Newswise — Sitting around watching television or waiting in rush hour traffic is not only unproductive, but it contributes to the decline in social capital in communities across the United States, according to a book new on shelves this month.
University of Arkansas sociologist William Schwab wrote "Deciphering the City," published by Prentice Hall, as a text for students and a general adult audience to understand globalization, the psychology and structure of the city, and urban problems and solutions.
Declining levels of social capital mean neighborhoods, schools and communities don't work as well, and sprawl and television are the major culprits, according to Schwab.
"TV is a passive activity; it fills up gobs of free time without much investment of anything, and leads to less community involvement," he said. "As TV viewership has increased, community involvement has decreased."
At the same time, for every 10 minutes spent commuting to and from work, community participation declines 10 percent.
In his book, Schwab reports that every form of civic engagement has declined in the past 25 years " fewer people vote, run for office, write letters to the editor, volunteer, attend church, read the local newspaper, watch the local newscast, get to know their neighbors or share family meals.
Schwab's research shows that increasing civic engagement creates more trusting, safe and prosperous communities.
"We're seeing changes in the economy, like the exporting of millions and millions of jobs," Schwab said. "The downward social mobility of Americans is also part of the revolution. And these changes are reflected in where people live, work, play and shop in our cities."
The book is divided into four sections. The first section introduces globalization and how the phenomenon has affected the social, political and economic institutions in both developed and less-developed societies. The second section deals with the psychology of the city and the community-building process. Chapters in the third section look at structure and patterns of the city, while the fourth section focuses on urban problems and possible solutions.
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Deciphering the City