Michael's Reviews > 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
by David Sloan Wilson
I had high hopes for this book, in which the author tells the story of his attempt to describe and then to improve his home city of Binghamton, New York, by means of "The Neighborhood Project." I was soon disappointed. Supposedly using evolutionary science as his guiding light, Wilson tries to understand the complexities of the city and its citizens by using sloppy social science methodologies (e.g., who decorates front yards for Halloween and/or Christmas, standardized tests of school children, such as the Developmental Assets Profile, etc.) to map "the hills [good parts] and valleys [bad parts]" of Binghamton. His purpose in mapping is to identify those "valleys" that need to be raised to the level of the "hills" through the application of evolutionary science and "common sense," until that time when Binghamton will become the "shining city on a hill" which he envisions. It was, in the end, neither the poor editing (I actually began to feel the "hammer blows of natural selection" by the twentieth or thirtieth time I read that phrase) nor the slipshod social science methodologies that made me want to throw the book across the room, it was the sheer hubris of the author. Apparently, given a few weeks to read and have conversations with experts, Wilson is not only able to master fields such as economics, psychology, and religious studies in which he has no formal training, he is actually able to have insights inspired by evolutionary science that have eluded the greatest scholars in these fields and to then set the misguided disciplines on corrected courses in his effort to save not only Binghamton but also the world. Comparing himself to Frodo in the Lord of the Rings, he laments that he only wants to return to his shire of Binghamton, but, alas, his destiny as the Ringbearer of Evolutionary Science leads him on from one academic conference to another with his heavy burden of sharing his brilliance with a world threatened by the evil forces of Mordor. In describing his brainchild, the Design Your Own Park competition in Binghamton (a failed project apparently abandoned after the publication of the book), Wilson comments on his own genius: "Brilliant, as Watson said to Holmes." One can only hope that "the hammer blows of natural selection" will not permit evolutionary science to follow the narcissisitic path Wilson has mapped out for himself.
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