palaces for the people


by Eric Klinenberg





at ground level i could observe certain neighborhood conditions that aren’t visible in quantitative data.. stats don’t convey the differences between poor, minority neighborhoods that are cursed w empty lots, broken sidewalks, abandoned homes, and shuttered storefronts.. and those that are densely people, busy w foot traffic, enlivened by commercial activity and well maintained parks and supported by strong community orgs..  as i got to know the rhythms of life in various chicago neighborhoods, i learned how much these local conditions mattered, both every day and during the disaster..


i’d discovered the key difference.. turned out to be wha ti call social infra: the physical places and orgs that shape the way people interact..

social infra is not ‘social capital’ a concept commonly used to measure people’s relationships and interpersonal networks – but the physical conditions that determine whether social capital develops..

face to face interactions.. are the building blocks of all public life.. when people engage in sustained, recurrent interaction, particularly while doing things they enjoy, relationships inevitably grow..t

2 convers as infra

to address maté basic needs for all of us


what conditions in the places we inhabit make it more likely that people will develop strong or supportive relationships..

listening to every voice – as it could be.. via  cure ios city

the diff was not cultural. it was not about how much people cared about one another or their community. it was that in placed like englewood, the shoddy social infra discouraged interaction and impeded mutual supports, whereas in places like auburn gresham the social infra encouraged those things

they knew their neighbors – not because they made special efforts to  meet them, but because they lived in a place where causal interaction was a feature of everyday life..t

imagine 2 convers as infra for 7bn.. today

rev of everyday life


how can we repair:

1\ econ growth for everyone

2\ technocratic physical systems that

a) enhance security

b) facil circulation of people/goods

3\ civic – promoting voluntary associations.. clubs, groups, leagues – that bind people into communities..

but only partial solutions..   4\ social infra is the missing piece of the puzzle.. building places where all kinds of people can gather is the best way to repair the fractured societies we live in today

begs we

1\ let go of money/measure

2\ a) gershenfeld something else law  &  b) 2 convers as infra

3\ cure ios city

4\ tech as it could be.. in the city.. as the day.. not part\ial.. for (blank)’s sake… [meadows undisturbed ecosystem]

it’s long been understood that social cohesion develop thru repeated human interaction and joint participation in shared projects..

have to be eudaimoniative projects.. ie: starting from 7bn daily curiosity.. participation and projects.. not enough.. we have plenty of proof of that


robert putnam attribute declines in health ,happiness, ed, econ productivity and trust to the collapse of community and diminished participation in civic organizations

1\ econ productivity and ed.. not humane/natural  2\ decline comes from those civic orgs being voluntary compliance.. manufactured consent.. not ie: daily curiosity

what we need most is the energy of 7bn alive people.. everyday.. we need to listen to every voice .. everyday.. for that.. because people need to have the bravery/permission to change their mind everyday

ie: spaces of permission where people have nothing to prove – something we’ve not yet tried


what counts as social infra: public institutions such as libraries, schools, playgrounds, parks, athletic fields, swimming pools. sidewalks, courtyards, community gardens,  churches, civic associations, markets for food/furniture/clothing/art.. cafes diners, barbershops, bookstores..  where people are welcome to congregate and linger regardless of what they’ve purchased..

1 – a place to gather


why have so many public officials and civic leaders failed to recognize the value of libraries and their role in our social infra? perhaps.. because founding principle behind the library – that all people deserve free, open access to our shared culture and heritage, which they can use to any end they see fit – is out of sync w the market logic that dominates out time (if the library didn’t already exist.. it’s hard to imagine our society’s leaders inventing it)..t

their (library’s) core missions is to help people elevate themselves and improve their situation. libraries do this, principally by providing free access to the widest possible variety of cultural material to people of all ages, from all ethnicities and groups


libraries may be the textbook ie of social infra in action, but other places/institutions do similarly vital work connecting people who need a hand.. ie: childcare centers

(ed institutions) are our primary public institutions for establishing democratic ideas and instilling civic skills. school are our modern agoras, gathering places where we make and remake ourselves and develop a sense of where we belong

not so


sherry turkle’s reclaim convo.. to danah boyd’s – teens prefer hanging out in person to messaging  but adults have restricted their mobility so thoroughly that they have few alts..  the internet has become young people’s core social infra because we’ve unfairly deprived them of access to other sites for meaningful connection if we fail to build physical places where people can enjoy one another’s company, regardless of age, class, race or ethnicity ..we will all be similarly confined

we already are.. not so much because of lack of said spaces.. but because of supposed to’s keeping us in designated spaces.. (ie: work, school, ..) we’ve got to fix that first (ie: free up our day)

sherry.. danah..


everyday life in libraries is a democratic experiment, and people cram into libraries to participate in it whenever the doors are open


‘at the library , the assumption is you are better. you have it in you already. you just sort of need to be exposed ot these things and provide yourself and ed..  the library assumes the best out of people.. the services it provides are founded upon the assumption that if given the chance, people will *improve themselves’ – andrew – librarian

rather *be themselves..  – improving ness et al limits/compromises our energy/alive-ness


the library really is a palace. it bestows nobility on people who can’t otherwise afford a shred of it.. people need to have nobility and dignity in their lives

well.. not really.. (that could be more of a symptom of well being.. but not the root need) what we need .. is to be free to follow our cure ios city.

2 – safe spaces


‘residents maintained and controlled those areas that were clearly defined as their own’ but the larger, shared public spaces ‘evoked no feeling of identity or control and made it impossible for even neighboring residents to develop an accord about acceptable behavior’.. (beyond capability for jane jacobs eyes on the street) – oscar newman


c ray jeffery (crime prevention thru environ design – dpted): ‘there are no criminals, only environmental circumstances which result in criminal behavior. given the proper environ structure, anyone will be a criminal or a non criminal’..t

equity – everyone getting a go everyday

it follows then that crime control measures are unlikely to work if they are designed to target individual offenders. instead, crime is best managed ‘thru the manipulation of the environ where crimes occur’..

to this day, however, most policies that aim to reduce crime focus on punishing people rather than improving places. .t..  ie: stop and frisk; more severe sentencing

we invest little in housing and far less in safe sidewalks and neighborhood amenities like libraries, senior centers, and community gardens, which draw people into the public realm and put more eyes on the street..t


what’s curious, i think , is that the first two steps of this vicious cycle (broken windows) ‘a piece of property is abandoned, weeds grow up’ have disappeared in the public debate about why some neighborhoods have such high crime rates.. the third step – ‘a window is smashed’ inspired the article’s catchy title and took center stage


what if crime prevention focused on remediating dangerous properties rather than stopping and frisking suspected people..


equally powerful, he said, is that there was no evidence that the violence has simply shifted to nearby places: the declines were real.. moreover, these reduction lasted from one to nearly four years, making the benefit far more sustainable than those in other crime reduction programs..

earlier had failed..  ‘when i started at penn, we had been working hard to reduce gun crime in philly.. we had the *interrupters, the social workers, the community leaders. some of them were amazing and we had some successes. but they were always short lived. they lasted only as long as we could keep the people there in the hood..  we wanted a bigger impact and one that would continue after we left’ – charles branas

*cure violence

Branas is known for studying human geography, public health, emergency medical care, and multiple aspects of gun violence, which he first became interested when he saw its effects firsthand while working as a paramedic. ..In 2018, he led the first series of citywide randomized controlled trials (RCTs) showing that greening vacant lots, as well as requiring homeowners to put glass in their windows, resulted in significantly fewer gun assaults, shootings, and self-reported fear and depression among residents. His work has shown that approximately 15% of the spaces in US cities is vacant or abandoned, a total area about the size of Switzerland, making low-cost citywide interventions like these of high value to urban planners and policymakers.


the philly studies suggest that place based interventions are far more likely to succeed than people based projects..

branas: tens of millions of vacant and abandoned properties exist in the us..t..  ‘make structural improvement to the very context w/in which city residents are exposed on a daily basis’.. they are simple, cheap and easily reproducible.. they imposed few demands on local residents, and the programs appear to pay for themselves.


branas: ‘we’re proud we’ve been able to employ people in these neighborhood.. but the bigger more sustainable effect will come from fixing places’


on building green spaces better than commercial.. and prisons

3 – learning together


on his kids’ progressive school in greenwich village



small intimate settings where people get to know one another well are not only ideal places for young people to develop skills for civic engagement and community building but also ideal places to learn

rather.. today.. ideal would be using tech as it could be used.. ie: to listen to every voice everyday.. and facil gatherings from that data (ie: self-talk as data for cure ios city)


deb meier – smaller learning communities

smaller is fine.. per daily curiosity is ideal.. and has to be all of us



then on progressive ed.. funded by gates, carnegie, annenberg – with success being graduation rates



then on colleges and frats et al – as divisive infra on campus


theaster gates – persuaded uni to purchase string of abandoned buildings.. t

theasterempty buildings 


moocs – et al – missing social experience

mooc ness


minerva promising to combine both online and off..t


has to be all of us for it to work

ie: in the city.. as the day..


today our communities are full of children whose future, .. will be formed in the places where they go to learn about themselves and the world they’ll inherit. they deserve palaces. whether they get them is up to us..t

nothing is really a palace (just using your idea\l) … unless it’s all of us..

begs we let go (why we haven’t yet gotten to global equity – everyone getting a go everyday).. and trust the energy of 7bn alive people.. to get us back/to an undisturbed ecosystem .. in the city.. as the day..

4 – healthy bonds


how does a loss of community result in more people using painkillers? intriguingly, there’s a growing body of neurological research showing that opioids are, chemically speaking, a good analog for social connectionst

hari rat park law

in one study..subjects given naltrexone, a chemical that blocks the body’s ability to produce its own, naturally occurring opioids. w/o these chemicals, individuals felt more socially disconnected..t

hari present in society law.. hari addiction law


swiss and vancouver injection sites

harm reductioninjection sites – et al

Travis Lupick‘s fighting for space


methadone mile in boston – drug safety zone – saving lives – no questions asked engagement space – that operates like a library w/o requiring names or id from its patrons..


as devastating as the opioid crisis is, it’s not the only – or the biggest – threat to public health in the us..  in many poor/segregated african american neighborhoods, the most urgent problems stem from the absence of basic goods and services.. ie: healthy food..t


not many upsides to living in a place like englewood – s side of chicago – but one of them.. is so many lots are empty.. at least one open property on every block.. ripe for agri..  an ideal place not only for developing community gardens but for urban farming.. t

local food.. yeah.. connect w earth

in 1992, les brown, who found chicago coalition for homeless began advocating for an urban job training programs org’d around farming


today.. thanks to a decade of labor by civic orgs like growing home.. there are already more than 800 identifiable community gardens and urban farms in chicago..


according to one of main policy recommendations from the apha (american public health assoc) – ‘community gardens should be considered as a primary and permanent open space option as part of master planning efforts: gardens should be developed as part of land planning processes rather than as an afterthought in neighborhood redevelopment projects’..t

modern infra – for reliable power, clean water, fast transit, affordable food, and resilient structure – had done more to improve publish health than any other modern intervention, including scientific medicine..t

rat park


on older people living alone.. in another research project.. which became the book – going solo – i argued that the rise of people living alone is one of the most significant but least examined demographic changes in modern history..

begs.. parks.. libraries.. sr centers..  ‘a place those living alone can always come to find people they know

re tire ment ness and rp ness


on spaces for children to be active

ed time line ness

5 – common ground


(on going from the diversity of the factory workers to silos of the internet)..

but to me.. the issues of division aren’t really issues.. if we truly make the earth a palace.. ie: we’d have no left/right.. whatever.. we’d be too large to count/know and too small to label.. et al..  so.. i’m saying all that is irrelevant.. it’s not the real issue (taleb center of problem law)

.. to iceland.. swimming pools as a recent bounding force

in 1900 less than 1% of icelanders knew how to swim.. today..  thanks to public investment in a geothermal heating system that runs throughout the country and social infra projects that help residents commingle despite the frigid weather, there are more than 120 public pools in the nation of some 330 000 people one for every 2750 residents..  most icelanders live near a pool and the use them day and night throughout the year as a social space for gatherings..  access is universal since most are free..t


the diversity of users, and the rule that everyone must strip naked and wash off in a public area before entering the tubs, make the pools an equalizing force in icelandic society..  so too does the substance of the conversations..t

‘the pools are more than a humble municipal investment, more than just a civic perquisite that emerged from an accident of iceland’s volcanic geology.. that icelanders’ remarkable satisfaction is tied inextricably to the experience of escaping the fierce, freezing air and sinking into warm water among their country men’ – dan kois (traveled to iceland to do a story on its civic culture)..t

unfortunately, swimming pools and other social infra w potential to facil sustained, intimate interaction.. can easily be used to segregate instead..t


pools.. (wiltse argues) have been key sites of cohesion and conflict.. ‘because they are places at which people build community and define the social boundaries of community life.. swimming w other in a pool means accepting them as part of the same community precisely because the interaction is so intimate and sociable.. conversely.. excluding someone from a pool effectively defines them as social others’

by end of 19th cent philadelphia’s 9 municipal pools attracted about 1500 swimmers daily, and blacks and whites swam together in relative peace..

american municipalities built 1000s of public pools during the 1920s and 1030s.. they transformed from small bathing pools in to massive spaces for communal leisure, often surrounded by lawns, decks, restaurants, and playing tables where middle classes could spend an entire day.. millions flocked to these new hubs for social activity, and as social/sexual mores relaxed, they opened up across gender lines so that men and women could mix. w gender integration, wiltse shows, came rising anxieties about intergroup contact particularly between blacks and whites..  whites expressed concerns about contamination, sexual assault and inappropriate relationships. city leaders responded w a policy tool that’s usually associated w the south.. they created segregated facilities, w racial divisions that were often enforced informally but w unmistakable power..

by 1950s swimming pools had become flash points for racial segregation..and occasionally outright violence, throughout the north..  (there were hardly any pools for black in south,  and those that existed were formally segregated w official police enforcement)..t


on segregation – ‘pools more sensitive than schools’ because of visual/physical intimacy that accompanied their use’


1970.. courts force ymca to end its segregationist practices

in private, white families had another way to deal w forced desegregation: they retreated from public spaces and built pools in their own backyards.. between 1950 and 1975 the number o f residential in ground swimming pools in the us increased from about 2500 to more than 4 million.. racism was obviously not the only factor in this building boom, but it played an unmistakably important role in the demise of public social infra that supported collective life.. today, there are far fewer municipal swimming pools than there were in the mid 1900s.  the resort style polls, w decks and restaurants and other rec facilities have all but vanished.. in the us, they exist primarily in private clubs and resorts that are inaccessible to the middle and lower classes..


today.. whites twice as likely to know how to swim as blacks and black children being 3x more likely to die from unintentional drowning..

is this why longmont (kkk) had no pools?


in contemp america.. the black church and the black barbershop are among the most prominent social infras that support a robust counterpublic..


when the barbershop closes, the men who spend time there feel a little less isolated and vulnerable..


athletic field can be sacred places, set aside for community purposes, where categories and hierarchies that matter so much for social and political life often lose their significance. victor turner referred to such places a s ‘anti structural’ because they allow people who might otherwise be hostile to one another play together in an experience that he calls communitas: a liminal moment when all participants have the same social status and forbidden social bonds are suddenly encouraged.  in some cases.. these special interactions have lasting significance.. helping divided groups  recognize their common humanity and paving the way for more meaningful relationships off the field..


finding: that after people who regularly attend church, people who play org’d sports are more likely than others to volunteer in other civic and associational projects

good.. or maybe.. both are bad.. and all those other civic things are bad.. thinking of this tweet today (taleb center of problem):

Yaneer Bar-Yam (@yaneerbaryam) tweeted at 8:41 AM on Fri, Dec 07, 2018:
When something is persistently wrong, what people are doing to fix it is probably making it worse #complexity

i mean.. is it just reinforcing cliches.. and/or is it just helping us stay busy.. and ignore all the homeless/refugees/incarcerateds/et-al.. that need us to wake up and change things..?

pick up soccer matches

now those are great..  rather than org’d sports


study showing ‘the increase in polarization is largest among the groups least likely to use the internet and social media’.. ie: among people over 75.. social media may well contribute to widening ideological divisions, but if the internet doesn’t explain changes in the group that has grown the most polarized, it cannot be entirely to blame..

in some ways a force for good, allowing people to develop relationships w those they might never have otherwise met..  finding people lost in flight, when alone in small town, et al..


health, music, sports.. allow people who might be divided by their conviction to establish common ground..


if we use the internet wisely or design it w our common humanity rather than our differences in mind, the tech we so often blame for polarizing us can be palliative instead..

contact and conversation remind us of our common humanity..  particularly when they happen recurrently and when they involve shared passions an interests..t

indeed.. imagine if we just facil connections via daily curiosity  ie: cure ios city

2 convers as infra

there’s no easy way to restore the sense of common purpose and shared humanity that makes civic life possible..t

i don’t know.. i think there is a relatively easy way..i think we’re just not going deep enough to get to a common purpose .. that 7bn would resonate with today..

but the hard work that lies before us will be impossible if we don’t build better social infra..

rather.. if we don’t let go enough to free all of us first.. and trust that truly free people will build that social infra you are talking about.. ongoingly

6 – ahead of the storm


2005 – houston – hit by hurricane rita.. more people died in the botched evacuation than in the city center..


sandy killed 150 in nyc and 100 across caribbean.. 2004 tsunami indian ocean- killed 200 000 – 2003 heat wave pan european killed 70 000


what to do w the water once it’s there.. rather than attempting to block out heavy precipitation..t.. the city (rotterdam) is creating attractive, usable physical places that lets the water in.. basins – skatepark when empty.. niagra ness during floods


bangladesh 1991 – cyclone killed 138 000

govt redo knocks out social infra where poor people gathered.. where unable to secure conventional flood protection .. grassroots orgs collab.. on ie: floating schools and libraries..


poor developing nations not the only places experimenting w ‘floating infra’.. in 2017 – several in bay water along silicon valley.. rise of seasteading..

leaders in international development field may not yet appreciate importance of these.. but bangladeshi leaders credit grassroots ed projects w dramatically reducing mortality during extreme weather crises.. social infra is not a sub for well designed hard infra.. but it’s just as important..

in recent years, as ferocious hurricanes, searing heat waves, and raging wildfires have threatened life and destroyed valuable property in the world’ most affluent societies, govts that long denied or delayed action on global warming have begun to act more like bangladesh.. it was easy to ignore remote/abstract ecological transformations.. but today.. climate change is coming to mean something specific and scary..


after sandy, obama created a special initiative to support such por building (rather than rebuilding) .. i served as the research director for the competition and by doing this job i came to appreciate both the inadequacy of our current infra systems and the social benefits that rebuilding them could create.. ie: lower manhattan – burb wall.. that protects neighborhoods..camo’d w local artist murals.. then occasionally flip down for blocking out wind and framing space fora protected seasonal food market.. and when hurricanes hit, the walls become hard barriers, reducing odds that floodwater will devastate the area again


ie of new orleans..  repurposing large institutional buildings as community centers, art studios, small business incubators, and part (pop; 455 000 before katrina.. in 2005.. 2006 – 208 000, 2010 – 348 000.. 2016 – 391 000)


new orleans had 11 miles of bikeways when katrina hit; today it has 115.. top american cities for bike commuters..  currently ranks fifth in per capita population  that cycles to work..


bars and restaurants opening on the trail.  real estate devel .. in process of helping new orleans become more walkable and compact.. *if there’s a downside to his infra project, it’s that too much upscale development could generate additional waves of gentrification and displacement but the early signs are that residents all along the greenway are embracing the projects.. and.. more set for coming waters

i hope.. not so of detroit via ie: drew philp.. beyond calling it a *downside

gentrification et al

conclusion – before we lift the next shovel


gentrification hardly seems like a strong enough word to describe what’s happened in the bay area during the historic tech boom

wow.. and in new orleans it’s just a possible downside..? dang


in recent decades, political leaders driven by the logic of the market have proclaimed that institutions like the library don’t work any longer..

in some cities, including affluent ones like denver, the situation is so dire that local govts have been shutting down entire (library) branches

in san jose, just down the road from fb, google and apple, the public library budget is so tight that system leaders recently prohibited users w overdue fees above $10 from borrowing books or suing computers. when the fees reach $50, the library sends the case to a debt collection agency..instead of lifting up patrons, the library becomes yet another institution that’s holding them down..


a century ago most branch libraries were open 7 days a week; today, most are closed on sundays… which have always been popular days for immigrants, blue collar workers and families to visit.. no other institution can fill the void


today.. communities everywhere voicing frustration w limits of life online.. consider columbus ohio..  one recent study found 35% of preschoolers ‘unready for kinder’

dang.. wrong focus.. how can you not see that

opted to raise own taxes.. restoring full service in main library and all local branches.. stopped issuing fines for overdue books

cool.. but let’s not have it for feeding our school system


the fact that the library recorded 95 000 visits to its homework help centers and nearly 60 000 participants in its summer reading groups is equally impressive

depressive.. schooling the world


what we need, now more than ever, is an inclusive convo about the kinds of infra – physical as well as social – that would best serve, sustain and protect us..t

has to be an ongoing/daily convo with every single human..

ie: 2 convers as infra

and for protection: gershenfeld something else law

rebuilding the infra that can help solve the wicked problems unfolding before us requires harnessing all kinds of collective intelligence ..

less about intelligence .. more about interconnectedness – ie: then too.. won’t create wicked problems in first place


it’s an enormous undertaking.. going to be a long term project. but we cannot put it off any long. the question is when and where we will begin

has to be.. everywhere.. and now


let’s just facil daily curiosity  ie: cure ios city

2 convers as infra

tech as it could be..

ie: hlb via 2 convers that io dance.. as the day..[aka: not part\ial.. for (blank)’s sake…]..  a nother way

because what we need most is the energy of 7bn alive people

to get us back/to an undisturbed ecosystem

in the city.. as the day..

via gershenfeld something else law

in spaces of permission where people have nothing to prove