Art of City Building 2020 – Session 4: A Conversation with Eric Klinenberg

As part of the Art of City Building 2020 conference, we invited Åsa Kachan, Mary W. Rowe, and Jennifer Angel to have a conversation with Eric Klinenburg on social infrastructure.

5 Key

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

1. The dilemma of “social distancing”

The call to practice “social distancing” told us to stay away from others to stay safe and to survive. The need to maintain physical distance from others to keep the virus from spreading was clear, but social engagement was exactly what we needed to get through the pandemic. Remarkable creativity has emerged from public institutions, community groups and neighbourhoods to drive both social distancing and social engagement. For many this has inspired a new appreciation for the social amenities we once took for granted.

2. Infrastructure and disaster

In the face of a disaster the test is often seen to be how well the infrastructure held up. As important as physical infrastructure is in withstanding extreme events, Eric Klinenberg points out that it is the failure of social infrastructure that can be the most damaging. Defined as the physical places and organizations that shape how people interact, strong social infrastructure in a community supports greater resilience. Eric’s study of the deadly 1995 heat wave in Chicago demonstrated that the highest death rates occurred in communities with the most deteriorated social infrastructure regardless of other demographic indicators.

3. The local library as a resilience centre

Following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy on New York City, Eric supported a design competition called Rebuild by Design. One of the projects pitched was a “resilience centre” where “resilience professionals” would always be available and “aggressively welcoming” to members of the community, especially for youth and seniors. Eric pointed out that the project had actually described the longstanding role of local libraries to a tee (and expressed envy for the magnificent Halifax Central Library where moderator Asa Kachan is Chief Librarian). As many in the chat pointed out, other examples of resilience centres include community centres, coffee shops, corner stores and inclusive communities of faith.

4. Making the case for investing in social infrastructure

If social infrastructure is what can make the difference between life and death in hard times, asked moderator Jennifer Angel, then why is it so hard to convince governments to invest in it? Discussion of ways to pay for social infrastructure included reference to the philanthropy that built Carnegie libraries and speculation on what that could look like today. Others expressed a preference for fairer taxation or highlighted the role of non-governmental agencies.

5. The future of social infrastructure

While COVID-19 has raised the prospect that social infrastructure will be given a higher priority in the post-pandemic period, the significant fiscal constraints that cities will continue to be under creates pressure to reduce costs. In conjunction with other emerging challenges like a changing climate, the future may be a dark age or a shining green new deal. These twin pressures could lead to new norms of multi-use design ensuring co-benefits from both hard and social infrastructures, such as Kate Orff’s Living Breakwaters project that won the Rebuild by Design competition in New York City following Hurricane Sandy.

Full Panel

Note to readers: This video session was transcribed using auto-transcribing software. Manual editing was undertaken in an effort to improve readability and clarity. Questions or concerns with the transcription can be directed to with “transcription” in the subject line.

Jen Angel [00:00:14] Welcome. My name is Jen Angel and I work with a group called Develop Nova Scotia here in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. We work hard to build sustainable places in Nova Scotia that people love. And we do that to attract people to Nova Scotia and also to attract people to participate in building a Nova Scotia where everyone can belong and thrive. I’d like to begin this evening by acknowledging that we’re coming to you from Mi’kmaqi, the ancestral unseeded territory of the Mi’kmaw people. We are all treaty people.


Jen Angel [00:00:48] My Art of City Building colleagues and I are really privileged to be here with you today. And it’s been quite a day. We have been challenged and we have been inspired. But what matters most is that this is the beginning of the conversation, that the conversation continues tomorrow and that the conversation leads us to action. The Art of City Building team. Tara, Paul, Kourosh and T.J. and I are so thankful for the support of our partners who, like we do, believe these challenging conversations are a critical step to building a better day and a better future. Thanks to Mary Rowe, the CEO of the Canadian Urban Institute, for their exceptional partnership this year. And also to Asa Kashan, the CEO and Chief Librarian of the Halifax libraries. And to all of you for joining us in the discussion tonight. And I couldn’t be more excited to introduce you to our next speaker for the next 30 minutes or so. We’re gonna hear from Eric Klinenberg. After that, we’ll turn it over to Mary, who’s going to welcome your questions, including some questions and ideas from Asa.


Jen Angel [00:01:54] The future of cities and democratic societies rests not only on shared values, but on social infrastructure. The libraries, the parks and the civic organizations where crucial connections are formed. And when social infrastructure is robust, people are more likely to build ties with neighbors and invest in their communities. But when it’s neglected, families and individuals must fend for themselves. Innovative projects can address challenges like climate change and crime while building social cohesion. So says our next guest, award winning author Eric Klinenberg. Eric is Helen Gould Sheppard, professor of social science and director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University. His books include ‘Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality’, ‘Polarization and the Decline of Civic Life’. ‘Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone’ and ‘Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago’. As well as the coauthor of The New York Times number one bestseller, ‘Modern Romance’. Eric has contributed to The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books and This American Life, and he’s currently working on a new book, ’20/20: A Social Autopsy’. I’m delighted. And a little star struck to welcome Eric Klinenberg to Halifax, sort of, over to you, Eric. And thank you for joining us tonight.


Eric Klinenberg [00:03:25] Terrific. Well, thank you, I hope you can see me, I think. I hope I’m there. I’m sad. I’m not really there. This is a poor substitute for a visit to Nova Scotia, which is what I’d really like to be doing. So I really hope that we can take a rain check and meet again in person before too long.


[00:03:42] I want to talk to you today about the predicament that we’re in this current moment that has been so difficult. Horrifying, really, depending on where exactly you are. I’m a professor at New York University and was living in New York when the pandemic began. And like many of you, the first message I got about what I needed to do to protect myself in the pandemic was this. The message was I needed social distancing. The way to survive was to keep myself away from from other people. And I heard this language of social distancing and it made some sense. I understood what health authorities meant when they said distancing. It was the social part that I was really concerned about, though, because, you know, if you think about it, it’s it’s one thing for us to be physically distant with one another, you know, to keep our our bodies separated so we don’t cough and sneeze and breathe on each other. That’s how you spread a lethal virus. But the social part didn’t make a lot of sense to me because it just seemed to me like we really need to be connected to each other, supportive of one another, socially engaged to get through this moment like never before.


Eric Klinenberg [00:05:02] That’s an insight that I came by years ago, the first project I did as a book about a heatwave in my native city, Chicago, in 1995. And the thing that made the heatwave so consequential and also so difficult to comprehend at a human level is it was a case where hundreds of people wound up dying alone in a city that prides itself on being a city of neighborhoods, a place of communities. It was shocking to me as someone who grew up in the city, that that people could be as isolated and detached from one another as they proved to be that we can Chicago. And I needed to understand more at the time as it happens when there’s a big crisis and a catastrophe. The first thing we think about is does the infrastructure work or do we have an adequate infrastructure to help us get through this situation? And sure enough, in Chicago in 1995, that the main hard infrastructure, the the transit system, the power, even the water, everything was failing. But when I looked really closely at who lived and who died in the heat wave, it wasn’t really a story of where the infrastructure worked and where the infrastructure didn’t work when it came to this kind of hard traditional infrastructure. What really mattered in Chicago, I learned, was the social infrastructure. To what extent did the physical places that shape our capacity to connect with each other either encourage our participation in collective life, foster conditions that help us support one another, knock on our neighbors door, and to what extent to the social infrastructure systems that are around us do the reverse, encourage us to stay at home, prohibit us from going outside, make us feel like the way to stay safe is to physically and socially distance ourselves from each other.


Eric Klinenberg [00:06:57] What you’re looking at now is an image of one of the neighborhoods in Chicago, Englewood, that had one of the highest death rates in the city. And Englewood was remarkable. And so far as if it was not just kind of poor and segregated, as many parts of Chicago are. It really had a deteriorated social infrastructure, lots of empty lots, lots of abandoned buildings. If you live in a neighborhood like this, this is not healthy green space that makes you feel alive and like you want to go spend time in nature. This is treacherous, outdoor, abandoned, dilapidated space that increases the risk of danger and makes you feel like you don’t really have a place to connect with people around you. What I also noticed when I spent time in the neighborhoods in Chicago that were affected is this neighborhood called Auburn Gresham, which is right across the street from this place. Literally, they’re separated by a street, is also very segregated. Almost ninety nine percent African-American, also very poor. But the social infrastructure of Auburn Gresham is really intact, viable sidewalks, public spaces, diners, neighborhood organizations, playgrounds, parks, all kinds of places that encouraged social life. And you probably won’t be surprised at this point to learn that Auburn Gresham, despite the fact that its segregated, despite the fact, that it is very poor. And despite the fact that was right across the street from one of the most deadly places in Chicago during the heat with this neighborhood, one of. Doing just fine. It was one of the most resilient places around.


Eric Klinenberg [00:08:29] So for a long time now, I’ve been thinking about this thing called social infrastructure. It’s real. We don’t really have a robust concept for the set of ideas I’m offering here. So it came up with the notion of social infrastructure to market to make it more visible than it otherwise might be. What I insist is that there is a social infrastructure that’s just as real as the infrastructure for power and for transit and for water and communications and all the things that we ordinarily think about. But we’ve neglected our social infrastructure for the most part, city after city, state after state and national government after national government has done not enough to think about how investing in the public realm can help us connect with each other, support one another, participate in democratic culture and civic life, regardless of whether it’s an ordinary time or a crisis when we really need each other’s support. Now, a lot of my thinking about social infrastructure has come from my time living and working in New York City. And those of you who’ve spent time in New York City probably know that most of the time. If you’re flying above, I don’t know if any of you remember being on an airplane or flying. It’s kind of an exotic thing that we used to do. And I hope we get to do it again someday. But this is one of my favorite memories, is being able to fly above New York and look down on it, but not this particular night, because the image you’re seeing here is what Manhattan looked like during Hurricane Sandy and right after Hurricane Sandy. What was stunning about this night and this image is that the financial capital of the world, the center of capitalism, a site of incredible affluence, a place it’s as connected as a place could be, as essential as a place could be in the world was totally in the dark because the hard infrastructure was inundated. And after Sandy happened, this is a mega event, a record breaking storm. But unfortunately, we had a guy at the time right in the White House named Barack Obama.

You might remember him also feels like a very different time in life. But he was really concerned that we were going to have more Sandys that New York and cities like New York would experience big threats that ran the risk of breaking apart our systems, of cutting us off from one another, of introducing all kinds of pain and suffering and worse and devastating our cities and our economies. And so President Obama thought, you know, the ordinary way we rebuild after a crisis in the United States is we build back exactly what we had before. In fact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which runs our disaster policy programs, has a rule that that cities and states in United States are usually not able to build anything better than what they lost during a disaster, because the federal government is concerned that local governments are going to try to to use resources to make themselves better even when it’s not the right thing to do. They want to have disaster policy be just to get things back to where they were before.


Eric Klinenberg [00:11:41] So after Sandy, President Obama realized there was a little bit of a workaround with this. He set up a program called the Rebuild by Design Competition. It came from funding that the U.S. Congress passed after a bitter fight. It passed about 50 billion dollars in federal relief to help the country get through and get past what had happened. And the Congress and the White House set aside a few billion dollars for a design competition in which they encouraged teams of architects and landscape architects and engineers and urban planners from around the world to compete and try to win some of that money to actually build new structures and infrastructures that were designed for the 21st century. I had been doing a lot of research and writing on what was going on in New York at the time. And one day out of the blue, I wound up getting a call from the Obama administration asking if I’d be the research director for that project. And that meant the opportunity to spend a lot of time with the finalist teams. There were 150 teams from around the world that applied to be part of this competition. About 10 were selected in the end. And my job was to spend three months with them as the competition got going.

Talking about the region and the different needs and vulnerabilities and possibilities that were there. After the three months of meetings I then spent three months working on outreach and doing civic participation. Mary Rowe, who will join us later as one of the people who worked on that on that project with the Municipal Art Society in New York. And then there was three months of designs as a nine month kind of gestation period where all the teams had to work before they could even introduce a plan. Our proposal for what they want to do with this money.


Eric Klinenberg [00:13:26] So I was working with these groups who worked really closely together. We talked a lot about projects and it’s very intimidating to come up with an idea if you’re a designer or an engineer or an architect. It’s very intimidating to think like what?

What could I potentially pitch in a proposal in a competition that’s this big and significant with this much money that’s going to merit a victory and actually get something done?

There’s one team that was really stressed out about this competition that could their amazing group of designers that couldn’t figure out what they wanted to do. And finally, at one point, they started to ask me now, well, wouldn’t it be amazing if we had a resilience center? They said, like, you think about how local life works and not just in the Northeast, the region of the United States that was affected by Sandy, but places around the world. There are all kinds of threats that people face. It could be a it could be a climate event. It could be a pandemic. It could be poverty in all kinds of major issues. Is there a place in the neighborhood that people know they can come to? And they said, you know, imagine if we had a like a public building that was a resilient center and we could that we would design a resilient center in this competition. And it was a building that was of the scale of the neighborhood and it was open six, seven days a week. And it was staffed by these resilient professionals whose job was to be like aggressively welcoming to people who would potentially come in. And they said, you know, in our resilience center that we’re conceiving, we would have these resilience professionals who would do programing for young people especially and for older people, because they said, you know, younger people and older people are the most rooted in a neighborhood. They’re most likely to use the resilience center and in a regular way. And they said, you know, we want them to come here when things are really tough and a hard time. But the way to do that is to create a place that feels welcoming and fun all the time, a place that people can trust. And so maybe they would do like reading groups for kids and singalongs for kids and conversation groups, you know, book clubs, cultural activities for the older adults. And they said, you know, that the younger kids won’t come here on their own. They’ll bring their they’re grown ups. And we’ll maybe we’ll need to have some comfortable seating for them and maybe some tablets or machines and periodicals they could read. And, you know, they were so excited about this idea and they wanted me to know, to know that they’re thinking about it. And they also wanted me to tell them what what I thought of it. And I said, you know, actually, it sounds like an amazing idea to have a resilience center. I think every city, every neighborhood should have a resilience center. And I also said to them. Have you ever heard of a library?


Eric Klinenberg [00:16:21] Because it seemed to me like as amazing as this idea was for Resilience Center, it was missing the fact that there are because of our history, these institutions, these buildings, these programs that actually are able to promote resilience and community and connection and engagement of all varieties, including civic engagement every day of the year that they’re open. We call these buildings libraries, and it’s amazing. You know, at the time when we were doing this, libraries were not really in vogue. There was an idea out there that maybe libraries were past their prime. You know that the world has become digital. And, you know, we we use physical spaces differently and maybe people aren’t interested in this. And so you certainly would hear if you talk to people who run cities in many parts of the world, though, not all, as you know. And leaders of the national governments, a notion that library is kind of a luxury. It’s the thing that you fund, you know, if you have some extra money at the end of the budget cycle. But if times are tough and obviously times are tough right now and about to be tougher for a while, the library might not be at the top of your agenda in terms of the places that you would support. But in the libraries where I spent time in New York, libraries, played an amazing role in neighborhood life for so many people.


Eric Klinenberg [00:17:50] New York City has this thing going on that maybe you’ve heard of called gentrification, where you’ve got immigrant neighborhoods, working class neighborhoods, places where ordinary people are living their lives and have been for a long time. And suddenly a guy shows up in a cart selling 12 dollar ice cream cones. I don’t know if you have those where you are, but twelve dollar ice cream cones or coffee shops where they only take credit cards you can’t pay with cash. And what you find in neighborhoods like this is a clash between people who have just arrived and are trying to turn it into a little bit of a playground. And people who have been there for a while and are increasingly finding that they don’t have a place to go. In fact, a lot of the commercial venues in the neighborhood where that library. You’re just looking at in the Lower East Side of New York is fine, that even when they go to a McDonald’s or Dunkin Donuts, they see these signs saying no loitering. You know, you can be there for 30 minutes, even though probably someone like me could be there for a very long time before anyone said anything or kick me out for other people. The reality is space is not as welcoming or accessible. Obviously, that is not true at the library. It’s one of our few institutions where the people who work there take pride in making the place as accessible and open as it can possibly be.

[00:19:12]This is a great moment in the morning. I like to go to the to the local libraries in the United States right at opening time, because there’s usually a pretty nice sized crowd outside waiting for the head librarian to open the door and welcome everyone. And of course, it’s free for everyone. [16.8s] This is what the scene looks like when you’re on the inside of the library, which I got to occasionally do before the day. And you see, this comes streams of people who come in, you know, for all variety of experiences, for sure.


Eric Klinenberg [00:19:43] You know, libraries continue to be places where you see these incredible moments where a child gets her first library card. And I’ve always thought that’s an amazing moment because [00:19:53]the library card is for many people, the first piece of I.D. that you get, the first card that has your name on it or that’s yours, that gives you a set of rights and privileges and privilege to take out a book and bring it home with you. And it teaches you that, you know, you are are somebody you count. And what’s more, it teaches you this incredible civic skill, which is if you want to take home the Curious George book, you can take it home and you don’t have to pay anything for it. But you have to know that eventually there’s another child who’s going to want to read that same book.

So you have to bring it back and you have to take care of it while you have it right. And you do that knowing that if you play your role, then someone else is probably going to play their role, too, which means that when you’re ready for the next Curious George book or you’re ready for Harry Potter, that neighbor of yours will have returned the book. So you have a chance to read it as well. That idea of solidarity or interdependence. Right? The notion that my fate is linked to your fate, that we’re all in it together. That’s something that many societies on Earth, including the one that I’m sitting in right now, are sorely lacking.

But those are skills that we learn if we spend time in places like libraries. [77.1s]


Eric Klinenberg [00:21:11] I love community libraries that offer a place for multi-ethnic, multicultural society where people speak different languages and have different backgrounds to come together, share each other’s stories, hear each other’s languages, share each other’s songs. That doesn’t necessarily happen in a lot of segregated societies. And the library is one of the few places we have where children come together, build relationships with each other. They’re their caretakers. They’re grown ups come together. And I can’t tell you how many playdates or lunch meetings start at the library. You know, two caretakers meet each other and make a plan to kids, meet each other, make a plan. And over time, you see those relationships evolve into something else. It becomes more than a friendship. It can scale up and turn into something more like community. And of course, libraries are the kinds of social infrastructures that encourage civic engagement, civic participation. There are places in the U.S. that provide more English as a second language instruction than any other institution. They’re places that provide courses for people who are interested in becoming citizens. Right. Of course, you don’t need to be a citizen to use the library. You just need to be a human being.


Eric Klinenberg [00:22:25] One of my favorite moments of seeing community and resilience get built in action comes from a weekly event that they hold in Brooklyn called the Library Lanes. It’s a virtual bowling league where older people who fit the demographic profile of the people who are most likely to die in that heat wave in Chicago that I started by telling you about people who are who are older, who are people of color, who are low income, who have every reason in the world to stay at home, who are at every risk of being isolated and lonely. You create a place, a venue, a forum and program it. Suddenly you create a place where people can come together. So every week throughout the city of Brooklyn, people come to older people come together and they and they compete. You can see they’re wearing bowling shirts. They compete against the virtual bowling teams from other branch libraries in Brooklyn. And they compete on an X box. And I love this because some of you who’ve been conversations about the nature of civic life and what’s happened to civic life probably remember this book called Bowling Alone by the Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, in which he talks about the decline of collective bowling as a symbol of how far apart we’ve come, a symbol of our atomization of our enemy.


Eric Klinenberg [00:23:48] And I have to tell you, when I looked at these faces, I thought about the people in Chicago who perished in the heat wave. I thought about all the people I knew in New York and other cities who have struggled with isolation and disconnection. I know that these faces, the smiles, those genuine expressions of joy, those those don’t come unless you build a social infrastructure that makes it possible. Unless you program it. Unless you maintain the place. So it feels good to be there. And that’s something that more and more of us need to do. More places on Earth need to do it.


Eric Klinenberg [00:24:28] Now, just before my book is Palaces for the People, what came out? I was online one day and I saw a bunch of the people I know and follow on Twitter get really, really agitated because an economist who is also in New York City wrote an article in Forbes magazine saying the library is an obsolete institution. He said, you know, people just don’t need libraries anymore. We have digital culture. And and, you know, he said until you can show me the cost benefit analysis that cashes out the value of the library. What I would like to see is for governments around the world to knock down their libraries or put up condos and sell them on the market. And we should replace libraries with Amazon. Think about the savings we get if instead of libraries we had Amazon. It was kind of an amazing moment because right after it happened, the librarians of the world united and they got onto Twitter and they started making the most eloquent and amazing defenses of libraries. They talked about all the things that 21st century libraries do. They didn’t use the language of social infrastructure, but they basically describe what it means to have a physical place that invites and encourages people to come together. That’s programed in democratic and accessible. It was an amazing moment. And I have to say, twenty four hours after they started tweeting, Forbes actually took this man’s article down. They took it off the Internet. They were embarrassed to have it there because the ideas are so ludicrous. But I think about that. Idea now, like, what if we just didn’t invest in shared places and gathering places? What if we didn’t think about social infrastructure, whether it’s like the library or the the public park or the playground or the athletic field or the swimming pool? You know what? If as our government budgets get tighter and tighter, we stop investing in those kinds of places and say we’ll let the market do it? You know, it’s a it’s a luxury that we can’t afford to test, to build shared common spaces. And I think about all the places on Earth where the libraries are already closing.

You know, it’s happened in the United States. It’s in the United Kingdom. The budgets for libraries have been trimmed so much that they depend on volunteer labor. In some places they’ve already sold off the buildings.


Eric Klinenberg [00:26:53] But what would it what has Amazon been doing during the Corona virus pandemic? You’ve probably seen the Jeff Bezos has massively increased his wealth, the tens of billions of dollars he’s made these last six months, as most of the world has, has has suffered and stayed shuttered indoors and millions of people have lost their jobs. I mean, it’s unconscionable. Meanwhile, libraries in the United States have largely stayed close, but has still done things like curbside delivery service. They provided Wi-Fi for people who can come close by. Some places have restaurants that they’ve opened and even worked on delivery, all kinds of reader advisory programs and courses available online. The expansion of digital lending and other learning resources. I mean, the libraries in the United States have been heroic during this time. And of course, in Canada, where your government is relatively sane and you’ve been able to do things like follow basic public health guidelines and make it so that people can live something closer to normal life. My understanding is that many libraries are open. [00:28:03]And I guess it’s a little bit funny to have a New Yorker, someone from the United States coming to tell you about the value of investing in social infrastructure, in palaces for the people, given that this is what the library in Halifax looks like right now. You know, we could only dream of having this kind of place. [21.6s]


Eric Klinenberg [00:28:26] But I think it’s important for us to come together and have this conversation, regardless of what you’ve already built, regardless of how much local support there is for a central library here or a central library there. Because, first of all, the truth is, as we enter into this next phase of social life, hopefully we get to a post covered moment in the not too distant future, though I’m not quite sure how distant that’s going to be or how exactly we’re going to get there. I hope at some point we’ve beaten back this virus and we can move back to a life that has something like a semblance to what we used to live. But certainly when we get there, we will face governments that have lost significant amounts of their funding. We will face a situation in which the budgets are very tight. There will be a lot of pressure to downsize, to cut funding for maintenance, to furlough or fire librarians, to reduce the number of hours that are there. And we probably will not see the kinds of ambitious projects that result in buildings like this happen at the neighborhood level where so many people in our communities make their lives every day. It’s one thing to build a beautiful central palaces that become the celebrities of the town. You know, the draws for tourism, a center of local pride. We need places like this, but we also need to think of how we can build smaller palaces for the people in the neighborhoods where most of us live. And most of us will face the question of of what we do next. So I can tell you, having spent time working on the rebuild by design competition, that [00:30:13]there’s an incredible knowledge at the local level that people have about what their communities need, about what their neighborhoods need. And there’s incredible interest in investment, not just in the big infrastructure systems, those hard line systems, the tunnels and bridges that we conventionally invest in, but also in social infrastructure. [21.0s] That always matters and that during tough times can make the difference between life and death. So I’m going to stop there. Thank you for listening. And I’m really looking forward to our conversation this afternoon.


Mary Rowe [00:30:50] Hi gang, it’s Mary Rowe from the Canadian Urban Institute, just always delighted to see my old friend and colleague Eric here live with us and appreciate that little bit of American humility. Eric, as you suggested, but it is sometimes a bit odd, but canadians love to hear from Americans, as you know.


Eric Klinenberg [00:31:07] About three of us who are humble, Mary.


Mary Rowe [00:31:09] Yes, exactly. We are happy to have you. And I’m actually a dual citizen, so I have to own some of that to that. There is a tendency that we all have I think whatever jurisdiction we’re in, we tend to think that we’re the ones. But we have a long tradition here in Canada of celebrating different forms of social infrastructure as you know, and we have, you and I just chatting about this. We have Carnegie libraries in Canada. I think a lot of people don’t recognize this. The Carnegie actually was a philanthropist, a continental philanthropist. And so we have some of those old great buildings as well. So terrific to have you here and terrific to have an opportunity to actually at this point, as you and I have not actually chatted during the pandemic. And but we have both you and I experienced acute challenges to resilience and this notion that social infrastructure plays such a pivotal role. So interesting. You were a little gloomy at the end there. Did you feel yourself go a bit gloomy about what’s going to happen to you? Let me just ask you a question about this before I call on my two colleagues who are going to come in. What do you think the prospect is as we emerge? We’re gonna live with COVID for a while. What do you think the prospect is that we’re gonna put a higher priority on these forms of social infrastructure? Do you think it’s. Do you think we’re having a Joni Mitchell moment where we where we recognize that how important these things are because they’ve been taken from us and now we’re going to have to double down and reinvest?


Eric Klinenberg [00:32:32] I think many of us do feel that way, Mary. And I guess on balance, I’m I’m kind of an optimist. I think this is a moment where we can have a real reset. A lot of us have been stuck in our houses. We’ve been limited from spending time with each other and in the places we love. And I do think that there are a lot of us out here who just can’t wait to go back into collective life and who who who come to realize that a lot of things that we took for granted are not there as our birthright. You know, we have to we have to build them. We have to design them well, we have to invest in them. We have to create conditions that allowed us to use them. And I think there’s a real possibility for something like, you know, where people are increasingly calling a green new deal that is heavy on social infrastructure, places like playgrounds and parks and libraries, you know, things that are accessible and open and that support a democratic culture and that are sustainable over time. I think there’s I when I’m out there, especially I’m talking to younger people, I just hear an overwhelming desire for those kinds of amenities. But I guess if I sound a little pessimistic towards the end, it’s because there are some dark forces out there, too. And obviously, we’re just a few weeks away from an election here in this country. And we’ve just lost one of our great heroes, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And I guess, Mary, I’d say it’s the first time in my life where it really feels like everything is up for grabs. [00:34:06]Now, I don’t I I don’t know if in six weeks we’re heading towards the Green New Deal or a dark age [6.0s] and. Right. You know, you’re at your old friend Jane Jacobs warned us about a dark age ahead. And, you know, if you told me that in two years time in the United States, things would be really dark and we’d fail to make those collective investments. You know, that that we would look back on the last couple of years as the glory years. I probably could believe you. I believe that things could be that bad here. But. But I tend to believe that we’re going to do the right thing and that that that the light side will will prevail in this. [00:34:48]It’s just going to be the battle of our lives. [1.7s]


Mary Rowe [00:34:50] Yeah. Yeah. Well, we we appreciate that. We and we read the papers up here. You know, we know the intensity that you’re living with down there.


Mary Rowe [00:34:59] Yes, exactly. Please come. We all know and we all get, you know, kind of always says, come on up. Come on up.


Eric Klinenberg [00:35:05] Not anymore.


Mary Rowe [00:35:06] Yes. Well, not right this minute.


Eric Klinenberg [00:35:08] Apparently you built a wall.


Mary Rowe [00:35:10] Yeah. Just not right this minute. But, you know, things will change.


Mary Rowe [00:35:12] If I could ask my colleagues, Asa, and Jen Angel to join us and they’ll reveal their screens. And here they are. And so you get the three of us here to have a conversation with you in response to what you’ve suggested. And I’m going to start with those that I love, the fact that you can. That one can be the chief librarian. You can have this title. It means you’re the smartest person in a city. Don’t you think that’s what it means, Asa? And you are the chief librarian of the Regional Municipality of Halifax. Happy to have you on. Just by way of reminder to the city, our listeners and to the Art of City Building listeners. We’ve had 60 city talk sessions since the onset of COVID. And our second most popular, our first most popular was the one that Jay Pitter anchored. She said to them they were they were a barn burners. And then the second most was the session where we had the chief librarians, including Asa. So Asa, do you have a question you want to put to Eric?


Asa Kachan [00:36:09] Well, I first wanted to do a shout out to Eric about the local libraries and the small libraries. I think that’s such an important aspect of this. We have these great central libraries that are being built across our country. [00:36:24]And what our experience has been locally in Halifax is that the the opening of that library actually reignited people’s relationship both with the central library and with their local libraries. [8.6s]


Asa Kachan [00:36:33] So we’re now in the process of renovating and reinvigorating those local libraries, because you’re absolutely right. That’s the place people turn to in their moments.


Asa Kachan [00:36:49] So my question was, I, you know, in the early days of the COVID pandemic, there was this great article that the Politico magazine published. And they talked to, I think, thirty five big thinkers. And you were tapped as one of those big thinkers and you talked about this sort of shift. Your thinking at that time early on was that, you know, there’d be a shift away from from individualism, that we would appreciate one another and come more closely together. You’ve sort of given some indications of that to Mary. But, you know, in the intervening six months, of course, you know, COVID has exposed us all those vulnerabilities in our community, the housing insecurity, the poor broadband, the systemic anti-Black racism, you know, has your perspective changed now versus at the beginning of the pandemic?


Eric Klinenberg [00:37:43] I mean, I guess I what I said to Mario, I’ll try to say a little differently now. I mean, I think I see all the elements of transformation here. I mean, I think, you know, major pandemics and other crises have historically played the role of being switching points. You know, there are moments where we can assess who we are, what we value, you know, whether we built the kind of world that we want to live in or, you know. And if the answer is no, we’ve made some mistakes. The learning experiences that we get from that can be transformative. And here now, we happen to have all the ingredients in place and United States for that kind of transformation here. The only thing we lack is an honest president and ruling party that’s willing to let democracy happen the way it’s supposed to. And so, you know, I think that if we are able to have a fair election in November, you know, if there’s not massive voter suppression, you know, if there is not a even bigger attempt to shut people out of the process and not count the vote then than we expect. I really do believe that we could see a transformation. The things that Joe Biden who’s no, you know, radical, the things that he’s running on would transform the United States. And, of course, the United States is just one of many countries in the world. It happens to be the country where I live. So I’m most attentive to it. And it also plays an outsized influence in global politics. It’s played an outside influence for the bad in many areas recently, including on climate and on immigration and on the economy. And I think the United States, you know, if it changes and starts to invest in itself, you know, if there is something like a green new deal, if we start to do the kind of public works projects that we did, you know, under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the last comparable moment to this. Right. The Great Depression. I think we could be part of a wave of political change that would that would sweep through the world. So in my better moments, you know, in the light of day, I still see that happening. I’m going to stand by what I said to Politico several months ago. But I want to say that with the asterisks, because, you know, everything is up for grabs.


Mary Rowe [00:40:32] Can I just intervene, though, Eric, because you’re you’re guilty of something here that Americans are guilty of, which is you’re bringing the drama, the political drama, that you’re letting the United States into the front of the conversation. And I appreciate the intensity of that, my girlfriend is American. I wish she was born in America. She’s Canadian it now, but she takes to heart what’s going on in these circumstances. So I understand it. But we’re about local. And you, in fact, are talking about local infrastructure that can be created regardless of whoever is in federally in power. Don’t you think so? Is there some value here to actually focusing on local amenities and how social infrastructure can be created by the listeners? You’ve got your city builders. They’re all about the local.


Eric Klinenberg [00:41:13] For sure there is. And I don’t know what the structure of Canadian government is. In the U.S. We’re really constrained at the local level because cities don’t have a lot of money and cities don’t have a lot of power. And so the reason I’m pushing this point about the federal government is that we really need someone to turn on the tap here because the tap is dry. Our cities are in big trouble. They’ve been depleted.

They’ve lost a lot of their tax base there. You know, millions of jobs have disappeared. But that’s the United States where we have bungled the coronavirus much more than Canada has. Job losses have been far lower in Canada than in the U.S.. The economic damage has been far lower in Canada than the US. The health problems have been far less significant than they have been significant. It’s not like you’re going through nothing, but you’ve done a much better job, which means I think, you know, there are possibilities for local building and for local structural projects. And I encourage everyone who is, you know, still here at the end of this long day for you to [00:42:16]be thinking creatively about the kinds of social infrastructure projects that would benefit your community. [4.8s] We’ve talked here about the library, but let me emphasize how important it is to live in a neighborhood with a with an excellent playground. You know, I grew up in in Chicago in the 1970s and 1980s, and that we had once invested in a lot of great local neighborhood amenities, but we let them fall apart. And so, you know, you have a playground if you don’t update it and put in new equipment. If you let things you know, if you have broken bottles, that are there in the morning. You know, if if the maintenance is if you don’t invest in maintenance, people stop using the playground. Right. It becomes a place to avoid rather than a place to come together. If you invest in a playground or an athletic field or a swimming pool. You create a magnet where people all from all different backgrounds can come together. [00:43:13]And, you know, in my view, we don’t build community most of the time because we wake up in the morning and say, you know what, I really want to do today, Mary? I like to go out and build myself a community. I mean, there’s a few people who do that, but they tend to be kind of creepy. [10.7s] And [00:43:25]generally speaking, you know, we build community because we go out and do things that we enjoy doing in places where we that make us happy and places that offer something pleasant. [10.8s] And in the context of going about what we’re doing, like pushing our child on a swing, right. Then watching our children play soccer, going for a walk in the park in the context of doing those things, we get to know each other and that why investing in social infrastructure matters. And that’s why I hope you can do it in Canada.


Mary Rowe [00:43:56] Yeah, to build social capital, Jen, that leads nicely into your question, I think, about where you wanted to take it next.


Jen Angel [00:44:01] Yeah, sure does. Mary, thanks for that. I want to pick up on your point about cities not having a lot of money in the U.S. and they don’t have any in Canada either.


Eric Klinenberg [00:44:12] Well, I thought you were going to offer some. I got excited for a second.


Jen Angel [00:44:16] I guess it’s not that they don’t have a lot of money. They don’t have a lot of money leftover. And I think, though, that it’s important to point out that there’s lots of money in the system. You know, in your book, In Palaces for the People, your argument isn’t that social infrastructure matters more than conventional hard infrastructure. You know, when I’m thinking about social infrastructure, it’s I’m not just thinking about libraries, although they’re a perfect example, but also, you know, waterfronts and public squares and public parks and playgrounds, as you describe. And you’re also not contending that it’s that investing in social infrastructure is sufficient to solve these underlying wicked problems. But I think what you are saying is that building it is just as urgent as repairing the hard infrastructure and that we can do both together so that we can build we can build these critical hard infrastructure systems and also build palaces for people and places where community can can thrive and resilience can grow. So why is it so hard to convince policymakers and governments of the the urgency, but also the impact which you show through your research of investing in social infrastructure? And when we’re setting priorities and budgets, why isn’t social infrastructure rising to the top? Can you help us make the case for investing in place?


Eric Klinenberg [00:45:44] I mean, I’ve I’ve a great book for you to share with your local officials if you want to make that case.


Jen Angel [00:45:50] Please.


Eric Klinenberg [00:45:51] You’re supposed to laugh to my book that I’m talking about. That didn’t go over well at all.


Eric Klinenberg [00:45:59] No, I think I get the argument of that. I mean, it’s your question that made me write the book, because the way that I saw these debates play out in city after city is that, you know, libraries, playgrounds, parks, they were thought of as their afterthoughts, their luxuries. It’s like if everything else gets taken care of, then we can have these nice things, you know? But the core thing we have to do is X, and I guess what I’m arguing here, given that we know how the social infrastructure can make a difference between life and death during a crisis, and we spend a lot of money and making sure that we stay alive in crises, we know it can make a difference in our civic engagement. We know it affects our happiness, our health. In the book I show how investments in social infrastructure can benefit us by reducing crime, by improving neighborhood health, by improving our capacity to learn and to engage with each other. What as we start to marshal the evidence that this isn’t just a luxury? Right. It’s also something that actually helps us accomplish core social and political values. Then I think at the negotiation table when we’re working on city budgets, we can make a stronger case. I also think and this is something I am at pains to show it in Palaces for the People, but that Mary and I worked on together, [00:47:18]the next wave of big infrastructure projects involves multiple use projects. Right. You want to have co benefits. [8.9s] So if you’re going to build a flood protection system, which every city and community now needs, because climate change, you don’t just have to build a wall. You know, I could show you images of the Bjarke Ingels project called, you know, originally called the Big U in lower Manhattan. That’s a flood protection system that also creates a brand new park land and walking paths and bike paths so that at the same time that it keeps the city dry and specifically helps the more vulnerable communities that have a lot of low income public housing by the river. It’s also creating an amenity, a shared space that will make people healthier and happier and more connected all the time. Kate Orf, the brilliant landscape architect, did a very similar project in Staten Island which involved, you know, creating a system she called the living breakwaters a kind of natural infrastructure system that would reduce wave energy and keep the storms from being as violent and destructive as they have been in Staten Island. But also, they would have education hubs and cultural hubs and encourage people to come out to the water and and see their relationship to the ecosystems that they’re embedded in in different ways. That’s something we really need to do better in the US in particular, is not take the ecosystems that we that nourish us for granted.


Eric Klinenberg [00:48:56] And so I think that really well-designed infrastructure plans, critical hard infrastructure plans are increasingly also social infrastructure plans. [00:49:06]But if a government leader doesn’t see that possibility there, they’re just going to go for the cheapest, easiest solution [6.1s] and at the end. And so I think the challenge for those of us who can understand how to do infrastructure and then in this next century is going to be to make that case and to put those things on the table. And it’s not I want to sugarcoat it. [00:49:26]These are going to be very difficult fights, because when the budgets are tight, you’re always going to try to value engineer in the end, it’s always going to be a fight. But you have to be able to show beautiful things. You have to be able to design things well. You have to be able to show the benefits. [14.3s] Right. In some places, the United States is famous for these public private partnerships. And we talked about libraries. You know, Andrew Carnegie entered into that conversation and palaces for the people is his concept. You know, I don’t believe that philanthropy is going to solve these problems, but I do think that philanthropy can sometimes play a catalytic role in establishing models that governments can scale up. When there’s no other source of funding that’s available.


Mary Rowe [00:50:08] As well as was the case with Rebuild by Design, which was co- founded, you may recall, by philanthropy and government. I’m wondering about the on the chat. We’re getting several people saying now, wait a second. Is not just about libraries.

There are other forms of social infrastructure, but also and this doesn’t all have to be government. You know, it can come from the community sector. It can come from not for profits. And certainly the work that we’re doing it at CUI around Bring Back Main Street with many, many partners is about enlivening all the different uses. What make the street a commons so that’s faith institutions and community centers and libraries and parks and a whole mess of it. And how do you ground that in a local set of priorities? Because one of the great things about Asa’s library is that it doesn’t look like any other library across the country. And I think that we’re moving that may have been the one downside to Carnegie as it was a bit of a cookie cutter, whereas now you’ve got libraries creating podcast equipment and maker spaces and tool libraries and god knows what. Right. That’s fantastic. And so I’m curious about Eric. You think there’s a way that has there been any data surfaced about the actual economic benefits or the or even the benefits to the social determinants of health? If you do invest in social infrastructure, do we have anybody doing concrete number crunching on that?


Eric Klinenberg [00:51:27] Well, we do. You know, the issue that we have with the debate about social infrastructure is it’s a it’s a hard thing to quantify because you would want to wait the different kinds of institutions to understand their impact. So, you know what? What is a library count for? What does a church count for? What is a playground count for?

What is a diner count for? And then it turns out, you know, there’s the central library in Halifax, but then there’s also the neighborhood library that’s much smaller. And, you know, maintenance matters. So, so so there’s economists and sociologists who are working hard to try to quantify it. And there there have been some efforts to do things like that. And in the book, again, you know, I share the results of a lot of studies that have looked at how the investment in a certain kind of social infrastructure affects, say, the health of people in public housing. So, you know what happens to a public housing project if you start to plant a lot of trees and create new park space or famously, you know, I write about this famous study in Philadelphia where the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, you know, started to run an experiment with the city where they took empty lots and planted these small micro gardens and created pocket parks. Instead of having these treacherous open spaces like the one you saw in Chicago in the beginning of the talk, you create this little pleasant park. And it turned out when they did that, they randomly selected a set of blocks to fix the empty lots on and then others that didn’t fix and the ones that they fixed up saw dramatic decreases in violent crime.


Mary Rowe [00:53:06] Is anybody is anybody collating all that stuff so that, you know, when these folks on this call and when they go to their decision makers or they go to the federal government, as you wouldn’t count the United States to make the case, hey, you’re going to save money on this side if you’re invest it in that side. Anybody talking that stuff up anywhere?


Eric Klinenberg [00:53:23] I mean, I’m not doing this to sell the book. You could take it out of library. Take it out of the library, for God’s sake. That’s exactly what the book is about, Mary. It’s, you know, going through all these domains. There’s a chapter about education. There’s a chapter about to help. There’s a chapter about crime. The chapter about climate change, there’s a chapter about political culture and polarization. And the point is to walk you through the evidence in each of those things.


Mary Rowe [00:53:51] Right. And Rhonda has just posted on the chat that the state library in Victoria. The economic value of the public library and public libraries for Victorian’s.

Thanks for that. Rhonda. And just we’re about to wrap up here, folks, so we’re kind of in the homestretch. Oh, another book. ‘Everybody Lies: Social Infrastructure’. There we go. Thanks for that one Al. Always great to have these books coming from other jurisdictions. Ah ha! it’s Victoria and Australia. Thanks Rhonda. So we’ll get the links up for those. As we’re rounding corner here to the end. Asa, do you have another question you want to put into Eric?


Asa Kachan [00:54:24] A very quick one. And this is not you know, we’ve all been watching your election with really keen interest and we don’t have quite our elections in Canada or not quite so dramatic or polarizing, but we do struggle to get diverse representation at all levels of government. We do struggle with young people being disengaged. You know, you talk about civic life. Can you. Can you give us just a few words on where libraries fit in upholding democracy, freedom of expression?


Eric Klinenberg [00:54:54] Well, you know, I just wrote an op ed in The New York Times two weeks ago making the case that libraries should play a larger role in elections themselves. And there’s a big issue here about how people are going to vote, given that a lot of people don’t feel comfortable voting in person. And libraries, historically, United States have supported elections through, you know, providing information, helping people to register to vote, even creating forums where people can hear candidates or listen, to learn about issues. But now libraries are actually playing a role in the voting process. So libraries are polling places and you can go to your neighborhood library and cast a vote.

And a number of libraries in the United States have become places for early voting day. And I made an argument that we state we should really expand the use of libraries because there’s more than 9000 public libraries in the United States and they’re really located, as in Canada, in lots of neighborhoods, small towns, you know, suburbs and their trusted institutions. And so why not in a time of crisis, ease the people’s access to the polling place by putting ballot boxes in and letting libraries play a more direct role in that.


Mary Rowe [00:56:10] And, Eric, what did you make of the NBA saying that they were going to turn their arenas into basically civic spaces?


Eric Klinenberg [00:56:16] I think it’s great to do that. I mean, I’m not sure that it gets around the problem of people worrying that being indoors around a lot of other people is unsafe. I don’t know if people want to go into arenas right now. So I was thinking about it kind of a smaller, more decentralized, you know, more local, maybe even outdoor alternative. But, you know, I think we need I think we need we need to be thinking about what it means to have a community institution like the library. It’s just a treasured part of the world that we’ve made. And it’s not a thing to be taken for granted. You know, it’s really not a thing to be taken for granted. And we’ve seen here in that, you know, in the US in the last few months, some of our most sacred institutions, things that had know massive and overwhelming support and respect from Republicans and Democrats, things like the post office or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you know, revered institutions that are cornerstones of democracy and modern life. You know, they had been assaulted and very quickly become objects of controversy. And I would hate to see that happen to the [00:57:30]library. I think we’re going to need to defend the library as much as we promote it, depending on what happens next. [6.8s]


Mary Rowe [00:57:40] You mentioned sacred and noticing many people in the chat are raising issues about faith institutions and can they be galvanized? So maybe a future city talk? We need to talk about that, because certainly on Bring Back Main Street, we’re faced with it too.


Mary Rowe [00:57:51] And social capital has to be the great battleground. I guess that’s what you’re saying. Eric, you know, what’s that expression? We’re fighting for the hearts and minds of people and libraries have been instrumental in creating a civic, civil, civic public discourse for over a century. And we don’t want to lose that. That’s a cherished, as you suggest, to cherish trust. I see that many librarians who are on this session and appreciate the shout outs. So, Jen, do you have any other kind of question you want to throw out to Eric before we actually round the session? A last question?


Jen Angel [00:58:28] No, I mean, I think we’re just I’m inspired by the thinking and I think the evidence is compelling and we’re kind of energized to get to work here.


Eric Klinenberg [00:58:39] Yes. I can’t wait to join you if you guys could send me some kind of special visa to get me into the country. Promise to wear a mask. I’ll be very respectful.


[00:58:49] Well, Eric, you know, we want to send you some hope. We’ll send some hope here from Canada,.


Eric Klinenberg [00:58:57] I would settle for hostess potato chips.


Mary Rowe [00:58:59] We’ll send you some chips, too. You know, we’ve legalized marijuana in Canada, so there’s a big, big demand for potato chips. But just saying we want you to know that we’re with you and that libraries are part of the solution, not the problem. So you’re on the right side of this. And I want to thank you for joining us in wonderful on a city talk. And I just want to say how appreciative the Canadian Urban Institute has been to co-sponsor this wonderful event with the Art of City Building and that little crew of, well-masked, socially distanced Haligonians there brought all these important issues about what it’s like to live under what it means to live, being coping with the amount of challenges that we’ve got through the pandemic and economic, and equity. And you really developed a fabulous program. And we’ve been so lucky to be part of it. So hats off to you Haligonians for putting another fabulous Art of City Building on the map. Lots and lots of things to replay. Everybody that’s joined here. Make sure you send the links when they come out. A couple of days, everything will be posted online and send it to your friends that the discussion will just continue. It never stops. And Eric, always great to have you here. And for you to raise really what’s a fundamental part of urban life is the capacity to gather together.


Eric Klinenberg [01:00:13] Hope to see you in person some day and wish us luck down here. We need all the luck we can get.


Mary Rowe [01:00:18] OK. We’re with you.


Jen Angel [01:00:19] Thanks, everyone.


Mary Rowe [01:00:21] It’s all about the Art of City Building. Thanks, everybody.


Jen Angel [01:00:24] Good night from Halifax.

Full Audience
Chatroom Transcript

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00:30:09 Canadian Urban Institute: Thank you for participating in today’s Art of City Building conference! We hope you are enjoying the program. Please follow along on Twitter and Instagram @AoCB2020 and Facebook
00:30:45 Canadian Urban Institute: The conversations will be saved on & Art of City Building on YouTube. Thank you for sharing your observations and learnings – we celebrate engagement! #aocb2020
00:31:14 Canadian Urban Institute: Welcome! Folks, please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.
00:58:32 Mary W Rowe: any questions for Eric? post them here 🙂
00:59:47 Jean-François Obregon: How would you “sell” the value of libraries to Millennials who may not have been spending their time there, even before COVID-19?
01:00:09 Mark Roseland: What besides libraries should be considered “social infrastructure”?
01:01:27 Susan Chin: What are the new institutions that can provide social infrastructure during COVID?
01:01:30 Canadian Urban Institute: Eric Klinenberg @EricKlinenberg Mary Rowe @rowemw Asa Kachan
01:02:10 Canadian Urban Institute: Jennifer Angel @waterfrontangel
01:02:29 Wendy Luther: On the millennials comment…we’ve had some great uptake on the podcast creation technology at our Halifax Library, which led to the creation of the famous “Sick Boy” podcast and many others.
01:02:46 Robert Plitt: Does anyone know of work being done on quantifying the co-benefits of investment in social infrastructure.
01:03:34 Andrea Lam: @Jean-Francois, they’re a group that are definitely underrepresented as library users. I got a chance to chat with a few and they mentioned that they need something that gives their personal or professional life value. They have so little time and most of our programming is geared to people 50+ and usually are literacy based.
01:03:36 Tom Yarmon: how incredible would it be if Bezos could become a latter day Carnegie?
01:03:41 Greer Kaiser: When our palaces for the people are fully functioning and open, we offer many services to people who need our havens. How can we provide services these days when we can’t allow “lingering” visits?
01:04:41 Andrea Lam: @Tom, that would be huge and make a real difference in so many lives!
01:05:07 L Taylor: Can you speak to the power dynamic that exists when you consider social infrastructure — individuals who rely on these spaces do not hold power or influence. But those who hold more power and wealth, may not have stepped foot in a library or public space for years, and do not see the relevance.
01:09:07 Tom Yarmon: @Andrea, i will just give my friend Jeff and put it to him. But seriously, perhaps a social media campaign? I am far from an expert on that; but watch “The Social Dilemma” and get one of those folks who know how to get messages going viral to get with it.
01:09:38 Michelle Hoar: As per the idea of Bezos becoming a Carnegie, I think the overall impact on social infrastructure would be greater if they super wealthy were fairly / aggressively taxed. That would go far beyond any philanthropy they might voluntarily undertake.
01:11:00 Canadian Urban Institute: Reminding attendees to please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.
01:11:15 Abby S: But doesn’t it come from the top?
01:11:38 Jean-François Obregon: Thanks, @Andrea and @Wendy. I still feel like it’s a challenge.
01:12:09 Tom Yarmon: @Michael, this concept is targeted and feeds on his background. taxation is a huge issue (and I agree). These guys have big egos. work on it!> Yes, andrea. send some tweets!.
01:12:15 Aphrodite Bouikidis: @Tom MacKenzie Scott, who was married to Bezos, is more likely to become a latter day Carnegie. @Michelle – yes! Agreed! We need to be taxing fairly.
01:12:55 Paul mackinnon, AoCB: It used to be the case that the US Fed gov’t invested $8 for every $1 Feds invested in Canada. That is no longer the case, so we have much to learn form one another.
01:13:14 Abby S: agreed that tax policy should change (New Jersey has made a very small first step)
01:14:08 Tom Yarmon: gotta go, folks. Thanks to Eric,Mary and all panelists and attendees also!. Libraries forever!! Serious.
01:14:22 Aphrodite Bouikidis: How do we factor social infrastructure into recovery funding and economic stimulus investment funds? How do we make the case for social infrastructure as being ‘Critical Infrastructure’, as defined by the disaster risk and emergency response and recovery fields?
01:14:47 Paul mackinnon, AoCB: Millennium Park in Chicago is a great example. It had no government money (I believe). It is an amazing civic space for the people of Chicago.
01:14:51 Mark Roseland: Should social infrastructure also include locally-owned businesses, eg, corner stores and indie coffee shops?
01:15:58 Abby S: @mark YES (it is a part of the bring back mainstream ethos I think).
01:16:16 Ronny Yaron: Why was there not one mention of community centres and hubs which already exist in many communities in addition to libraries ??
01:16:32 Abby S: @Mary…yes
01:16:33 Frank Murphy: The corner store. The 15 minute neighbourhood. Social infrastructure as urban design.
01:16:51 Canadian Urban Institute: Please share your questions and comments with everyone
01:16:55 Abby S: *Mainstreet
01:17:37 Susan Chin: Why is only municipal resources, where do people’s volunteer and bottom up efforts fit in?
01:18:53 Purshottama Reddy: Whenever there are financial constraints, the first casualities are the soft municipal services, notably libraries, community halls, museums and playgrounds. Quite often, the provision of libraries/museums are unfunded mandates from the higher spheres of government and the municipalities are not adequately compensated are subject to negotiation.
01:19:43 Frank Murphy: De-centralization. De-consolidation.
01:20:02 Michelle Hoar: @MarkRoseland – I absolutely think that local independent businesses should be thought of as social infrastructure. As the partner of an indie record store owner, I have heard thousands of stories over 18+ years of how they are a sort of community centre for some pretty vulnerable people often. Anchors and human company for many. It’s increasingly hard for them to survive – and I won’t even get into gentrification, lack of protection for commercial tenants etc.
01:20:34 Doug Snyder: If Churches could be inclusive … they would be a great base for community building.
01:21:40 Canadian Urban Institute: The conversations will be saved on & Art of City Building on YouTube. Thank you for sharing your observations and learnings – we celebrate engagement! #aocb2020
01:21:54 Robert Plitt: Who are they? The folks doing this work. Where can we find it?
01:23:17 Canadian Urban Institute: Thank you for participating in today’s Art of City Building conference! We hope you are enjoying the program. Please follow along on Twitter and Instagram @AoCB2020 and Facebook
01:23:28 Ai Lim: In the book, Everybody Lies, a study refers to “social infrastructure” as improving educational and career outcomes for people living in that area. It,
01:24:00 Abby S: and horror
01:24:51 Mary W Rowe: From @rhonda: Great report undertaken by the State Library of Victorian and Public Libraries Victoria,”The socio-economic value of public libraries to Victorians”. Available online.
01:25:28 Aphrodite Bouikidis: What is the most urgent research we need next on social infrastructure?
01:25:32 Paul mackinnon, AoCB: “….as I just wrote in the New York Times…” A phrase we all can use, I’m sure. LOL.
01:25:38 Andrea Lam: @Doug, I’m reading “For All Who Hunger” about one such inclusive church – it’s for anyone who is missing something in their life, connection, spirituality, attention, what have you and it sounds so progressive.
01:25:42 Abby S: Trump could make them into untrusted institutions in a heartbeat
01:26:21 Canadian Urban Institute: shows the value of faith buildings like churches
01:28:31 Abby S: Ketchup flavoured
01:28:36 Abby S: Not available in the US
01:28:39 Faryal Diwan: poutine?
01:28:41 Susan Chin: Thank you for your leadership & inspiration!
01:28:44 Greer Kaiser: Storm Chips!
01:28:50 Abby S: Thank you CUI
01:29:01 Zubair Ahmed: Thank you CUI
01:29:04 Irena Kohn: Thank you!
01:29:04 Abby S: Thank you MarY!
01:29:13 Greer Kaiser: Stay safe from Teddy, Nova Scotia!
01:29:21 Michelle Hoar: Thanks Eric, Asa, Jennifer Mary and CUI!
01:29:22 Abby S: Last time I heard Eric was at Toronto Reference!
01:29:26 Maureen Sawa: Excellent session. Thank you!
01:29:30 Rose Nixon: Interesting talk. Thanks Eric.
01:29:32 Mark Roseland: Thanks, all!
01:29:33 Erica Lay: Thanks AOCB, a great day.
01:29:42 Abby S: Good luck!
01:29:46 Marilyn Cameron: thanks all!
01:29:47 Amy Dawley: Thanks everyone!
01:29:47 Wendy Luther: Thank you all!
01:29:48 Faryal Diwan: thank you!