#84: INCREASING SOCIAL CAPITAL. ‘Social capital’ is a shorthand phrase for all the friendly, kindly and useful social engagements which occur within a group of people. When we get involved in local activities such as sports clubs, choirs, community projects or political meetings – or when we just visit friends to say hello – we are raising the levels of social capital in our area.
Economists think of social capital as a resource, equivalent to possessions or money (we can have a little or a lot of social capital in our lives). But that’s not the whole story. Social capital isn’t only valuable to us because it makes our lives more efficient or profitable; it also reduces crime and mental illness, and makes communities healthier and more egalitarian. Above all, social capital gives us a feeling of belonging and makes us happy.
Currently, travelling across London is an activity that’s low in social capital. In cars, drivers are separated from each other and the rest of the community by windscreens; in trains, people are jammed together awkwardly like stowaways in the back of a truck; on buses, the rocking of the deck and the noise of the engine shuts out friendly interactions.
On bikes, social capital is easier to come by. Cyclists smile at each other and wave to pedestrians, or chat at the lights. Bikes hardly ever cause harm to other road users, and since cyclists are steeped in the necessity of sharing road space, they tend to develop a more humble and tolerant mindset. Local areas with lots of cyclists are nicer places to live in and visit.
In helping to inspire millions more Londoners to cycle, a London Cycle Map would turn travelling through the capital into an experience that’s rich in social capital. With a properly signed and mapped London Cycle Network, we could all enjoy a friendlier, more community-spirited city.