Social Streets Review

Learn the principles behind the success of Social Streets as it spreads across the world. What are the secrets to its success? How does it create thriving neighbourhoods out of socially barren city environments? In this episode we look through the lens of PatternDynamics to identify some of the systems patterns and principles at work. Have your own opinions or perhaps some questions about the principles discussed here? Put your thoughts in the comments section below the blog so we can start the conversation.


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Topics Discussed:

1:30 Three Key Principles
2:30 Increasing Resources and Social Isolation
4:35 Connecting in Meaningful Ways
5:00 Three Social Streets Resources
5:45 What is it?
9:00 Boundary, Network, Trade
16:10 How Permeable Are the Boundaries?
18:07 Nodes and Connections
19:58 Exchanges form the Network
21:50 Overcoming the Overwhelm


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PD Blog 6 Social Streets Main Picture

Hi Tim Winton here, creator of PatternDynamics — where we use our unique systems thinking tool to look at some of the deeper principles behind to look at how we learn to solve the challenges of the increasingly complex world and create a more thriving planetary future.

A Social Phenomenon

In this episode, we’re going to have a look at something that is really interesting. It’s bit of a social phenomenon. It’s been really successful and it’s managed to solve what is really quite an intractable challenge, and still an intractable challenge around the world. It’s called “Social Streets”. Social Streets is managed to create or develop a system for creating thriving neighborhoods that seems to just work. It’s now over 370 of these initiatives around the world, by all accounts they’re getting results, solves the problem of social isolation and it does it in a systematic way that can be replicated. I think that is why I am so interested in this one. I’ve been reading about it all week and I’ve been trying to think through and work out what are the deeper principles behind these initiatives are because I think if we could understand them we can apply them to other aspects of our life, our work and our world.

What are the three principles?

There are three key principles; at least these are the three that I discovered through working through the “Social Streets” initiative, that are key to how these to how phenomena creates thriving neighborhoods. I want to explore them in this blog podcast and we’ll go through the challenge that it needs, what it is, how it works and talk through some of the principles behind it and then relate those principles to the PatternDynamics framework. So that we can do this consistently and learn a little bit more about how these principles actually work and how we can translate them in to our own settings, in our own work and in our own lives. There are three powerful principles, let’s move on to the next slide.

Wealth and Social Isolation

Increasing amounts of people have access to increasing amounts of resources and on one hand that is a very good thing — all of us to have our essential needs met so that we can get all of other things. But what is very interesting about that is that if we can get everything we need by engaging in a market economy is that we go to work, we get money and we can exchange it for nearly all the things we need in our society. Most things are available if you can purchase them. You know, what’s interesting about being able to do that is that it’s only been in the last 300 – 400 years that most of the people on this planet have engaged in a financial economy — that is that they sold their labor into the market and they’ve receive money and then they buy their goods and services that they need.

In the past, most people lived in places where within their family or community they produced most of the things they needed together without having the medium of money being necessary for doing that. Money has been around for a long time but most people got most of the things they needed without money. It’s only relatively that recently, most people get what they need through money. But now that there are more resources available and having a financial economy that super charges the bio-physical economy that produces the goods and services, it makes it easier for them to be exchanged and we have a bigger economy because of that. There’s more things available and more people have more access to wealth now than ever before in history. The interesting side effect of that is because we don’t need our neighbors or family anymore to produce the things we need. We don’t necessarily connect with them. It’s like to this phenomenon of social isolations even if we have more, we’re wealthier. We tend to isolate ourselves more and more. People are living alone. We have the nuclear family unit that has been with us since the 2nd World War at least as a major mode of how humans live and those are isolating factors. If most of us lived in the past, in communities that were larger and families that were larger and we are more connected, that’s now changed. That’s the situation.

How To Connect

The question is how can we connect in meaningful ways that create neighborhoods that thrive socially? Materially, we’re okay but we’ve lost our social connections and that’s the big question and people have been trying to remedy this problem for quite a while now and it’s interesting how “Social Streets” went about it.

Three Resources

We got three good resources here for you regarding the “Social Streets” phenomenon. Cherry Bell has a great article on called ‘how to start a Social Street?’ You can Google that with the URL in the slide here if you happen to watch the video or the slide share. Also, D.W. has one called ‘Getting to know thy neighbors’ another really good piece. This is an audio piece done on radio and put on to a slide and it gives really good information and background, and the “Social Streets” official info page. We are going to work through each of those things, actually.

What is Social Streets

Let’s talk about what “Social Streets” is and how it functions. The introduce behind this was that a young couple, Federico and Laura; Laura is some sort of African and Federico is Italian and they moved to Italy. They are in a large city and it was isolating. They don’t have any connection to their neighbors — none in fact. They would say ‘Hello’ to people they saw regularly but they didn’t get to know anyone. Federico just thought that this is a feature of urban life and that’s okay. People want to be anonymous and just want the attractions to city life and it didn’t seem to bother them so much. But when they had a child, he realized that this is a sad thing. His family wasn’t there and he didn’t have any connections – social connections and his child was going to miss out on this feature in his life obviously and it was important to him. And so he decided that he needed to do something about this social isolation and he was going to try to solve this problem. He came up with a unique solution and I think it’s really interesting. What he did was he created a closed Facebook group. There’s nothing really new about that, anyone can set up, it’s free, and this is one of the tenants in “Social Streets” — one of the principles behind it. What’s interesting about what he did was he made that closed facebook group available only to the people that lived only on his street in his neighborhood. If you didn’t live there you cannot come in to that closed facebook group, and he put fliers and posters up around the neighborhood on the street to let people know that there is this closed facebook group that was specifically for creating connections between the residents of the street. He was surprised by the response he got. He got a lot of response and many people joined the facebook group and started to connect and communicate. But, the purpose of this facebook group was not just to go online like we do in social media and relate to people at a distance. The purpose was, if you have a need for help where you go to a service where you might normally pay for like a plumber to fix your clogged drain. Which is one of the examples they talked about in one of this pieces, I think it’s the D.W. piece. That’s with “Social Streets,” you go to any closed facebook group and you post ‘my drain’s clogged. Can someone help me?’ What happened was people were getting two or three replies and some people said ‘yea sure, I’ll come and fix your drain because I used to be a plumber and I’m happy to do it. I’m retired’. And one woman asked for someone to walk her home at night because she felt unsafe. Again someone said ‘I’m not doing anything now, I will help you with that problem’. What we got is people not only connecting once you get in social media but exchanging. And those exchanges of energy, our life energy giving something to people freely. “Social Streets” is all about free, none monetary transactions. It’s about building community and actually meeting each other face to face. I think it’s those exchanges that really drive “Social Streets”, and that’s what I like to talk about.

Boundary Pattern


There are three really interesting principles here, we just shift down. I think those principles are that “Social Streets” with the closed facebook group, set a boundary around who can come into that facebook group. Closed facebook groups are closed, so you can set a boundary and you can pick anybody who you like. But from a systems perspective, which is what we are doing here; we’re looking in to the deeper systems principles behind why something could work. And our purpose behind on doing that is so that we can use those same principles if we can identify similar situation in our life, our work and our world and try to get a similar result. Principles, being principles are universal and looking at how these systems works gives us a different kind of insight. It’s more holistic and it is also a key for solving a set of challenges that come with the increasingly complex world. When you have more things, they’re more related and things happened faster then, that is a more complex world and our world is getting increasingly complex. That, it’s actually the root cause of many of our challenges which are kind of the symptoms on the surface but if things are complex, then one of the antidotes to that or something that can help is understanding more holistically the systems principles behind it.

The Conversation for Collective Intelligence

That is what we’re doing with PatternDynamics. It’s not like we have to receive wisdom that will download to you. It’s about starting a conversation because it is wanting to see more as to stand back and look at the system, but that’s not much good unless you actually share more. And the share more part is when having the conversations to get our collective intelligence on board. That collective intelligence becomes collective wisdom when we’re looking at the system and sharing about the system in effective ways and that is how we meet the challenges of a complex world. It’s just one of the ways that we know of; it’s well researched now. We can get results from and that’s what we do in PatternDynamics and that’s what this blog posts are for and podcasts are to encourage the start of the discussion.

These three principles are ones that I have identified but you might look at this as ‘no, I think there are other things that were important in getting this initiative to work’. So, I encourage you to put comments, ask questions into the discussion section at the bottom of this blog or podcast and I’ll answer them or someone else in the PatternDynamics community will answer them and that we’ll start the dialogue because you might be right. You might be contributing a really important perspective to this that will be really helpful for us to coordinate into how we understand the situation better and we are able to replicate it in other places and in other context. These “Social Streets” people are doing a great job of getting it to work in neighborhoods that it is in big cities. Maybe these principles can translate into your workplace or into your community in a different way to get a similar result. That is the idea anyway. I think the three principles are Boundary- that who came into that closed facebook group; there is a very particular kind of boundary. That boundary was permeable only to that people on that street of neighborhood, you couldn’t get in otherwise.

One of the functions of boundaries and systems is to delineate the outside of the system from the inside of a system, and until you have a system boundary you don’t really have a system. They can be conceptual, they can be physical. In this case there are set of protocols or rules — social rules of who could come in. That boundary had a very particular kind of permeability and that established a very particular kind of system because only the elements inside the system can start to relate as a system. They’ve established that, they have very clear distinct boundary with the distinct kind of permeability, so they got the potential for distinct kinds of relationships and I think that is the first principle.


The second principle is the Networking Function – the social media, the facebook site, the closed group allowed for the initial connections. The network receive a bunch of notes, the systems speak, bunch of elements and then they get connected and communication; actual chat inside the closed facebook group is starting to established connections.



The third principle probably the critical one is the exchange function, or what I’ve called “Trade Pattern”. Until there is some kind of exchange; networking is one thing but that is not necessarily what Federico and Laura were after in this case. They wanted real people to meet them in real time, and doing that mean we probably need something from each other. That’s what being in the financial economy and having all our own independent resources is done. We haven’t meant to ask anyone for anything except for our employer for money and everything else we go out and we don’t have to do that exchange except through money. But, we have to go to your neighbor because we need something or you have a way to connect to a network with them and then exchange the gluts, service, favor and that establishes a real person to person contact and becomes more intimate and people get to know each other and their socializing. All kinds of things happen in “Social Street”, people started playing music together, they form clubs together, and they had celebrations and rituals together in the streets. Once people got to know each other face to face, things started to change because of the exchange function. I think that’s the trading that they were doing of their real life energy, that’s how relationships are formed.


Networking is a kind of relationship light. It’s not until we start giving and receiving and really exchanging our life energy with each other on that basis, that we get that deeper kind of community intimacy — that I think the founders were after, and that they got and that is replicable. So I am advocating for these three principles. When you spend a bit of time going through them — how they show up in the PatternDynamics framework, because this maybe one of the initial blog podcasts out run through a little bit of the ‘why?’ behind the PatternDynamics itself. It’s a framework of systems thinking principles; they are a bunch of little diagrams called patterns. You can go to, you can go to the patterns page; the charts are there and you can just click on any of those pattern icons and they’ll take you through to a page with the pattern’s definition which is actually its systems principle. It’s kind of like an alphabet, once you’ve learned these then you can start to combine them like we have with the three principles we’ve got: boundary, network and trade then we can start to get to know how the holistic dynamic of a system unfolds, and the principles that make it thrive and flourish or the principles that make it degenerate and become unhealthy and that’s what we are interested in the ‘for’ and how we get them to thrive.

Permeability of the Boundary

Back to boundary here, if we get to look at this slide. (Like, I said if you’re on the podcast you can go to and you can click through this pattern). Boundary is interesting, you can see the diagram here; it’s a bunch of little dots and noble those form a boundary in. There are gaps between the little dots and that is the permeability aspect. Permeability can be very distinct. You need to balance the kind of permeability you need for a very particular context, and the context in “Social Streets” was to get people to meet who live close to each other — only people who were in that neighborhood could come inside that boundary, that is how the principle work in this instance.

Boundary is an interesting one because on the PatternDynamics framework it’s structural; if you go to the matrix chart (you can do that by going to the pattern’s page on the site) if you’re following me on the video on the slide share here, you go down and boundary is in the structure column. It has a major aspect of structure and has a minor aspect of rhythm and that’s how the PatternDynamics system works. You can decode the different patterns and the different principles behind them just by learning an initial setting. Their very straight forward and intuitive, and after a little bit of practice you can start to see; you get your kind of systems glasses on and you learn this kind of pattern letters and see, you can look at any situation and you can start to pick out the patterns and you can start to have conversations with people, like I said that’s how we get our collective wisdom on board.

We can see boundary structural. Its one of those things; it’s kind of like the foundational structural property of any system. If “Social Streets” is a neighborhood system, that boundary; you have to be within that geographical location to actually make it inside that boundary for this particular group and initiative and structural. It has a very particular kind of structure because it’s a very particular kind of permeability inside that boundary; so that’s the principal that we’re working on with here.

Network Nodes and Connections

The next one is Network—the diagram here, the pattern diagram is five little nodes connected by lines. At least in the PatternDynamics system that’s what network is, it’s very discreet elements that are tightly bounded, they have their own very tight boundaries and they’re related through some kind of connection. It is not like everything is just mashed together, there are distinctions and they’re very clearly connected but they don’t overlap and then mash. A Network is a bunch of nodes that have really distinct connections.

The closed facebook group created a Network, it allowed people to start and communicate. Very age antic contained human being so we’re in fact isolated; really kind of uber nodes but there was no connections. And the facebook site allowed people to at least start to communicate –say ‘hi’, say ‘I’m so and so, and I live in this flat, on this floor, and this is what I do’, and introduce themselves and get conversation started. That’s the network part. Those isolated nodes start to reach out and connect. In the PatternDynamics system, network is also structural but its structure, (it’s in the structure column so it) has a major aspect of structure but has a minor aspect of exchange. So those connections need to be exchanges, any nodes, or relevance or people, any independently existing things. The connection will only remain if there is some kind of exchange. If there is no exchange in all in all, there is no reason, there is no purpose behind the connection it won’t remain and it will be fleeting. To maintain connections there need to be exchange.

Exchange is the Key

And that leads us to our next point which I called “Trade”. The PatternDynamics system trade is an exchange. We’ll have a look in a minute but underneath the exchange column, its right in the middle, its exchange and exchange. We’ll just have a look in the chart here, Go down in the exchange column, Trade is right in the middle. If you go across, the minor aspect is also exchange. It’s the double. Really essence of exchange is the trade of energy, life energy or biological energy- depending on what we are talking about like human organizations or biological systems or ecosystems but the principle is the same. That’s the part that we’re interested in. Trade, if we look over here; the Network is made up of structure and exchange. Those nodes are connected because there’s an exchange but trade is the principle that really makes these things work. It’s probably the most important principle on this is that people exchange their life energy face to face — they work together, they give each other things, they do things for each other then they reciprocate which is what Trade is about. It does not all go one way, that’s the flow. That’s another pattern, that’s another principle and Trade is different. The exchange of life energies that make the really strong connections in the network inside the boundary that start to form the neighborhood system which I think is what Federico and Laura have done. They created a thriving neighborhood system and they’ve got this great recipe for how to do it and we’re starting to locate some of the principles on how to make that work. If you’re interested with this kind of thing, as I said, go to the website. You can download the workbook to get started because this is all really about seeing more, that’s the system — seeing more holistically and to do anything about the system because sometimes we really get overwhelmed and we start to see more like ‘whoa, what was all this stuff? How do we change it?’ It can be overwhelming and a bit frustrating but the secret is to start sharing more as well and take other people’s perspectives from the system and use that intelligence. Because on our own, working in complex systems is really challenging and difficult but if we can start to share our perspectives and coordinate them then that’s how we get a protraction. Again, download your workbook, put comments underneath the blog or the podcast and you’ll get an answer or we’ll start a discussion and we’ll learn more about “Social Streets”; the principles behind it and how they can help us to get better outcomes in our own life, our own work and our own world.

Thanks for joining me on this podcast, this blog and we’ll see you next time.