Robert J. Sampson, PhD Sociology from SUNY Albany, is Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University and Senior Advisor in the Social Sciences at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
Sampson’s objective in this essay is to define what we mean when we say “community,” understand what community does and can do for its residents, and how much we can do as planners. He first distinguishes between Community Lost (Wirth, 1938), Community Saved (Wellman, 1979), and Community Liberated (Wellman, 1979). Sampson espouses the latter and sees modern urban community formation as stretching beyond local proximity.
Community is not something that fills our private/personal needs, but is “a site for the realization of common values in support of social goods, including public safety, norms of civility and mutual trust, efficacious voluntary associations, and collective socialization of the young” (164).
Operationally, they can be seen as “subcommunities” (Choldin, 1984). Ecological differentiation concerns structural characteristics and the consequent social problem bundles that vary across neighborhoods; of particular importance are “concentration effects” (Wilson, 1987).
Sampson’s definition includes the social with the geographical. The networks of social capital (Coleman, 1988; Putnam, 1993) need to be joined with structural networks and linkages of “mutual trust and the willingness to intervene for the common good” (168). This determines a neighborhood’s collective efficacy. Sampson concludes with a caution against local determinism. Neighborhood residents can, in truth, take community organization and building only so far. Extra-community factors of political economy have enacted great changes in communities, all beyond the control of their residents.