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December 7, 2006


Howard Stoller, the Chair of the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations (CANA,) opened the Neighborhoods Work conference by explaining the idea of social capital. Based on Mr. Stoller's notes:

Welcome, I’m Howard Stoller, the Chair of the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations, more commonly know as CANA, and want to welcome you to the 7th Neighborhood Works Conference. And thank you for spending your Saturday morning with us. I hope that you will find it worthwhile.

CANA is a non-partisan organization, which participates fully in matters that affect the quality of life of its constituents. We do not endorse individual candidates for public office or support any political party. CANA was formed as a means for dealing with issues that overlapped neighborhood boundaries. We focus attention on the issues of concern to neighborhood associations and to provide a mechanism on how to deal with these issues.

CANA’s activities have encouraged residents to form associations to deal with problems in their neighborhoods. CANA’s mission statement – What is good for the residents of Albany’s neighborhoods, is good for the vitality, well being and growth of the entire community. Our monthly meetings, almost always on the first Wednesday, of each month, except for July and August, are from 7 to 9, at the Albany Public Library, and have become a forum for community members to present at and where City officials tell us what’s going on. The next is Wednesday, Dec. 6. Terry O’Neill will be speaking on Community Crime prevention.

With this conference’s focus on the Re-Capitalize Albany, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about how CANA and other similar organizations constitute the social capital of a community. social capital is an idea put forth by Robert Putnam in his book Bowling Alone, the Collapse and Revival of the American Community. What is social capital? Whereas physical capital refers to physical objects and human capital refers to the properties of individuals, social capital refers to connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.

Robert Putnam explains why social capital is important. First, social capital allows citizens to resolve collective problems more easily. Second, social capital greases the wheels that allow communities to advance smoothly. Where people are trusting and trustworthy, and where they are subject to repeated interactions with fellow citizens, everyday business and social transactions are less costly.

A third way is which social capital improves our lot is by widening our awareness of the many ways in which our fates are linked. People who have active and trusting connections to others – whether family members, friends, or fellow CANA members – develop or maintain character traits that are good for the rest of society. Joiners become more tolerant, less cynical, and more empathetic to the misfortunes of others. When people lack connection to others, they are unable to test the veracity of their own views, whether in the give or take of casual conversation or in more formal deliberation. Without such an opportunity, people are more likely to be swayed by their worse impulses.

There are concrete benefits associated with social capital. In high social capital areas public spaces are cleaner, people are friendlier, and the streets are safer. Traditional neighbourhood “risk factors” such as high poverty and residential mobility are not as significant as most people assume. Places have higher crime rates in large part because people don’t participate in community organizations, don’t supervise younger people, and aren’t linked through networks of friends.

A growing body of research suggests that where trust and social networks flourish, individuals, firms, neighbourhoods, and even nations prosper economically. Social capital can help to mitigate the insidious effects of socioeconomic disadvantage.

There appears to be a strong relationship between the possession of social capital and better health. "As a rough rule of thumb, if you belong to no groups but decide to join one, you cut your risk of dying over the next year in half. If you smoke and belong to no groups, it’s a toss-up statistically whether you should stop smoking or start joining." Regular club attendance, volunteering, entertaining, or church attendance is the happiness equivalent of getting a college degree or more than doubling your income. Civic connections rival marriage and affluence as predictors of life happiness.

Here is a survey to measure your own social capital. How many of your neighbors' first names do you know? How often do you attend parades or festivals? Do you volunteer at your kids' school, or help out senior citizens? Do you trust your local police? Do you know who your U.S. senators are? Do you attend religious services, or go to the theater? Do you sign petitions? Or attend neighborhood meetings? Do you think the people running your community care about you? Can you make a difference? How often do you visit with friends or family?

So, if we wanted to recapitalize Albany’s Social capital, maybe we could inventory those organizations that constitute the social capital of Albany. Maybe sponsor a Social Capital Day to celebrate these organizations. We could also consider supporting these social capital organizations.

Right now the City supports social capital at CANA by providing “in-kind” services, since its high-level officials are regular participants at our meetings, including the Mayor by presenting his annual State of the City Address in Albany. We have also gotten grants from the Albany Housing Authority.


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