Evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson has just published a book recounting his efforts to apply the principals of his discipline to improving urban life.
The book is called The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time, and it sounds cool.
Mark Oppenheimer writes in the NY Times:
“For years the evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson paid little attention to Binghamton, N.Y., where he lived and taught. ‘I hadn’t joined the PTA,’ he writes, ‘attended council meetings, given blood, or served turkey to the homeless on Thanksgiving.’ …
Photographer: Jonathan Cohen
“Five years ago Mr. Wilson, the author of two popular books about Darwin, decided it would be fruitful to apply his training to the (human) animals closer to home. With colleagues at Binghamton University, Mr. Wilson founded the Binghamton Neighborhood Project to use evolutionary theory, along with data collection, to improve the quality of life in his struggling city.”
Although the work is still — evolving – the people he works with make interesting reading as do the experiments.
Oppenheinmer says that the “best chapters describe some of the preliminary work Mr. Wilson’s team has done. For example the Project gave a wide cross section of Binghamton schoolchildren the Development Assessment Profile, a survey that measures sociability, citizenship skills and the conditions that promote such traits. Students rated their agreement with statements like ‘I think it is important to help other people’ and ‘I tell the truth even when it is not easy.’
“The project then figured out where the most trusting, pro-social children lived: which neighborhoods, in other words, seemed to be breeding the most social capital. Using the technology on which Google Earth relies, the project created a krig map — a topographical map representing demographic data — for the city. The valleys showed areas with low social capital, the peaks with high.”
The results have implications for where community-building intiatives might have the most impact. Read the whole review here.