Earlier this week I found myself in Rome in the morning with about 20 minutes to spare. Walking around the neighborhood I was staying in (Trastevere), I came across an elderly nun walking along one of the bigger, and more crowded, streets of Rome. As I waited for her to go through a narrow passage in the sea of people, a young woman pushing a stroller physically nudged her out of the way, using the stroller to deny the physical space in front of and adjacent to the older woman as she overtook her. The nun grimaced but seemed resigned to what happened. I saw this unfold despite having been out for only about ten minutes. In contrast, having walked US streets in San Francisco, Boston, and New York for over twenty years, I don’t recall seeing a similar situation happen even once. It follows that frequentist estimates of such occurrences in American cities and Rome suggest very different underlying distributions.
It has now been over a year since my move to Boston from Palo Alto, which seems like a fitting time to take a retrospective look at the two places. My sampling will be far from unbiased, having lived close to 20 years in the Bay Area. As a result this will be more like “Boston through the eyes of a Northern Californian”. There is no specific order to the comparisons below; I will vacillate between the substantive and the frivolous. And there will be no declared winner; both places are far too different and offer far too much for one to dominate the other in the Pareto optimal sense. At times, this will be more about Stanford vs. Harvard than the Bay Area vs. Boston, as much of my experience is ultimately grounded by my local environment.
This is the fourth and final post in a series about community and social cohesion in the United States. In the preceding entries (I, II, III) I put forth the thesis that American culture lacks a strong sense of community, and outlined some of the reasons I believe are responsible for this coming to be. In this post, I will propose some ideas to counteract the problem, although my ideas do not yet constitute a comprehensive solution. I am at an early enough stage in my thinking to only begin to realize the scope of this problem, let alone devise serious and credible solutions. What follows are shots in the dark; the first steps in what is bound to be a long journey.
This is the second part of a four-part series on issues of community in the United States. In the first part, I made the claim that America lacks social cohesion and a strong sense of community, and that this deficiency may be a major factor in cultivating extreme behavior exhibited by school shooters like Adam Lanza. In this part and the next, I will address some possible reasons behind this problem. In the fourth part, I hope to propose ideas for solutions.