For many years, Americans have grown increasingly isolated from one another. As outlined in Robert Putnam’s landmark book Bowling Alone, the amount of American’s person-to-person social interaction, (“social capital”) as well as our involvement in community organizations, has steadily declined since the 1950s. As our lives have become dominated by work, television and the internet. I believe there is a strong correlation between these events and the corresponding decrease in the number of Americans who report being happy in their lives in each decade since the 1950s.
I believe that social interaction with others, as well as being a part of something greater than ourselves through community involvement is ingrained in our genes. As social beings we are designed to function “as part of a herd” as my mentor, Dr. Billy Stout, frequently reminds me. Historically, it simply wouldn’t make sense in survival terms for mankind to live in isolation.
The basic building block of democratic community involvement is the neighborhood association. Each member of a NA is intrinsically connected with the other members who all share a common interest. The ultimate example of “acting local” is to work to develop our neighborhoods.
Once our neighborhood associations are well established, our next goal can be to increase collaboration among the different NAs. What was clear to me through my recent campaign is that while Ward 2 is fortunate to have the largest number of NAs, they are largely working in isolation from one another. Whether the issue is crime prevention, grant writing, water/sewage/road problems, or code enforcement, etc…, neighborhoods would benefit greatly from being connected with one another and sharing their trials and errors. I believe that town hall meetings, “open space” meetings, frequent exchanges between board members of the different NAs, and social networking can all be utilized to strengthen our communal ties to one another.
Ideally, Oklahoma City can begin to encourage both new and existing development to satisfy the needs of its residents within walking distance of the neighborhood. Neighborhoods that are provided with a balanced mix of uses including retail and workplaces while providing their residents with nearby pedestrian access to schools, day care, recreational centers as well as open spaces, tend to thrive while encouraging increased physical activity and health of its people.
As we enter an era of escalating fuel prices, neighborhoods and communities will need to become more self-sufficient in terms of food production and distribution. World food prices were the most expensive in history in February of 2011. Many neighborhoods are “food deserts” which are denied supermarket access and are served only by fast-food chains. Neighborhoods which can utilize open spaces and come together as a community to garden will be well-positioned for leaner economic times as well as fulfilling their citizens with a sense of common purpose and accomplishment.