Where did you meet your last friend? Really, stop and think about it. Where exactly did you meet? What did you connect on? Think about the friends you spend Saturday nights with or the ones you invite to your Memorial Day picnic. Where did they come from? Your answer might be “she’s a mom friend - our kids go to daycare together”. Or maybe you met at church. Maybe it was a soccer game- or was it a yoga session in the park?
Think about it and then pause. How did you end up chatting with that other mom at daycare? What brought you to yoga in the park? How about the soccer game - did those bleachers encourage you to start talking to the guy next to you? We want to take a second to consider the infrastructures that allow these person-to-person connections to form.
Yes, we said infrastructures. No, we aren’t going to try to convince you that roads and rivers are the reason you have friends. What we’re actually talking about is social infrastructure. These are spaces intentionally designed to support the formation of human connections and interactions. Social infrastructures are the places where human bonds are formed. They are the spots where relationships begin and where human interaction is created.
Social infrastructure is the public library where you and another dad bond over ponytails and braids with your daughters. This space was designed to give you access - access to resources and access to relationships. Social infrastructure is the dog park where you and another dog mom compare notes on indestructible toys. This space was designed to help you relax and it was designed to help you relate. It is the amphitheater where you enjoy a summer concert, the coffee shop where you spend your day off, and the park where your kids finally run out of energy.
We’re living in a world where technology has challenged what we know about social connections. In some ways we fear our constant connection. In other ways, we fear our disconnect.
There will never be a replacement for face-to-face human connection. Here lies the power of developing social infrastructure.
Public libraries, athletic fields, dog parks, playgrounds, and even schools- these are where we make our friends. Community gardens and green spaces- they bring people into the public space. Sidewalks, courtyards, walking trails- they all invite people to come together. These are the places where we gather. These are the places where we form social bonds.
It’s about more than just donating to the local library. It’s also about being innovative. It’s about finding ways that we can create accessible opportunities for humans to interact. Plus, standard infrastructure systems no longer need to be just standard. Instead, we can build social infrastructure into these systems. Our bridges can incorporate walking trails. Our waterwalls can be built into exploration classrooms. Even planned open spaces- let’s create a community garden.
Social infrastructure is diverse in its nature. It varies to meet the needs of many populations. There are opportunities that offer brief social interactions- like chatting at a dog park or sitting next to someone on a subway. There are also deep connection opportunities- like programs at a public library or parent events at a daycare center. Regardless, what all of these offer is a sense of involvement, an opportunity for relationship, and a door open for human connection.
Enhancing and protecting social infrastructures allows us to no longer fear losing person-to-person interaction- but relish in the opportunities we have to build new, long-lasting relationships.