Libraries as Lifelines

In “Palaces for the People,” Eric Klinenberg offers a new perspective on what people and places have to do with each other, by looking at the social side of our physical spaces. He is not the first to use the term “social infrastructure,” but he gives it a new and useful definition as “the physical conditions that determine whether social capital develops,” whether, that is, human connection and relationships are fostered. Then he presents examples intended to prove that social infrastructure represents the key to safety and prosperity in 21st-century urban America.

Klinenberg is an N.Y.U. sociologist best known recently as Aziz Ansari’s co-author for “Modern Romance,” in which he helped the comedian apply social science tools to better understand dating. Here, he begins with questions he first addressed in an earlier book on a lethal heat wave that struck Chicago in 1995. He asked how two adjacent poor neighborhoods on the South Side, demographically similar and presumably equally vulnerable, could fare so differently in the disaster. Why did elderly victims in the Englewood neighborhood lose their lives at 10 times the rate of those in Auburn Gresham?