Eleanor Wynn

EleanorFINALedit[1]3Factors in Suburban Social Network Formation and Cohesion

Supported by recent studies, common sense tells us that cohesive neighborhoods are important to the ability of individuals to survive critical incidents as well as in their longevity. Studies of two socio-economically equivalent neighborhoods in Chicago showed dramatically different outcomes during the 1995 heat wave in which almost 800 people more than normal mortality perished. (Klinenberg, 2002)

The key finding was that vulnerable residents in the more cohesive neighborhood had neighbors who physically checked on them and were saved from heat related deaths. Other recent popular books point out the effect of face to face networks in better life expectancy. (Christakis and Fowler 2011)

The fact is that since World War II American society has been highly mobile. The percentage of people living near their extended families is low. People move to where good jobs are; this trend is accelerated by the fact that people now change jobs more often and therefore may move more. The result is a wide variation in cohesion of neighborhoods. Some neighbors have regular parties while others rarely speak. The study will focus on suburban neighborhoods, where automobile use makes street density lower. Applications for the results would include guidelines to cities and to residents in order to develop the social infrastructure to organize for critical situations, sustainability over time and aging in place.

Although growing up in a neighborhood likely increases sociability, even neighborhoods where people did not grow up can be cohesive. The proposed research will identify variables that lead to neighborhood cohesion. These can include time in the neighborhood; own vs. rent; the role of children; geographic configuration of streets, yards and natural features; the presence of key anchoring individuals; and cultural factors of other kinds such as valuing sociability, generosity and altruism, and the ability to overlook past grievances.

I plan to start close to home in a neighborhood that I know to be cohesive as judged by annual parties for the New Year, pre-Christmas, July 4th, weddings and life events. I will conduct an ethnographic study to elicit data on people’s backgrounds and their views on why the neighborhood is the way it is. A network map of who relates most frequently to whom, with identification of levels of participation, would provide a picture of the density levels required for the neighborhood cohesion to go beyond relations with a particular immediate neighbor. For instance some neighbors only attend parties of immediate neighbors whereas others go to all of them; some neighbors do joint activities out of the neighborhood and even overnight, whereas others don’t. Thus there is a tighter network at the core, that likely still benefits from a larger less intensive network. The properties of the network are key.

The next step is to find a socio-economically similar neighborhood nearby that is not seen as cohesive by its residents and look for missing factors. If there is promise, a more extensive survey could be conducted with City support using students to gather data.

Christakis, Nicholas and James Fowler (2011) Connected: The Surprising Power of Networks and How They Shape Our Lives. Back Bay Books.

Klinenberg, Eric (2003) Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago. Chicago University Press.

Check out these documents to learn about a different project, a cross-cultural analysis of reincarnation beliefs: wynnwhite final ReincarnationBeliefs&CulturalMeaningsXCultures

Or this one:  Evolutionary Technology for Adaptiveness

Or this one: adaptive enterprise white paper

Contact Eleanor at eleanor [dot] wynn at ronininstitute {dot} org

Eleanor’s CV is available here: wynn resume 6.15.17 with biblio