE: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life, by Eric Klinenberg. (Crown, $28.) Klinenberg, an N.Y.U. sociologist, argues for the importance of social infrastructure - public spaces to bring citizens together, whether a library or a park. THE IMPROBABLE WENDELL WILLKIE: The Businessman Who Saved the Republican Party and His Country, and Conceived a New World Order, by David Levering Lewis. (Liveright, $28.95.) Willkie is hardly remembered today, but Lewis shows us that as a presidential candidate in 1940, he played an outsize role in fighting off isolationism and uniting the country. HEARTLAND: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, by Sarah Smarsh. (Scribner, $26.) Smarsh, who grew up poor in a Kansas farm family with generations of teenage mothers, addresses this memoir to the imaginary daughter who drove her to transcend her circumstances. IMAGINE, by Juan Felipe Herrera. Illustrated by Lauren Castillo. (Candlewick, $16.99; ages 4 to 8.) The former poet laureate relates his inspiring path from rural Mexico to august Washington in spare lines accompanied by Castillo's pitch-perfect illustration. IMAGINE!, written and illustrated by Raúl Colón. (Paula Wiseman/ Simon & Schuster, $17.99; ages 4 to 8.) This follow-up to Colon's "Draw!" continues the gorgeous wordless story of a boy's artistic passion as he crosses the Brooklyn Bridge to get to the Museum of Modern Art, where the paintings come to life to encourage him. DREAMERS, written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales. (Neal Porter/ Holiday House, $16.99; ages 4 to 8.) In lyrical prose and striking art, Morales recounts the difficulty of being a new immigrant and the wondrous welcome of a public library. The full reviews of these and other recent books are on the web: nytimes.com/books


Library Journal Review

Sociologist Klinenberg (director, Inst. for Public Knowledge, New York Univ.; Going Solo; Heat Wave) prescribes a stronger social infrastructure (defined as places and organizations that encourage people to come together) as an antidote to the current troubling divisions within our country. His examples include public libraries (the title is a nod to Andrew Carnegie), churches, parks, public pools, and sports teams. Some commercial establishments, such as coffee shops, barbershops, and bookstores, also encourage social mingling. Using examples from around the world, the author highlights how hard infrastructure, such as seawalls or bridges, can be designed to include community spaces with walking/biking trails or parks. He also looks at how some cities have used social infrastructure to create solutions to problems such as drug addiction, urban food deserts, or geriatric isolation. Considering impacts of climate change, he notes that community organizations that provide immediate, on-the-ground response to weather crises require a healthy social infrastructure. He dismisses tech apologists who believe the Internet can substitute for face-to-face interaction. VERDICT The author's paean to public libraries will strongly appeal to those who support them as well as interested sociologists and urbanists.-Caren Nichter, Univ. of Tennessee at Martin © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One A Place to Gather   It's a balmy Thursday morning in the New Lots neighborhood of East New York, Brooklyn, 70 degrees and sunny on the last day of March. The sidewalks have awakened. Small groups of middle-aged men banter outside bodegas and on stoops of the small, semidetached brick houses that are common in the area. Mothers and grandmothers push strollers and watch over preschool children who hop and skip and revel in the unseasonable warmth. It seems early for recess, but the schoolyards are buzzing. Traffic is light on the narrow residential streets, but occasionally someone honks, a motorcycle engine fires, a truck roars past. Street life in East New York is busy, but not always congenial. The district is one of the poorest in New York City, with about half the residents living below the poverty line. It's also one of the most segregated. Nearly 95 percent of residents are black or Latino, and only 1 percent are white. Social scientists sometimes call East New York socially isolated, because its peripheral location and limited public transit options restrict access to opportunities in other parts of the city, while people who don't live there have little reason to visit and strong incentives to stay away. The area is among the most violent neighborhoods in New York City, with especially high levels of homicide, felony assault, and sexual assault. Conditions like these are bad for everyone, but research shows that they're particularly treacherous for older, sick, and frail people, who are prone to hunkering down in their apartments and growing dangerously isolated when they live in inhospitable physical environments. That's not only what I observed in the Chicago heat wave; it's what social scientists who conduct large-scale studies of isolation have found as well. Living in a place like East New York requires developing coping strategies, and for many residents, the more vulnerable older and younger ones in particular, the key is to find safe havens. As on every other Thursday morning this spring, today nine middle-aged and elderly residents who might otherwise stay home alone will gather in the basement of the neighborhood's most heavily used public amenity, the New Lots branch library. At first glance, it's an uninviting facility. The run-down, two-story brown brick building is set back behind a wide sidewalk and bus stop, with a beige stone facade at the entry, a broken chain-link fence on one side and a small asphalt parking lot on the other. In recent years the city designated the library site "African Burial Ground Square," because it sits atop a cemetery used to inter slaves and soldiers during the Revolutionary War. The library is small, and it's already crowded despite the early hour and the good weather. There are two banks of computer terminals with Internet access on the first floor, and patrons, sometimes more than one, at every machine. There's a small display case holding photographs and short biographies of Nobel Prize winners; tall wooden bookshelves with new releases, atlases, and encyclopedias; an information desk with flyers promoting library events for toddlers, young readers, teens, parents, English-language students, and older patrons. One librarian asks if I need anything. Another stacks books. I ask to see the second floor, and Edwin, a sweet and soft-spoken information supervisor, takes me upstairs. Here there are three separate universes. A designated children's space, which is worn but, Edwin says, about to get renovated; a set of tables for English-language courses, which are always oversubscribed; and, in the back, a classroom that serves as the library's Learning Center, a place where anyone over age seventeen who's reading below GED level can get special instruction, individually and in groups. Everyone is welcome at the library, regardless of whether they're a citizen, a permanent resident, or even a convicted felon. And all of it, Edwin reminds me, is free. I tell Edwin that I'm here for the event in the basement community room, and it turns out he's heading there too. We walk downstairs together and he points out the building's deterioration. The shelves, ceilings, stairwells, and wall panels are wearing out. Wires are exposed. There are rusted toilets and sinks in the bathroom. The doors don't close properly. In the community room there's an aging, cream-colored linoleum floor, glaring fluorescent lights, wood paneling, and a small stage strewn with plastic stacking chairs. I think about the burial ground that was here and I realize we can't be far from the bones. The community room serves many purposes: theater, classroom, art studio, civic hall. But this morning two staff members, Terry and Christine, will transform it into something unusual: a virtual bowling alley. They've arrived early to set up a flat screen television, link an Xbox to the Internet, clear out a play space, and assemble two rows of portable chairs. It's opening day of the Library Lanes Bowling League, a new program that encourages older patrons in twelve libraries in Brooklyn to join local teams and compete against neighboring branches. Nine people at New Lots signed up to play, and after weeks of practice, they're about to take on Brownsville and Cypress Hills. Branch libraries offer something for everyone, but the extra services and programming that they provide for older people are particularly important. As of 2016, more than twelve million Americans aged sixty-five and above live by themselves, and the ranks of those who are aging alone is growing steadily in much of the world. Although most people in this situation are socially active, the risk of isolation is formidable. A fall, an illness, or the inevitable advance toward frailty can render them homebound. If older friends and neighbors move away or die, their social networks can quickly unravel. If they get depressed, their interest in being out in the world can diminish. Street crime discourages everyone from going outdoors and socializing in public, but it's particularly intimidating for the old. In neighborhoods where crime is high or the social infrastructure is depleted, old people are more likely to stay home, alone, simply because they lack compelling places to go. New Lots has its library, though, and today the doors open at 10 a.m. Soon after, ten patrons, eight women and two men (one who's here to watch) ranging in age from fifty to nearly ninety, walk downstairs. Among them are Miss Jonny, who sports wraparound sunglasses, tall red boots, a black-and-red polka-dot scarf, and a gray newsboy cap. There's Suhir, in a seafoam sweat suit and a white hijab. Santon, a soft-spoken man from Guyana, dons a blue baseball cap and loose-fitting green trousers. Una, Bern, Salima, Miba, Daisy, and Jesse round out the crew. They greet one another warmly. Some women hug. A few clasp hands. Daisy gives Una a gentle high five that turns into a longer touch and a smile. Terry, an ebullient library information specialist with big eyes and a dazzlingly bright smile, hands each player a royal blue bowling shirt with a white public library logo on the front pocket and team new lots in yellow on the sleeve. Terry is the team's coach and cheerleader, and she's trying to pump them up for the match. Christine, a veteran librarian who wears rectangular glasses and holds a pencil and a phone in her shirt pocket, is the lead organizer, having recruited participants from the computer classes and book clubs she leads at the library. Terry and Christine walk around the room and help the participants get into their uniforms, buttoning and pulling them down so they won't snag when it's time to bowl. When everyone is outfitted the players take their seats, making small talk and tapping their toes in anticipation. Christine tries to link the Xbox to the machine in the basement at the Brownsville Library, where their opponents, invisible to us but no doubt similarly composed, have put on their own uniforms and settled in for the match. It worked perfectly in practice, but this time there's something wrong with the connection. Christine calls Brownsville. Yes, they're there, just working on the Wi‑Fi. In a few minutes, the machines are in sync and the game is on. Brownsville goes first and the team watches the ball roll up the side of the alley, taking out a few pins but leaving most upright. There's some rumbling and a bit of nervous laughter coming from the seats. It grows louder when the next roll leaves the opponents' frame open. Everyone knows they can win. Jesse bowls first for New Lots, and she's not fooling around. "Come on, Jesse!" Terry shouts. Her teammates clap enthusiastically. "Let's do this now!" Terry calls out again. Jesse approaches the screen and stops at the designated spot about fifteen feet in front of it. She seizes the hand control, raises her right arm to the sky until the Xbox registers her presence, and reaches out 90 degrees to take the ball. On screen, the ball rises to show that she's ready. Jesse reaches back and sweeps her arm forward, as if she were rolling a ball up the alley. It's a powerful roll, and at first it seems on target but it winds up too true to center and three pins stay standing. Some in the group applaud. Some sigh in exasperation. Jesse looks incredulous. "You got this!" Terry yells. "You good." Jesse approaches the ball again, looking determined. She lifts, rolls, nails the spare. The room erupts. The New Lots bowlers kill it, extending their lead frame after frame. They are old, and some are enfeebled, probably too weak to hold an actual ball. Only one player had ever participated in an old-fashioned bowling league, the kind that requires gutters, slick shoes, and a shiny wood floor. Robert Putnam famously lamented the demise of these leagues during the late twentieth century. Their disappearance, he argued, signaled a worrisome decline in social bonds. But here a group of people who could easily be at home, cut off from friends and neighbors, is involved in something greater than deep play. They're participating, fully and viscerally, in collective life. The mood is electric. Turn by turn, the players stand, boosted by their teammates' applause and the librarians' exhortations, salute the screen, and demolish their digital targets. "I'm feelin' for Brownsville right now," Terry exclaims. "But not too much!" The team's confidence is soaring when the second match gets going, but it doesn't take long to see that Cypress Hills is for real. The opponents go first and it's a strike. Jesse responds with a strike of her own. Then Cypress Hills rolls another, and Terry makes fish lips, popping her eyes in disbelief. Suhir makes a spare. New Lots is in it. But then Cypress gets a turkey, three strikes in a row, and Terry is incredulous. "There's some funny business going on here!" she insists. "That's Walter," the Cypress Hills librarian. "I know that's Walter. I'ma call him out." She doesn't, though, and the Cypress Hills team gradually pulls away despite strong performances from most of the New Lots players. The game goes by quickly and the mood, naturally, is more subdued. When it ends there's a short pause and a little confusion about what will happen. "We should ask them for a rematch," Christine says. "I think we can beat 'em." Christine jumps on the phone, a landline attached to the wall, and reaches Walter at the other library. She ribs him a little: "That wasn't you bowling, was it?" She smiles for a beat. "Uh-huh. Right. Well, hey, it's still early, you guys want to do another?" They did, and in a few moments they're back at it again. This time New Lots takes nothing for granted. Terry, who's decided that if Walter is playing then she is also, jumps in and knocks down everything. Santon hits a spare. "It's all you, Miss Jonny!" Terry shouts, and Miss Jonny makes her first strike of the morning. Bern follows with another perfect roll, then Una does the same, and now New Lots has its own turkey and a sizable lead. Terry is ecstatic. She screams out encouragement and struts around the room in circles with each strike or spare. When Jesse seals the victory with a strike in the tenth frame, the entire group is joyous, like Yankee Stadium after a play-off win. There are team photos, high fives, and hugs all around. Christine tells the players that there will be trophies for the top teams and a giant trophy for the library that wins everything. Miba, feeling bold and full of swagger, suggests that they just engrave New Lots on it now and bring the trophy over. Her teammates are in hysterics, their smiles as deep as a lifetime. The celebration lasts just a few minutes. It's noon, the players are hungry, and there are hours of sunshine ahead. I congratulate the team and wish them good luck on the season. "Thanks," Terry says. "We gonna be fine." I leave feeling uplifted by the cheering, the camaraderie, the joy of watching people who hardly know one another turn their neighborhood into a community. It was a rare moment of what the great French sociologist Emile Durkheim called "collective effervescence," and I hadn't expected it, not at the library. Today, we may have every reason to feel atomized and alienated, distrustful and afraid--and the demographics are as challenging as the politics. There are more people living alone than at any point in history, including more than a quarter of Americans over the age of sixty-five, who are at particular risk of becoming isolated. That's worrisome, because, as a large body of scientific research now shows, social isolation and loneliness can be as dangerous as more publicized health hazards, including obesity and smoking. But some places have the power to bring us together, and the kind of social bonding I witnessed that morning in Brooklyn happens in thousands of libraries throughout the year. Libraries are not the kinds of institutions that most social scientists, policy makers, and community leaders usually bring up when they discuss social capital and how to build it. Since Tocqueville, most leading thinkers about social and civic life have extolled the value of voluntary associations like bowling leagues and gardening clubs without looking closely at the physical and material conditions that make people more or less likely to associate. But social infrastructure provides the setting and context for social participation, and the library is among the most critical forms of social infrastructure that we have. It's also one of the most undervalued. In recent years, modest declines in the circulation of bound books in some parts of the country have led some critics to argue that the library is no longer serving its historic function as a place for public education and social uplift. Elected officials with other spending priorities argue that twenty-first-century libraries no longer need the resources they once commanded, because on the Internet most content is free. Architects and designers eager to erect new temples of knowledge say that libraries should be repurposed for a world where books are digitized and so much public culture is online. Excerpted from Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life by Eric Klinenberg All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.