Urban Social Capital – Urban Specialists
Strong social networks help to eliminate barriers to economic opportunity
September 23, 2018
The US Institute for Cultural Research, Development, & Evaluation
September 23, 2018

“The essence of human freedom, of civilization itself, is cooperation.”
— Senator Mike Lee, “An Agenda for Our Time”

Social Capital Project, “What We Do Together”, is the “first product of the Social Capital Project—a multi-year research effort that will investigate the evolving nature, quality, and importance of our associational life” requested by Senator Mike Lee in May 2017. The report is “an effort to better understand why the health of our associational life feels so compromised, what consequences have followed from changes in the middle social layers of our society, why some communities have more robust civil society than others, and what can be done—or can stop being done—to improve the health of our social capital.” In the domain of community, the report initially discovered there was “less time with neighbors, no less time with friends, less racial segregation, more class segregation, less trust generally and in government institutions but no less trust in friends or local government, no less volunteering, less voting, mixed trends on political engagement.”

“The breakdown in trust and confidence was not confined to government. Trust in the mass media’s reporting of the news also fell; between 1972 and 2016, the share of Americans saying they trusted the media a great deal or a fair amount declined from 68 percent to 32 percent. Confidence in banks fell, as did confidence in newspapers, organized religion, public schools, organized labor, big business, and the medical system.” Interestingly, “Americans remain trusting of local institutions, and their interpersonal relationships are healthier. Trust in local government, for instance, actually rose over these years.” The report discusses how “relationships we forge within social activities outside our families, workplaces, and houses of worship encompasses a wide variety of important social activity are vital sources of companionship, social support, mutual aid, information, and self-governance.”

The report warns that “Community builds internal social ties—’bonding social capital’—but it can impede investment in ‘bridging social capital’ that connects groups to each other.” In theory, we see this apply to gang life, that unites a particular group in the neighborhood, but makes enemies of all others. As a result, not only are neighborhoods not just investing in each other and inhibiting growth, our neighborhoods go ten steps further and kill each other.

Research in the report showed that “communities with higher levels of trust and where people are more inclined to confront community problems also experience lower crime. Communities where people help and look out for each other were also more likely to pool common resources when necessary, for example, in the aftermath of a natural disaster. In addition, neighborhoods with a healthy associational life appeared to provide children with more opportunities.” In our suffering communities, the vulnerable are even more disadvantaged because there is no leading catalyst that drives the development of key functions such as monitoring, socializing, mentoring, and organizing that social capital to realize these benefits.

We want to build this capacity. We work to equip and mobilize citizens that can increase the social capital of our neighborhoods, in turn attracting social investors and fostering collaboration. By working from within and building the capacity of stakeholders, influencers, and citizens rooted in the community, we increase self-sustainability and the capacity of that community to begin bridging social capital to support neighboring areas - spreading the movement that transforms Urban Culture.

In examining social life, several risks were exposed that threaten civic engagement: 1) Socializing has become rarer between neighbors, likely a consequence of suburbanization and declining population density. Society has also grown richer, retreating into more private lives shared with those with whom we connect most easily, regardless of whether they live next door or across the country. This shift mirrors the rise of romantic love and personal similarity as criteria for mate selection over traditional pragmatic economic concerns and geographic convenience. 2) Americans are less reliant on public spaces and amenities and more so on private ones than in the past, such as private gyms and swimming pools. 3) The movement into the workforce of married women and mothers is another important factor behind declining neighborliness. When mothers were homemakers, social interaction was more centered around the neighborhood and its children. 4) The rise of the internet and the technology that connects us to it has also likely reduced interaction with neighbors. We choose friends to connect to, while face-to-face interactions with neighbors with whom we have less in common are increasingly unnecessary.

The report also explores social segregation, a dangerous phenomenon for disadvantaged communities. The report claims “technology has allowed us to interact less—either in-person or online—with anyone whose values or opinions are different than our own. That has likely contributed to a breakdown in bridging social capital confined not just to our neighbors but to our fellow citizens generally.” In a violent, under-served community the lack of varying opinions and values allows for the normalizing of senseless ideas that then become cultural trends and beliefs and obstructs upward mobility.

Urban Specialists is unique in that we seek to unite the efforts of all the studied associational areas - community, religion, business, and family - to create a safe and healthy environment for all to live and grow. We diligently forge unusual alliances and build bridges to leverage resources and information. We are a movement to transform Urban Culture, systematically restoring safety & citizenship, improving collaboration, and increasing self-sustainability.

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