|Teacher giving a lesson|
Bruce Cummins for U.S. Navy/Wikimedia Commons
It is a sunny but chilly Monday for yours truly and Monday means new thoughts for the week.
Today we look at the role that segregation plays in the social capital of neighborhood. Before we get going with an article by one of our favorite people, Richard Florida, is titled "The Missing Ling Between Diversity and Community" for CityLab yours truly needs to define what social capital and how it works. According to bettertogether.org, "The central premise of social capital is that social networks have value. Social capital refers to the collective value of all 'social networks'...." How does social capital work? Again, according to bettertogether.org, "The term social capital emphasizes not just warm and cuddly feelings, but a wide variety of quite specific benefits that flow from the trust, reciprocity, information, and cooperation associated with social networks. Social capital creates value for the people who are connected and-at least sometimes-for bystanders as well." The question is, how does this apply to neighborhoods?
|Social Capital diagram|
|Downtown New Orleans|
The intersection at Canal and St. Charles Streets
One type of social capital is "bonding," formed by very close relationships of a tight-knit community. This kind of social capital can result in self-segregation. The other type of social capital is "bridging." As the name implies, different groups reach out across a metaphoric bridge toward other groups, building connections with one another. In his own research with Brian Knudsen, Mr. Florida concluded "...that bonding social capital is not only negatively associated with diversity, but with innovation as well. In contrast, bridging social capital is associated with with both diversity and higher levels of innovation." In most cities, one form of social capital or another is more common than the other. Essentially, they are either tightly bonded but homogenous and not innovative, or "socially disconnected, diverse, and innovative." However, as the authors succinctly put it, "the real challenge for out cities is how to enable both types of social capital and the good things that flow from them."
To understand how to enable both kinds of social capital and all the good things that come of it, the authors developed an agent-based computer models to mimic the relationship between communal behavioral characteristic and it potential for both types of social capital. The models allowed Zachary Neal to discover how individual behaviors, such as bonding with people with like characteristics, connect to a larger social phenomena. Mr. Neal ran over 50,000 individual simulations.
The chart on the left presents the results of these simulation across the spectrum of diversity and segregation. Mr. Florida writes, "There are communities across all patterns-some have high diversity and high segregation, others are low on both." The grey and blacks houses symbolized two kinds of people that mirror a variety of demographic groups: race, religion, ethnicity, social class. Further, the houses are interspersed in quadrants with low segregation, but appear to be clustered to together in ares with high segregation, particularly in areas with both high segregation and diversity. However, what happened when Mr. Neal added elements of bonding and bridging social capital?
|Elements of Bonding and Bridging Social Capital|
By comparison, the network with lower levels of diversity and segregation (the middle panel) has weaker levels of proximity and homophile but an abundance of bridging social capital. While this network is relatively homogenous, the study describes it as an integrated community where nearly everyone (same or different, near or far) is considered a potential contact.(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, accessed Nov. 30, 2015)
Finally, the panel on the right of the above diagram presents high levels of diversity and segregation with strong proclivities toward proximity and homophile. Richard Florida writes, "Unlike the other networks, this one allows for both bridging and bonding social capital." Zachary Neal writes, Although residents in this community tend to form bonds within their own groups, thereby facilitating the sharing of information and diverse perspectives. Mr. Neal refers to these communities with a lot of bonding and bridging social capital as small-world networks.
|"Community potential for social capital"|
Creating small-world networks
Zachary Neal proceeded to look for where these these small-world connections could form under experimental conditions (diversity, segregation, homophily, proximity), presented in the heat maps on the left. The darker tones represent locations with a greater potential for creating social capital.
Richard Florida admits, "Although the heat maps are a bit complicated, their findings are relatively straightforward." First and unsurprisingly, the communities presenting weak behavioral tendencies have less potential to create social capital. However, surprisingly, the lesser potential to form social capital is found in communities with higher level of diversity. Segregation appears to be less of an issue-the ability to create social capital is fairly equal in high and low-segregation communities-albeit areas with greater levels of segregation and either strong homophily or proximity do have greater potential.
At first glance, this may seem counterintuitive that segregation is important for social capital...But, it is important to remember that segregation has many faces. The pernicious racial residential segregation that has plagued American cities for more than a century is one form, but so too is the ethnic enclave that helps immigrants find a foothold and the historically black colleges and universities that incubate some of the country's best students and scholars.
The ideal community
All of this leaves us wondering what is the ideal community for developing both kinds of social capital? Richard Florida gives us the answer, "Ultimately, diverse, segregated communities with a strong (but not absolute) tendency toward homophily are the most conducive to social capital development, in even simpler terms, the ideal community is big and diverse, but 'feel[s] small and familiar.'" Given these conditions, residents will gravitate toward other residents with similar characteristics, creating a sense of belonging and security, still open to different perspectives, promoting creativity, and new relationships.
Naturally, the ideal "small-world network" only exists in a computer model, not in real life. Richard Florida writes, "As Neal's previous research has shown, it's rarely the case that the most diverse neighborhoods are also the most cohesive." Be that as it may, diversity and community may seem at odds by themselves, "The study, "Making Big Communities Small" presents evidence that "...there are ways to make room for bridging social capital without sacrificing the benefits of a tight-knit community."
Zachary Neal has the last word in his email, the city is a patchwork of neighborhoods and districts, each staked out by a particular demographic group, or earmarked of a particular activity, that give it its unique character. But, in a vibrant city-the kind of place that [sociologist Robert] Park, or later Jane Jacobs so deeply valued-there are many different kinds of patches, and their boundaries are messy and permeable.