The Atlantic Cities:
Communities Aren’t Just Places, They’re Social Networks.
Richard Florida. Oct 25, 2012.
Cities are obviously more than just the sum of their physical assets — roads and bridges, offices, factories, shopping centers, and homes — working more like living organisms than jumbles of concrete. Their inner workings even transcend their ability to cluster and concentrate people and economic activity. As sociologist Zachary Neal of Michigan State University argues in his new book, The Connected City, cities are made up of human social networks. Neal took time to discuss his book and research with Atlantic Cities, explaining how cities work as living organisms and why what happens in Las Vegas cannot stay in Las Vegas.
RF: In the book, you write that “communities are networks, not places.” Tell us about why and how networks matter to cities?
ZN: We often think of communities in place–based terms, like Jane Jacobs’ beloved Greenwich Village. But, whether or not a place like Greenwich Village is really a community has more to do with the residents’ relationships with one another — their social networks – than with where they happen to live or work. The danger of thinking about communities as places is that it can lead us to find communities where they don’t exist. A neighborhood where the residents never interact is merely a place, but hardly a community. This can lead us to overlook communities that are not rooted in particular places, like a book club with a constantly changing venue.
Communities aren’t disappearing, but to find them we need to stop looking in places, and start looking in social networks.”
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