By Eric Klinenberg
Demographics aren’t just about identity. They’re about how and where different populations interact. Social infrastructure is the network of physical spaces and institutions — from sidewalks to public parks, libraries to cafes — that, when robust, promote community-building activities among otherwise diverse clans. When these resources are degraded, however, they discourage interaction, leaving different demographic groups — however you define them — to fend for themselves. The stakes are real: Weak social infrastructure breeds economic isolation, political misunderstanding, and the social divisions that fuel the most dangerous forms of xenophobia. Particularly in the wake of the recent U.S. election, the need for public and private investment in this infrastructure couldn’t be more urgent.
Eric Klinenberg is a professor of sociology and director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University. He’s writing a book on social infrastructure. A version of this article originally appeared in the January/February 2017 issue of FP magazine. Subscribe to FP Premium for 20% off now!