Kevin Leyden, West Virginia University associate professor of political science, recently gained both national and international attention for his research on traditional and modern neighborhoods.
While the term”social capital”does not ring a bell for most people, the concept is gaining popularity because it affects everyone. Social capital refers to the social, political and economic networks and interactions that inspire trust and reciprocity among citizens, or, more simply put,the degree to which each of us is involved in our communities and with each other,Dr. Leyden said.
Leydens main contention is that the way people plan and build communities matters: some community designs or configurations promote social capital and others dont. Leyden theorizes that traditional mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods are most likely to encourage the sort of interactions that promote trust and a spirit of reciprocity among citizens; car-dependent neighborhoodsthose people think of when thinking of suburban sprawldo not.
Leyden has been researching the relationship between sprawl and social capital in Ireland and the United States. Leydens parents emigrated from Ireland in the late 1950s and he spent time in Ireland while he was growing up. Additionally, he took a sabbatical research leave at National University of Ireland, Galway, where he conducted a survey of residents living in the neighborhoods and suburban subdivisions of Galway.
Leydens research is not just focused upon who is active in their communities and who isnt. Leyden notes”that there is an important link between social engagement with others and health. Social isolation, for example, has a devastating effect on the health of seniors.”
Leydens sabbatical research led to a recent publication in the American Journal of Public Health. His single-authored article,”Social Capital and the Built Environment: The Importance of Walkable Neighborhoods,”was published in the September issue.
Leydens findings suggest that residents living in mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods were more likely to know their neighbors, participate politically, trust others and be more social compared to those living in car-dependent modern suburbs.
The WVU professor has been interviewed on numerous occasions for radio programs broadcast in Ireland and Great Britain, including BBC radio. In August, he was interviewed by Irelands RTE Radio for the Pat Kenny Show and for a new radio series called”The State We Are In: Transport in Crisis.”He has also been published in the Irish Times newspaper on several occasions; most recently he was asked to write an essay about his latest research findings, which was entitled”The Health Consequences of Irish Sprawl and Car Dependency.”
Leydens research has been gaining attention from around the country. He has been asked to speak in various locations, including San Diego, Calif.; Boston, Mass.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Dublin, Ireland; and all over West Virginia. He also was invited to participate in a research forum coordinated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop a research agenda examining the relationships between health, land-use, transportation and planning.
When asked to sum up his work, Leyden said,”The communities we build and live in effect us socially, mentally and physically. We need to think a lot more about that when we plan and build the places we live.”