When Federico, his wife and their young child moved to Bologna in 2014, they knew nobody and had no networks. Seeing his child playing alone, Federico began to wonder if there were others families in the city, or even his neighborhood, that were experiencing the same degree of isolation.
The story of Federico is not uncommon. With economic inequality between the North and the South of the country becoming more acute, more and more people are moving north, without either social capital or social networks. Why, Federico asked himself, do I not even know the people who are living in the same building as me? How can people new to the city find out about local services? Feelings of isolation are common and on the rise in cities, however Federico began to think about creative ways in which he could connect people in his local area.
So Federico developed the notion of Social Street. At its core, the project is a way of encouraging healthier, better-connected communities and creating social capital. Social Street strips community back to a very basic level and aims to bring together neighbors in a common environment.
Using Facebook as an organising tool, Federico started by simply creating a closed group with the name of the street he lived on. Alongside this he printed leaflets and distributed them along his street urging his fellow neighbors to join him and his family to socialise in the street at a designated time. Two weeks after the initial creation of the Facebook group, 200 people attended the event.
As more people became interested in replicating the Social Street model in their own city, Federico, alongside his neighbour and co-founder Luigi, developed three key conditions:
It must remain a social project. The objective is to socialise with your neighbours not because you need or want something from them, but to build social capital and lasting relationships
Social Street is a free model. One that avoids any type of financial transaction. It is based on the principle that if you do something for someone for free, it strengthens your relationship.
Inclusivity. The only regulation is that one must be a resident of the street. The project aims to avoid discrimination and separation
Fast-forward four years and there are now 470 social streets around the world, with around 150,000 participants. Federico estimates that there are around two to three new Social Streets developed per month, with New Zealand, Brazil, the US, the Netherlands and Poland being the countries that have taken to it most keenly. The simplicity of the project is its greatest strength, and aside from time, it requires no cost.
At a time when social capital appears to be on the wane for certain communities, and social isolation in urban environments, Social Street serves as a timely reminder of what community can be.
For more information on Social Street, please visit their website.