In Klinenberg’s social autopsy of the Chicago heat wave, social isolation was brought to the forefront as a variable that exponentially increased a victim’s chance of dying. Listening to a podcast, This American Life 346: Home Alone, (the stories of Mary Ann, Cleavis and Jennifer) you distinguish the difference between living alone (residing in a household by yourself), being isolated (little to no social capital), being reclusive (keeping to oneself to the point where one doesn’t come out of their homes) and being lonely (feeling lonesome). All of these concepts contributes to social isolation. In Klinenberg’s article, many victims of the Chicago heat wave were described as “reclusive”, “no known relatives”, and kept to themselves. The elderly population were more likely to experience desertion, urban isolation, reclusion, and fear. Leaving them vulnerable and more susceptible to dehydration and heat strokes during the 1995 Chicago heat wave.
I took an ethnographic tour of Bay Ridge, looking for any senior centers or spaces where adults and the elderly living in Bay Ridge can foster social capital, circumventing social isolation. I walked from 86th street and Fort Hamilton Parkway to 101st street and Fort Hamilton Parkway (alongside the Gowanus Expressway).
On my tour, I saw a medium sized park named John J Carty Park, where many Muslim middle aged women were sitting on park benches, conversing with one another while watching their children play. I saw a middle aged man feeding peanuts to squirrels, while two other elderly men were playing a game of chess on the park tables. I observed that this park was a physical environment that welcomed social interaction as a public area (as well as an area to meditate/exercise in, if you don’t have the means to go to the gym). The park tables that were considerably well-kept (for games of chess), the two (male and female) bathrooms in the front of the park were full functioning and open to the public (making it easier to access the park and not worry about having no access to a lavatory), and the playground that was safe for children to play in (little to no litter, playground toys weren’t hazardous).
A few yards down from John J Carty Park, I saw the Fort Hamilton Senior Recreation Center. When I went inside, I only saw a few elderly people (mainly elderly men wearing veteran hats) engaged in coloring their coloring books and listening to an Elvis track on a radio in low volume. A recreation center targeted to the elderly provides an environment for them to engage in social interactions with peers preventing social isolation. However, to see so few people in there was a bit unnerving. Inaccessibility due to limited transportation, poverty and/or fear of crime were a few reasons that came to mind when rationalizing why the number of people in the recreation center were so few.
I continued walking to Shore Road and came across the United States Army Garrison Fort Hamilton (a military base) seeing little no people walking around. People mostly travel by car to go in and out of the United States Army Garrison military base, which is underneath highway entrance to the Verrazano Bridge. There is a gate in front of the United States Army Garrison military base, preventing you from going inside, but allowing you to see the army soldiers inside. There are a lot of veterans that live in my neighborhood and the military base provides support to these neighboring veterans through community events and providing resources targeting people who have been and are in the military (including mental health and medical resources).
Once I finished my ethnographic tour of Bay Ridge, at the Dover Patrol Monument in John Paul Jones Park (on 101st street), I noticed that there weren’t as many people in this park as I saw in John J Carty Park. I attributed this to the fact that John Paul Jones Park is closer to the water (making temperatures cooler), has a monument in it (and not a playground like the John J Carty Park does) and is located farther away from the subway and store fronts that are usually congested with people. Although John Jones Park is more windy and quiet, it’s a place where the elderly can take a long stroll in a pace of their own (not being push or shoved out of someone’s way) and there’s a lower chance of getting injured from running into a group of children playing and their toys. John Paul Jones Park is a place that is ideal for those who want to avoid loud noises, yet still take in a breath of fresh air, get some day light, and walk (exercise) in.
I took a virtual ethnographic tour of my neighborhood, Bay Ridge and found that there are many modes of transportation hubs including cab services, busses, and trains that go to New York City and other parts of Brooklyn. Looking online at Bay Ridge’s 2015 Community Health Profile, I found that more than 39% of residents living in Bay Ridge are above 45 years old. Bay Ridge’s social environment prevents social isolation by having different facilities offer resources and services and community events that benefits residents along with a physical environment that welcomes social interactions.
Klinenberg E. Dying Alone. Ethnography. 2001;2(4):501-531. doi:10.1177/14661380122231019.