Wal-Mart, Downtowns & Social Capital

According to a recent study by economists by Stephan J. Goetz and Anil Rupasingha, the presence of Wal-Mart in communities depresses their social capital with a number of negative consequences. I haven't reviewed the full study, so I won't comment on the merits of this particular piece of research.

Woburn residents enjoyed a finale concert in Citizens Park this September

What I can say, from SCI's experience, is that a thriving local downtown business community helps to generate social capital. In Woburn, we have seen more viable businesses coming into downtown, providing people with more opportunities to informal connect with their fellow community members. We have worked to encourage this trend by partnering with the Woburn Redevelopment Authority on a number of projects, including a summer concert series that brings people into downtown.

Measuring social capital is certainly challenging. But sometimes you know it when you see it, and our concert series is a great example of that. Families stroll along with their families, stop and listen to some music that draws a diverse crowd, chat with neighbors, and then move on for dinner at a local restaurant. That's some social capital!

"A constant measure of social capital"

NY Times business columnist David Carr discusses the pros and cons of newspaper reporters who blog in their "spare" time. While the medium provides an unprecedented connection with readers, Carr also expresses caution toward being "on the job" 24 hours a day. In this article, one professor of interactive studies at New York University says of blogging: "There is an obsessive, dollhouse pleasure in configuring and looking at it, a constant measure of social capital."

Source: New York Times, 24-Hour Newspaper People, 15 January 2007.

Hello, my name is...

Fellow community builder Joseph Porcelli, founder of Neigbhors for Neighbors, is trying an interesting social capital experiment. He's resolved to wear a nametag for one year. A way to meet new people and make Boston feel a bit more welcoming. Sounds like he's already had some good fun with this and it has gotten a good bit of media attention. I look foward to seeing how this goes!

Fantasy Congress

A college student in California has created a new website modeled on fantasy sports sites--except instead of players on a team, users pick and track different legislators from political parties. The Boston Globe reports that the site "is being used increasingly by students and teachers for some civics education outside the textbook."

See also: http://www.fantasycongress.com/

State Volunteer Corps to be Created

Governor Deval Patrick has announced the creation of a state volunteer agency modeled on existing programs such as AmeriCorps and City Year. The Boston Globe reports on the announcement of the Commonwealth Corps this morning on its website.

The program will also include a Student Corps "to expand opportunities for students interested in service learning opportunities," according to the official release. The Student Corps will be administered by local public universities and will aim to match students with service related to their area of study.

The Boston Globe on December 26 reported the possible creation of such a Corps, calling it "[o]ne of the most ambitious proposals" discussed by the Transition Team. The Globe described the Corps as "500 full-time and 500 part-time workers charged with the goal of mobilizing 100,000 volunteers to address some of the state's most pressing problems."

See also: Boston Globe, Governor announces effort to recruit volunteers for needy, January 9th, 2007; Springfield Republican editorial, Year-of-service plan good for the Bay State, January 10th, 2007; Taunton Gazette, Patrick fulfills Pacheco hopes of service corps, January 9th, 2007