Better Together: Restoring the American Community
a book by Robert D. Putnam and Lewis M. Feldstein
(our site's book review)
In his acclaimed Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam describes the United States as a nation in which we have become increasingly disconnected from one another and in which our social structures have disintegrated. But in the final chapter of that book he detects hopeful signs of civic renewal. In Better Together, Putnam and coauthor Lewis Feldstein tell the inspiring stories of people who are reweaving the social fabric by bringing their own communities together or building bridges to others.
Better Together: Restoring the American Community examines how people across the country are inventing new forms of social activism and community renewal. An arts program in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, brings together shipyard workers and their gentrified neighbors; a deteriorating, crime-ridden neighborhood in Boston is transformed by a determined group of civic organizers; an online "virtual" community in San Francisco allows its members to connect with each other as well as the larger group; in Wisconsin schoolchildren learn how to participate in the political process to benefit their town. As our society grows increasingly diverse, say Putnam and Feldstein, it's more important than ever to grow "social capital," whether by traditional or more innovative means. The people profiled in this book are doing just that, and their stories illustrate the extraordinary power of social networks for enabling people to improve their lives and the lives of those around them.
"Putnam's much praised Bowling Alone put the concept of social capital (social networking) into broad currency by remarking on its growing absence. Now the Harvard prof and fellow public policy expert Feldstein approach the issue from the opposite direction: without suggesting communitarianism is sweeping the nation, they offer a dozen case studies of what groups of varying size have accomplished by cultivating networks of mutual assistance. . . . Though each group is, as one person puts it, 'recreating our neighborhood into the kind of village we want it to be,' the book emphasizes no particular approach"—Publishers Weekly
BEFORE: Community restoration comes in many forms, such as recreating our neighborhood into the kind of village we want it to be
AFTER: Recreating our neighborhoods into the kind of villages we want them to be—WHICH NO ONE ON EARTH EXPLAINS BETTER THAN THIS WEBSITE
"Society has lost much of its social and communal focus over the last several decades. Few live in places where they share with their neighbors, work in an environment where dialogue replaces email and memos, or belong to community organizations that bring members together under a shared vision. . . . However encouraging, Better Together stops short of providing the reader with the tools to build social capital for oneself and embark on a path of change in one’s community. Instead, much of the book is an episodic collection of features aimed to distract us from the loss of social capital and community on a larger level. There is the looming societal question of loss of cooperative spirit in general that must be answered." (Source: Better Together: Restoring the American Community, by Scott Kmack, in Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry
But there are resources out there that do not stop short of providing the reader with the tools to build social capital for oneself and do empower embarking on a path of change in one’s community. In addition to the mother of all community building resources, THIS WEBSITE, there are:
- Building Powerful Community Organizations: A Personal Guide to Creating Groups that Can Solve Problems and Change the World
- Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community's Assets
- Common Purpose: Strengthening Families and Neighborhoods to Rebuild America
- Community Building: What Makes It Work: A Review of Factors Influencing Successful Community Building
- Organizing for Social Change: 4th Edition
- The Quickening of America: Rebuilding Our Nation, Remaking Our Lives
- And for exploring the loss of cooperative spirit mentioned above as well as examining how to gain it back, there is our review on: The Responsive Communitarian Platform
United Parcel Service (UPS), in this book, demonstrated the formation of new social capital
"To illustrate [social capital creation], readers of Better Together are taken on a tour spanning the United States in which they are exposed to 12 case studies demonstrating the formation of new social capital. While widely diverse in context (for example, we learn about instances of social capital creation ranging from the internal organization of United Parcel Service [UPS] to the Chicago public library system), these case studies are unified by their subjects’ reliance upon highly personalized, repeated, face-to-face interaction in small groups—a formula, the authors tell us, that is integral to the effective construction of social capital." (Source: Better Together: Restoring the American Community, Peter T. Leeson, West Virginia University)
The Chicago public library system, in this book, demonstrated the formation of new social capital
The stories in Better Together demonstrate that bringing people together by building on personal relationships remains one of the most effective strategies to enhance America's social health. For a website devoted to this quest, see The Big Answer. For a novel devoted to this quest, see The Forest Through The Trees.