CSI investigates the meaning of community on Staten Island

The Center for the Study of Staten Island: Staten Island Project (CSI-SIP), the public policy arm of the College of Staten Island, is conducting a poll of over 800 Staten Islanders to gauge the health of the island’s civic culture.

The poll, titled the “Staten Island Social Capital Community Benchmark Study,” measures the frequency of participation in local civic, political, religious, and volunteer groups, as well as the level of trust Staten Islanders invest in their neighbors. It was developed by researchers at Harvard University in 2000, and revised in 2006, to be used by communities across the country as a tool to measure civic health objectively. Over 30,000 Americans in 41 communities were surveyed in the first round of the study in 2000. The national poll will be conducted later in the year to measure changes since the 2000 round of polling.

The poll is underwritten by a grant from the Staten Island Bank and Trust Foundation. The Center for the Study of Staten Island is partnered with the Bloustein Center for Survey Research at Rutgers University and SRBI, a survey research firm based in Manhattan.

The polling will officially start on Monday, June 12 and continue to the end of the month. The 20-minute poll will ask about 110 questions.

Richard Flanagan, associate director of the Center for the Study of Staten Island and one of the principal investigators of the study said, “the poll measures the concept of ‘social capital.’ It is the idea that when people are involved in community life and involved in grassroots groups, many good things happen. In communities with lots of citizen participation in civic groups, crime rates are lower, schools are better, and government works more efficiently. When people feel they belong to a community, and trust their neighbors, they feel better. This survey allows us to measure Staten Island’s strengths and weakness in these terms, and compare the results to other communities and the nation as a whole.”

“The great advantage of the poll is that it is a benchmark study,” Flanagan continued. “The same questions have been asked in other cities, allowing for direct comparisons of the results. We will be able to compare levels of trust among neighbors in Staten Island, Cincinnati, and Los Angeles, for example.”

The Center for the Study of Staten Island will issue a report about the study’s
findings in the fall, and present the results of the survey at meetings of Staten
Island organizations. In March 2007, the Center will hold a conference at the College of Staten Island built around the results of the poll.

The goals of this effort are to spark a dialogue about the meaning of community on Staten Island; join the national debate about social capital and community; assist institutional improvements in the government and civic sector; and promote basic social science research.

BACKGROUND
Nationally, social scientists have noticed that participation in local groups has dropped off in recent decades, and have suggested that this decline is the cause of many social problems. Harvard professor Robert Putman, in his best-selling 2000 book, Bowling Alone, documents the decline in civic life and argues for policies to reverse the falloff, including expanding community service programs in schools, encouraging employers to allow workers to take time off to participate in community affairs, and redesigning towns and cities to create additional public spaces.

The social capital movement has spread internationally. Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern is using the social capital framework to understand his country’s domestic challenges.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For additional information, contact Richard Flanagan at 201-602-9025

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