cover image Fragile Neighborhoods: Repairing American Society, One Zip Code at a Time

Fragile Neighborhoods: Repairing American Society, One Zip Code at a Time

Seth D. Kaplan. Little, Brown Spark, $30 (304p) ISBN 978-0-316-52139-0

Kaplan (Human Rights in Thick and Thin Societies), a professor of international studies at John Hopkins University, strays outside his area of expertise—“fragile states”—in this unconvincing analysis of “social poverty” in America. Defining “fragile neighborhoods” as places of “stress, mistrust, frustration, and a sense of insecurity,” where people are anxious, depressed, and alienated from one another, Kaplan claims such conditions are the result of social poverty—a dearth of supportive social relations and local institutions—rather than economic poverty. He argues that fragile neighborhoods can be rich or poor, and that governmental support, good jobs, living wages, and wealth-creation opportunities are necessary but insufficient for eradicating social poverty. Kaplan highlights five initiatives he contends are adequately addressing the problem, including Partners for Education’s strengthening of learning environments in eastern Kentucky and East Lake Foundation’s multipronged efforts to develop mixed-income housing in Atlanta. These “social repairers,” as he labels them, utilize bottom-up, collaborative, comprehensive, privately funded, and volunteer-based approaches. Kaplan’s tone is hopeful, but would be more persuasive if his recommendations were not cast in such general terms, his examples considered more critically, and his argument more attentive to economic justice. This holds the most appeal for nonprofit leaders in search of motivational advice. (Oct.)