Sustainable Cities and Social Capital

Any reader of this blog has seen a bit about social capital and markets. Many of the issues that we struggle with in the U.S. have to do with the lack of a shared social fabric and healthy living opportunities for all;  markets (and their surrounding food and civic systems) can alleviate some of those. As for their placement, when social capital is properly understood, the host cities would support markets getting long-term space in Main Street corridors or in historic downtowns. Finally, when markets struggle with adding benefit programs or attracting users of their other educational programming, it can be often traced back to the type or quantity of social capital present in their market. This study linked below has descriptions of how this works.

It was clear from presenters and participants alike that it is very difficult to make progress on aspirations and change when the social fabric is thin or doesn’t exist. When we don’t have sufficient trust or relational connection as individuals or organizations (among and across our differences), we become preoccupied with identifying who (other than us) is responsible for our various messes. If you are a municipality, it’s the province or the federal government. If you’re a business owner, it’s all of government. If you’re a citizen, it’s business and government, and so on. We do need greater clarity on responsibility and with it, more effective ways of identifying if we have the resources to deliver what we’ve been asked to shoulder. Without that, frustration will increase as the dreams of the future get bigger.

Source: Sustainable Cities and Social Capital: Common Dilemmas and Hopes | Cardus Blog


This story in NYT today about how the Parisian government is attempting to fix the place where Les Halles once was illustrates this as well.

In a morbid spasm of 1970s urban renewal, the soaring 19th-century, Liberty-style, glass-and-steel food market — once the pulsating heart of the city — gave way to a claustrophobic underground shopping mall and flimsy street-level pavilions….

…Three weeks after the anxious official unveiling — “we had to fix this broken place,” Mayor Anne Hidalgo of Paris said — and five years after construction began, the appraisal of skeptical Parisians, it seems, is like the face the city presents to the world: reserved and critical, but not unwelcoming.



Seating at Markets

Self-checkouts may be a thing of the past soon

Consider yourself a human again. More than one industry grocery giant is experimenting with ridding their stores of the self-checkout lines. I would assume that the stores losses were climbing (from theft at those checkouts and from people just walking out with stuff since there is less personnel up there to watch), and that the complaints also went up (no friendly interactions makes shoppers feel vulnerable so they are more critical.)

And, I’ll suppose that the growth of public markets is also showing the industrial system how to regrow trust and dignity when shopping.

More data on social capital

As many of you know, the organization that I have been associated for the last 9 years, has been doing some very interesting data collection and measurement on markets in this area. Using trust as a proxy, NEED (Neighborhood Exchange Evaluation Device) has been measuring the quantity and quality of transactions and hopes to get an online tool (like the free SEED tool) up very soon.

When we started this project almost 4 years ago, only a handful of stakeholders understood why we were interested in this. Now of course, interest in bridging and bonding has grown exponentially, as has the interest in markets ability to manage that effort.
This article is another in a long line of studies of social cohesion, but is a good primer for anyone in your world who needs to understand how this can be seen as healthy behavior.

In a now-classic study of 6,928 adults living in Alameda County, Calif., conducted by Harvard researcher Lisa Berkman, PhD, and University of California, Berkeley, researcher S. Leonard Syme, PhD., people with few social ties were two to three times more likely to die of all causes than people with wider and closer relationships.