Eric Klinenberg: Places for the People: How Social Infrastructure can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life


In this excerpt, Eric Klinenberg reflects on his research on the Chicago Heat Wave of 1995 as background for his argument on how social infrastructure is vital for human survival. Social infrastructure is a democratic system which not only protects the equality of people and their ability to interact but also affects economic growth. People are provided resources to live a better life within social infrastructure. In addition, social infrastructure must be constantly developed and sustained to work for changing times and cultures. Public spaces invite people to congregate and interact with each other, allowing them to participate instead of observing. Klinenberg also makes the distinction between social infrastructure and social capital. Social infrastructure is the physical system that provides the conditions for social capital to either thrive or deteriorate. A person’s physical environment affects how and if they will interact with their neighbors. Klinenberg offers two solutions to help fix society. The technocratic solution focuses on creating physical systems that enhance security and the facilitation of people and goods. The civic solution focuses on creating voluntary associations and groups. Public spaces benefit social infrastructure because they harbor interactions within a community and in turn, will benefit social capital.

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