Journal of Urban Health

, Volume 93, Issue 2, pp 292–311 | Cite as

Hospitality Invites Sociability, Which Builds Cohesion: a Model for the Role of Main Streets in Population Mental Health

  • Jacob M. IzenbergEmail author
  • Mindy Thompson Fullilove


The aim of this study was to investigate the contribution of main streets to community social cohesion, a factor important to health. Prior work suggests that casual contact in public space, which we call “sociability,” facilitates more sustained social bonds in the community. We appropriate the term “hospitality” to describe a main street’s propensity to support a density of such social interactions. Hospitality is a result of the integrity and complex contents of the main street and surrounding area. We examine this using a typology we term “box-circle-line” to represent the streetscape (the box), the local neighborhood (the circle), and the relationship to the regional network of streets (the line). Through field visits to 50 main streets in New Jersey and elsewhere, and a systematic qualitative investigation of main streets in a densely interconnected urban region (Essex County, New Jersey), we observed significant variation in main street hospitality, which generally correlated closely with sociability. Physical elements such as street wall, neighborhood elements such as connectivity, inter-community elements such as access and perceived welcome, and socio-political elements such as investment and racial discrimination were identified as relevant to main street hospitality. We describe the box-circle-line as a theoretical model for main street hospitality that links these various factors and provides a viable framework for further research into main street hospitality, particularly with regard to geographic health disparities.


Social integration Public space Social psychiatry Health disparities Main streets Built environment Social interaction Urban design Planning Geographic inequality Neighborhood effects Sociability Hospitality 



The authors acknowledge funding support from the Medical Student Research Fellowship Program at the Yale University School of Medicine.


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Copyright information

© The New York Academy of Medicine 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Yale University School of MedicineNew HavenUSA
  2. 2.New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University Mailman School of Public HealthNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.UCSF Department of PsychiatrySan FranciscoUSA

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