“Democracy must begin at home, and its home is the neighborly community,” writes Eric Klinenberg, author of this year’s One Community Reads selection, Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life.
Social infrastructures are the “palaces” at the heart of Klinenberg’s work.
He’s talking about public spaces that we all share, like libraries, community centers, and public schools–spaces that help us connect with each other in neighborhoods and communities. He’s talking, in fact, about spaces that Cleveland has in abundance, such as the library systems that we all enjoy and depend upon, including the Cleveland Public Library, which just celebrated its 150th anniversary.
Klinenberg asserts that public libraries can provide opportunities for both new mothers and senior citizens. Both groups can not only take advantage of programs the libraries offer but can also offer an opportunity to connect with others who are sharing similar life experiences. This is especially important for senior citizens, an increasing number of whom are living on their own.
In fact, it was a major tragedy involving senior citizens that prompted Klinenberg to begin the research that became this book. In the summer of 1995, Chicago experienced a major heatwave. Over 700 people died, most of whom were elderly and poor. Klinenberg documents that the city’s immediate response was to blame families for not checking on their elderly relatives and providing them with air conditioners.
Klinenberg didn’t believe that. Examining where these deaths occurred, he found that they corresponded less with poverty and fear of crime (the latter of which would keep residents from sleeping with their windows open) than with the lack of social infrastructure.
Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish, the Honorary Chair of the One Community Reads program, recognizes the validity of Klinenberg’s claims, asserting that “it is vitally important to me that we identify and support the places that make our county strong and connected.
One Community Reads is hosting discussions of Palaces for the People at various libraries. Kacie Armstrong, Director of the Euclid Public Library notes, “Cuyahoga residents have strong ties to their libraries, parks, museums and faith-based institutions. [The book] helps us better understand how these critical places help bring people together to provide safe spaces for dialogue.” Armstrong adds that she hopes “people will have open conversations that will bring forth solutions to help make our community a better place for everyone.”
The kickoff for One Community Reads took place on Monday, January 20, with the opening of Cleveland 20/20, a community photography exhibit at the Main Branch of the Cleveland Public Library.
In addition to the discussions scheduled for various locations in the community, the City Club of Cleveland will hold a book discussion group on February 13 and a panel discussion on March 6, and Eric Klinenberg will speak at Playhouse Square on March 9.
Besides these events, you might also be interested in accessing the podcast 99% Invisible.
Felton Thomas, Jr., the Executive Director and CEO of Cleveland Public Library believes deeply in the One Community Reads program and hopes that the “photography exhibit along with Klinenberg’s book will spark thought-provoking conversation about how we build powerful relationships across the county.”
Cleveland’s libraries and the One Community Reads initiative are inviting us to be a part of the “neighborly community” that Klinenberg writes about. Let’s take them up on the offer.