Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community | Study Guide

Robert Putnam

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Course Hero, "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community Study Guide," February 6, 2018, accessed September 18, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Bowling-Alone-The-Collapse-and-Revival-of-American-Community/.

Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community | Section 3, Chapter 12 : Why? (Mobility and Sprawl) | Summary

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Summary

Putnam explores the question of whether Americans' mobility during the last quarter of the 20th century could account for a decline in civic engagement. Could we be moving so often we don't have time to dig in and root ourselves in any given community? Says Putnam, "The answer is unequivocal: No." In fact, he says, Americans moved more often during the 1950s than during the 1990s.

He then explores a related question: "have we perhaps moved to places that are less congenial to social connectedness?" After all, people who live in very big cities and their suburbs are less likely to engage in civic activity, and more people are, in fact, moving to metropolitan areas.

The problem with this argument, however, is that Americans started migrating to cities and suburbs even before the turn of the 20th century. Over the 100-plus years between that time and 2000, civic engagement has both increased and decreased.

What has changed, however, is the importance of the automobile and commuting to American lives. In one study, says Putnam, researchers found "annual congestion-related delay per driver rose from sixteen hours in 1982 to forty-five hours in 1997." In short, says Putnam, we are spending a great deal of time alone in our cars. Strangely, he adds, commuting time lowers civic engagement not only among commuters but also among non-commuters. He explains this, in part, by noting that people who live in bedroom communities don't work in the same places or share much else. In addition, they spend little time in their own communities.

Still, says Putnam, while commuting and urban sprawl do contribute about 10 percent to the problem of civic disengagement, they aren't enough to explain it. "Our roundup of suspects," he concludes, "is not yet complete."

Analysis

The development of urban sprawl and the daily commute have become major factors in American life. This is particularly the case in areas—such as California—where fast public transportation is largely unavailable. In order to make enough money to actually live in or near a major city, residents must commute to jobs—and they have no choice but to drive.

While Putnam doesn't believe commuting has a drastic impact on civic engagement, it does have a meaningful impact. In addition, the daily commute can be exhausting. An eight-hour work day is extended to include two, three, or even four hours of driving. Putnam notes that residents of urban areas are 20 percent less likely to be involved with civic activity.

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