Monday, September 13, 2010
My favorite article from the past week asks why the residents of certain apartment buildings in New York behave in a more neighborly fashion than the tenants of other, similar buildings:
Despite the common perception that New York apartment living is an isolating experience, there are notably social buildings throughout the city. These are places where barbecues and wine-and-cheese parties are the norm, not a once-a-year obligation. Where the neighbors down the hall and upstairs get invited to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries.
The forces creating this social capital remain something of a mystery. The author argues that the residents of new buildings seem more social than residents in older buildings:
What seems to draw everyone together and create an air of collegiality is the fact that because it’s a new building, everyone who lives there has recently arrived. That makes it less intimidating and more likely for people to strike up conversations and ask basic get-to-know-you questions like, “Where are you from?” “What do you do?” and “Where’s the best coffee around here?” It can be a bonding experience.
That explanation seems a little suspect - neighborliness should increase in areas where residents stay in one place for a long time. Property forces, I would guess, are doing far more work. First, it seems pretty certain that a social building needs usable common spaces to work: courtyards, roof decks, entryways (newer buildings may have better, more fabulous common areas that generate socializing). Moreover, it seems possible the form of property ownership may be affecting social capital. Does the co-op form, so common in New York City, generate more social interaction among neighbors?