For the good folks at the Front Porch Republic the answer to this question seems to be an unqualified “yes.” And anyone who reads this blog carefully knows I am sympathetic to the Front Porcher’s understanding of “place,” especially as espoused by writers like Wendell Berry and Christopher Lasch. (I actually wrote a few things for the Front Porch Republic website a few years ago).
But Ross Douthat’s recent column at The New York Times complicates the relationship between “place” and “community.”
Here is a taste of his argument in “Place is Not Enough.”
It’s easy to assume that America’s current crisis of community — the fragmentation of family life, the retreat from civic and religious engagement — is related to people being too quick to pull up stakes and leave their existing communities behind. But the surprising reality is that the recent weakening of social ties has coincided with a decline in mobility. Here are the relevant Census figures:
The percentage of people who changed residences between 2010 and 2011 ─ 11.6 percent ─ was the lowest recorded rate since the Current Population Survey began collecting statistics on the movement of people in the United States in 1948, the U.S. Census Bureau reported today. The rate, which was 20.2 percent in 1985, declined to a then-record low of 11.9 percent in 2008 before rising to 12.5 percent in 2009. The 2010 rate was not statistically different than the 2009 rate.
Now Americans are still a more mobile people than most. But if you’re looking for a straightforward link between staying in place and the health of America’s communities, this is not the trend you would expect. We are staying put more than we did in earlier eras, and yet outside of the upper class it isn’t translating into the kind of personal and familial stability that communitarians want to cultivate.
I am sure Patrick Deneen is on the case.