We are living in a time of deep divisions. Pundits and politicians are calling for us to come together, to find common purpose. But how, exactly, can this be done? In Palaces for the People the sociologist and best-selling author Eric Klinenberg suggests a way forward through a simple but transformative idea: that the future of democratic societies rests not simply on shared values but on shared spaces – our libraries, parks, markets, schools, playgrounds, gardens and communal spaces.
Too often we take for granted and neglect these spaces, but decades of research now shows that ‘social infrastructure’ can have an extraordinary effect on our personal and collective wellbeing. Why? Because wherever people cross paths and linger, wherever we gather informally, strike up a conversation and get to know one another, relationships blossom and communities emerge – and where communities are strong, people are safer and healthier, crime drops and commerce thrives, and peace, tolerance and stability take root.
Klinenberg takes us around the globe—from a floating school in Bangladesh to an arts incubator in Chicago, from a soccer pitch in Queens to an evangelical church in Houston—to show how social infrastructure is helping to solve some of our most pressing challenges: isolation, crime, education, addiction, political polarisation, and even climate change. Through uplifting human stories and an illuminating tour through the science of social connection he shows that properly designing and maintaining social infrastructure might be our single best strategy for a more equal and united society.