The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time

The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time

by David Sloan Wilson


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After decades studying creatures great and small, evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson had an epiphany: Darwin's theory won't fully prove itself until it improves the quality of human life in a practical sense. And what better place to begin than his hometown of Binghamton, New York? Making a difference in his own city would provide a model for cities everywhere, which have become the habitat for over half of the people on earth.

Inspired to become an agent of change, Wilson descended on Binghamton with a scientist's eye and looked at its toughest questions, such as how to empower neighborhoods and how best to teach our children. He combined the latest research methods from experimental economics with studies of holiday decorations and garage sales. Drawing upon examples from nature as diverse as water striders, wasps, and crows, Wilson's scientific odyssey took him around the world, from a cave in southern Africa that preserved the dawn of human culture to the Vatican in Rome. Along the way, he spoke with dozens of fellow scientists, whose stories he relates along with his own.

Wilson's remarkable findings help us to understand how we must become wise managers of evolutionary processes to accomplish positive change at all scales, from effective therapies for individuals, to empowering neighborhoods, to regulating the worldwide economy.

With an ambitious scope that spans biology, sociology, religion, and economics, The Neighborhood Project is a memoir, a practical handbook for improving the quality of life, and an exploration of the big questions long pondered by religious sages, philosophers, and storytellers. Approaching the same questions from an evolutionary perspective shows, as never before, how places define us.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316037679
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 08/24/2011
Pages: 448
Product dimensions: 9.34(w) x 6.42(h) x 1.35(d)

About the Author

David Sloan Wilson is SUNY Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University. He is widely known for his fundamental contributions to evolutionary science and for explaining evolution to the general public. His books include Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives, Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society, and Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior (with Elliott Sober). In addition to his own research, Wilson manages programs that expand the scope of evolutionary science in higher education, public policy, community-based research, and the study of religion.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Listener 3

Chapter 1 Evolution, Cities, and the World 9

Chapter 2 My City 27

Chapter 3 The Parable of the Strider 40

Chapter 4 The Parable of the Wasp 59

Chapter 5 The Maps 80

Chapter 6 Quantifying Halloween 92

Chapter 7 We Are Now Entering the Noosphere 102

Chapter 8 The Parable of the Immune System 125

Chapter 9 The Reflection 139

Chapter 10 Street-Smart 163

Chapter 11 The Humanist and the Ceo 181

Chapter 12 The Lost Island of Prevention Science 192

Chapter 13 The Lecture That Failed 216

Chapter 14 Learning from Mother Nature about Teaching Our Children 229

Chapter 15 The World with Us 253

Chapter 16 The Parable of the Crow 272

Chapter 17 Our Lives, Our Genes 289

Chapter 18 The Natural History of the Afterlife 305

Chapter 19 Evonomics 332

Chapter 20 Body and Soul 353

Chapter 21 City on a Hill 379

Acknowledgments 391

Notes 393

References 405

Index 421

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Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time 2.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Spoerk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I understand this book. It's fun! and exciting! Look! I can make my city be great!But no matter how excited I am about the idea, I just cannot get myself into this book. The chapters ramble on tangents to show some obscure point, only to swerve back into territory that seems unrelated to the first paragraph of the chapter. I'm sad that I'm rating this so low, because I wanted to like it, but the lack of written focus just turned me off too much.
vpfluke on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a hard book to get into. The author, David Sloan Wilson, has far ranging interests, which he tries to bring into understanding to show his evolutionary view of city life. He sees a lot of parallels between the activity of animals and humans, writing about water striders, wasps, and crows as paables of the human situation. Wilson is in many ways an effective story teller, even when they all don't hang together in the narrative. And he is on to something in his views of urbanity.
EowynA on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I want to like this book, but I'm having a hard time finishing it. It starts with a cute little story illustrating how science looks for facts, and faith looks for miracles. Then the author describes his own credentials for talking about evolution. Then he describes an instance of evolution - how water striders are the same as other water-walking bugs, and how they are different. The Founder Effect determines what materials the water strider genome has available to it, and what changes are possible. Then there are discussions of how the scientific method is used to find out more about these creatures.The author then introduces us to a Jesuit, Pierre Tailhard de Chardin as a scientist and a man of God. One point being that the two are not incompatible. Another point being the actual research done by Teilhard into paleontology, geology, and yes, even evolution. From this basis, the author starts to explore his own city, from an historical standpoint and from a sociological standpoint. And this is where I set the book down, and have found it difficult to pick it up again. The author has a readable style, the data points he collects are interesting, particularly as he starts to analyse them. But not fascinating. I will likely finish this book, but for now, it does not speak to me. It has a good overview of how evolution works, and how science works, and it contrasts it with religious thought. But this seems to be the chronicle of the author's approach to research, rather than the actual project itself. Water striders, interesting as they are, seem far removed from actual relevance to improving a city. This is a thick book with many ideas. I suspect it would be easier to read if it were decomposed into several related, smaller books, each one more sharply focused.
staciec on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be very interesting, but with very little practical value. I had anticipated it being more of an in-depth case study of, well, The Neighborhood Project, but that isn't really what I found.It seemed to be part introduction to applying evolution to nonstandard parts of life, and part memoir. Instead of focusing just on cities and how to use evolutionary theory to change them, it jumped around to different experiences and different ideas. David Sloan Wilson is an engaging author, and I bought in to what he was saying, but he never really got around to convincing me of any action steps for how he changed his city, or how I can change my own. This book is definitely interesting and worth a read, but I'll be waiting for the sequel, hoping that he can give me the concrete methods or ideas around how to create social change.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I came to this book after reading Haidt's "The Righteous Mind," which had transformed my way of thinking about morality. I was hoping for something similar. Instead I read a lot of self-congratulatory biography, some coming of age stories about friends and family (interesting, but written in a condescending tone), and a screed against economics. This author must have been deeply offended by some economists who failed to see his utter brilliance. His review of the field is naiive. Nevertheless, I took away from the book an understanding of the principles of cultural evolution. Not one word, though, about any success in changing the trajectory of the city of Binghamton. That was what it was supposed to be about.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago