Reflections on Neighborhoods and Collective Efficacy

By Charlie Collins

Transforming social cohesion into informal social control: Deconstructing collective efficacy and the moderating role of neighborhood racial homogeneity, by Charles R. Collins, Zachary P. Neal, and Jennifer Watling Neal, was published in Volume 39, Issue 3 of the Journal of Urban Affairs and is currently available for free access for a limited time.

As I reflect on this paper, which examines the neighborhood role in collective efficacy factors, I can’t help but place myself in the various neighborhoods I’ve lived in throughout my life and think about those neighborhood dynamics that influenced me. The neighborhood as a space brings with it social, cultural, and economic influences that can have huge effects on the residents within them. The schools, institutions, organizations, and even demographic make-up of a neighborhood can have profound effects on individual and collective outcomes. Quality social, economic, and cultural institutions may positively impact residents; poor institutions may have negative impacts.

In the neighborhood that possibly made the largest effect on my adolescent development – the Lanksershim neighborhood of San Bernardino, California, located about 60 miles east of Los Angeles – I remember a rich tapestry of cultures, faiths, and ethnicities. My closest friends were first generation Cambodian, Mexican, Laotian, and Guatemalan. We ran around the neighborhood as a cohesive group along with my African-American and White friends. Convenience stores, restaurants, and laundromats, owned and operated by Samoans and Pilipino families lined our streets. The current demographics still reflect my lived experience.

This diversity also brought with it tribal conflict. In the 1990’s, off-shoots of L.A.’s Bloods and Crips engaged in battle. More recently, it’s been the Norteños and Sereños. Beyond gang wars, racial tensions always seemed palpable – even for my diverse and cohesive group of friends. A store owner accosting a customer, an angry stare between adolescents, or a school-yard fight was a common occurrence between people of different racial or ethnic backgrounds.

The richness of this cultural melting pot was often undercut by the desperate poverty we experienced. The Norton Air Force Base, an economic powerhouse for San Bernardino, was about 6 blocks from my home. When it shutdown,  homes became ignored and dilapidated, broken cars sat on cinder blocks in yards, and stray cats moved about unmolested. Our schools were financially broke. Liquor stores out-numbered grocery stores. A lack of educational after-school programs left adolescents up to their own devices. To add insult to injury, the 10’ fence encompassing my high school created the ominous feeling of a prison yard.

It is through the lens of my personal lived experiences in neighborhoods such as Lankership that I conduct my research and contribute to my science. I strive to see communities that are both diverse and cohesive. Unfortunately, the scientific literature on this question is not in my favor. Thus far, much of the urban science shows that racial diversity often undercuts neighborhood outcomes, such as social capital and collective efficacy. Even this paper, which seeks to understand how racial/ethnic homogeneity influences the relationship between two collective efficacy factors – social cohesion and informal social control, does not give evidence on my behalf. These factors are important because they provide residents the collective capacity to address neighborhood needs, such as crime, for example.

In this paper, my co-authors and I found three important results that may inform neighborhood structure and processes, particularly regarding neighborhood racial make-up. First, we found that within more racially homogeneous neighborhoods, residents tend to report higher levels of informal social control. Meaning, in these neighborhoods, residents are more likely to indicate that their neighbors will intervene on behalf of the neighborhood, such as breaking up a fight between two adolescents, for example. Second, we found that when residents report greater levels of social cohesion they also report elevated levels of informal social control regardless of neighborhood diversity. In other words, when residents perceive their neighbors as willing to help each other,  they also report greater informal social control. Third we found that within racially homogeneous (i.e. less diverse) neighborhoods, the relationship between social cohesion and informal social control was reduced. Meaning, that racially homogeneous neighborhoods tend to have a stronger relationship between social cohesion and informal social control. In these neighborhoods, residents tend to enact greater informal social control mechanisms if they have strong social bonds (i.e. social cohesion) with their neighbors.

Given the rich diversity that I experienced as an adolescent growing up in San Bernardino, these results have important implications. Our results indicate that although racial diversity may have a negative effect on the relationship between social cohesion and informal social control, the power between social cohesion and informal social control is undeniable. I’d argue that for growing and maintaining the extent to which residents feel a push toward contributing to the social order of the neighborhood, building social bonds are important – those similar bonds that I experienced, regardless of race or country or origin.

As an academic, I’ve now taken these very personal and real stories and abstracted them into numbers, data, and statistics, which have no direct impact or meaning for those families still struggling to make ends meet in San Bernardino. I am physically far removed from that time and space now, but I am cognitively tied to it for eternity. It will always impact my research and the way I go about asking scientific questions. My only hope is that one day my body of research will be pooled with those doing similar work so that collectively, I can have a real and immediate impact on places like San Bernardino.

Charlie Collins is an Assistant Professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at University of Washington at Bothell.

Book Review Preview: The New Urban Crisis

By Jason Plummer

Florida, Richard, The New Urban Crisis: How our cities are increasing inequality, deepening segregation, and failing the middle class – and what we can do about it. (New York:  Basic Books, 2017)

Florida’s stated purpose for writing The New Urban Crisis to (1) define the new urban crisis, (2) identify the forces that led to this crisis, and (3) outline a pathway to achieve an inclusive urbanism.  He uses the first few pages of the preface to describe his childhood neighborhood, a mix of blue collar and middle class residents.  Ultimately, implementing the strategies outlined in his new book should recreate this type of mixed-income neighborhood, a “walkable, pedestrian-friendly streets, bike lanes, parks, exciting art and music scenes, and vibrant areas where people could gather in cafés, and restaurants” (p. xv).

The first three chapters expand on his first stated purpose.  In these chapters, Florida outlines how cultivating a nightlife, attracting start-ups, and tech firms without thinking about inclusion leads to inequality.  The next four chapters identify the forces that led to the new urban crisis and offer a fact-based discussion of gentrification.  In final chapter, Urbanism for All, Florida outlines a pathway to achieve an inclusive urbanism:  land value tax, tax increment local transfers, investments in mass transit, redirect the home mortgage tax credit from affluent homeowners to low income renters, index the minimum wage to a percentage of the prevailing median wage of the metropolitan area, invest in public education, and in terms of global affairs, transition foreign aid to place-based initiatives.

For those who embraced cultivating the creative class as an economic development strategy, The New Urban Crisis will provide guidance building a more inclusive city.  For those who rejected the creative class approach as fueling gentrification and racial stratification, since he does not provide details on how to implement his policies, it is hard to assess whether this revised approach is taming the negative externalities of development or a radical rethink of community development.

The full book review will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Urban Affairs.

Jason A. Plummer
California State University, Los Angeles

Book Review Preview: Urban Policy in the Time of Obama

By Dennis Gale

James DeFilippis, ed. Urban Policy in the Time of Obama. (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2016)

This volume does a commendable job of documenting the often-fragmented bits of legislation, executive orders and regulations targeting cities that were promulgated in Washington between 2009 and 2016. Its 22 contributors offer 19 articles ranging from policies on housing, community development, neighborhood revitalization, immigration, education, unions, healthcare and poverty, as well as crosscutting concerns around race. White House political strategy, programmatic initiatives and theoretical frameworks are also covered. The book should find interest among  students and faculty in urban studies, urban planning and public policy programs.

Disenchantment is the most consistent thread in Urban Policy. Irrespective of how deeply the authors plumb the depths of their topic, they frequently point out missed opportunities and misdirected policies. Hamstrung by tight-fisted Congressional Republicans (especially during his second term), Obama often relied on his executive authority to cobble together existing federal resources to launch new or reformulated initiatives. This offered only a limited policy landscape within which to address multiple urban issues. More pressing matters such as the lingering effects of the 2008 Great Recession and the war on terrorism commanded the White House’s center stage. Congressional stonewalling drove Obama to leverage private capital to help finance domestic policy innovations, raising concerns from some authors regarding creeping neoliberalism.

Although the book casts a wide net in examining various policy topics, housing draws special attention. Editor James DeFillipis points out that Obama-conceived initiatives such as Promise Neighborhoods and Strong Cities were lightly funded and fabricated from ideas retailed for many years by think tanks and other interest groups. Janet Smith describes the Obama administration’s efforts to leverage private financing for HUD’s HOPE VI housing program, concluding that the jury is still out on the effectiveness of these initiatives. And Rachel G. Bratt and Dan Immergluck report that on the negative side, rental housing supplies remained inadequate to demand over Obama’s two terms in office. On the positive side however, the administration presided over a sizeable decrease in homelessness (at least insofar as the best available data reveal).

Dennis E. Gale
Professor Emeritus, Rutgers University
Lecturer, Stanford University
Dennis.Gale@fulbrightmail.org

Call for Papers: Special Issue on Human Dynamics in Smart and Connected Communities

An Open Call for Submissions: Special Issue of Journal of Urban Affairs on “Human Dynamics in Smart and Connected Communities”

Special Issue Guest Editors: Daniel Sui, Ohio State University, USA (Sui.10@osu.edu) & Shih‐Lung Shaw, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, USA (sshaw@utk.edu)

Abstracts due: July 15, 2017

Aims and Scope

Advancements in location‐aware technology, information and communication technology (ICT), and mobile technology during the past two decades have continued to transform our cities and urban life in profound and unexpected ways, with concomitant changes in spatial and temporal relationships of human activities, behaviors, and movements. In the meantime, detailed data of individual activities and interactions are being collected at an unprecedented spatial and temporal granularity level by vendors (e.g., online searches and purchases, retail store transactions), service providers (e.g., phone companies, banks), social media services (Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, etc.), and government agencies. These big datasets contain useful information for us to better understand human dynamics in both physical and virtual spaces. These diverse datasets have provided urban scholars in multiple disciplines new opportunities to study issues of urban affairs with much improved spatial and temporal granularity.  Building on a series of paper sessions organized at 2017 AAG meetings in Boston and an Open Call for Papers, this special issue will bring together leading scholars in related disciplines to share their research on challenges and solutions of studying human dynamics in the mobile and big data era with a focus on smart and connected communities.

Possible Topics (not exhaustive)

This special issue will place an emphasis on the development of research frameworks, theories, methods and good case studies of tackling key research challenges related to the research of smart and connected communities. Sample topics include:

  • Development of smart and connected communities in the mobile age
  • Digital divide and social inequality
  • The future of work in smart and connected communities
  • Digital divide and sampling issue in human dynamics research
  • Space‐time data models for studying human dynamics
  • Privacy issues in mobile and big data and possible solutions
  • The environmental implications and sustainability of smart and connected   communities
  • Multi‐scale spatiotemporal analysis and modeling of human dynamics
  • Spatiotemporal analysis of human activities in physical and virtual spaces
  • Spatial agent‐based models of human‐environment interactions
  • Uncovering human dynamics hidden in different kinds of big tracking data
  • Spatiotemporal diffusion of innovation and ideas geo‐targeted social media analytics and visualization methods
  • Trajectory data mining, analysis, and visualization.
  • Spatiotemporal social network analysis
  • Data sharing and dissemination in human dynamics research

If you are not sure whether your potential contribution might fit the scope of this special issue, please get in touch with one of the guest editors.

Submission procedure:

Interested authors should notify the guest editors of their intention to submit a paper contribution by sending the title and a 250 word abstract to Daniel Sui (sui.10@osu.edu) and Shih-Lung Shaw (sshaw@utk.edu) by July 15, 2017. The deadline for submissions of the final papers is September 15, 2017.

A condition of submission and acceptance is that papers must pass the normal Journal of Urban Affairs review process. For author instructions, please refer to “Instructions for Authors” at the Journal of Urban Affairs homepage. All manuscripts, including support materials, must be submitted using the journal’s online submission process. Please select the correct special issue in the submission process and indicate this special issue as the target issue. First‐time users of the online submission site must register themselves as an Author. For questions, please contact Daniel Sui (sui.10@osu.edu) or Shih-Lung Shaw (sshaw@utk.edu).

Important dates:

Title and an abstract of no more than 250 words due: July 15, 2017

Full paper submission to the JUA website: September 15, 2017

Initial decision on full papers: November 15, 2017

Revised paper submission to the JUA website: December 15, 2017

Paper acceptance notification: February 15, 2018

Book Review Preview: Sustainable London

By Samantha McLean

Rob Imrie and Loretta Lees (eds), Sustainable London? The Future of a Global City (Bristol, UK: Policy Press, 2014)

‘Sustainable development’ has become a buzzword in the vernacular of urban policy, yet the term’s ambiguity has made it conveniently adoptable by policy makers wishing to further their own development goals.

Sustainable London? The Future of a Global City examines the effects of sustainable development policies in an era of austerity in London as functions of the government are reduced or delegated to the private sector. The book aims to challenge this mode of development and present alternative models that address social justice.

The book is divided into four sections and a postscript. Part One of the book establishes the foundation of London’s sustainable development policy and presents its challenges. Part Two examines ways in which austerity led to changes in governance and privatization of public services and infrastructure, while Part Three discusses the results of sustainable development policy. Part Four has an environmental health focus, looking at transportation, public health, and urban greening.

The book accomplishes the authors’ goal of challenging current sustainable development policies and their outcomes, or at the very least, presenting their shortcomings. Yet, the true shortcoming is the book’s inability to proffer a feasible approach for working toward a more just city within the confines of a capitalist system.

Imrie and Lees issue a clarion call: we must stop regarding sustainable development as “post-political” and realize that it is linked to politically-motivated causes. However, this call is the only solid outcome of this book. While the editors ultimately want to challenge the economic structure in which unjust sustainable development exists and work towards community controlled development, this is beyond the scope of attainable.

As a recent masters in city planning graduate, I benefited from this book as it provided historic, social, local, and economic context to the global city of London. However, as a future urban planner, I was left without an applicable action plan. In fact, I would think that the authors would want planners and developers operating in the public, nonprofit, and private sectors should be this book’s audience in addition to like-minded academics or grassroots professionals. That would allow for a more integrated approach to promoting the just city.

The full book review will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Urban Affairs.

Samantha McLean
University of Cincinnati
samantha.m.mclean@gmail.com

Book Review Preview: The Brooklyn Nobody Knows

By John Shapiro

William B. Helmreich, The Brooklyn Nobody Knows: An Urban Walking Guide (Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 2016).

Did you know that…

  • Barak Obama once lived in Park Slope. So did Al Capone.
  • Bushwick’s unconstrained graffiti art is really a changing exhibit managed by a collective.
  • In Gerritsen Beach, a favorite pastime is giving wrong directions to outsiders.

Such facts are dispersed throughout William B. Helmreich’s first contribution to his intended Nobody Knows series for New York City’s boroughs, expanding on his successful The New York That Nobody Knows. For each of 44 neighborhoods, Helmreich reports on his observations from and conversations while walking 816 miles through Brooklyn. Read it one neighborhood at a time before making a visit, and it is a guide book. Read it cover-to-cover as I did, and you realize the thoroughness with which Helmreich describes the people and condition of Brooklyn in the 2010s, at the height of the Brooklyn hype.  As is the case for the WPA Guide to New York City of the 1930s: while the reportage will become dated, it will enjoy a second life as an historical record.

As a local city planner, I can vouch for his accuracy—though there are places where the common wisdom he retells is incomplete, the urbanism story goes unreported, and he might have delved deeper into the community development movement, which originated here. But as a fourth-generation Brooklynite, I say fuhgeddaboudit: If you love walking cities, buy the book.

The full book review will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Urban Affairs.

John Shapiro, Professor, Pratt Institute

 

Book Review Preview: Space and Pluralism

By Anne B. Shlay

Stefano Moroni and David Weberman (eds.), Space and Pluralism: Can Contemporary Cities be Places of Tolerance? (New York, NY: Central European University Press, 2016).

Spaces and Pluralism is a tough read that speaks to issues that have plagued humanity for centuries but have intensified in recent years.  It asks “can contemporary cities be places of tolerance?”

The book is a collection of essays, case studies and research articles from many points of view including philosophy, planning, political science, design, geography, social theory, anthropology, and urban studies.  It asks basic and important definitional questions: what is pluralism, what is public and private space, how place is created from space, is tolerance culturally specific, how does private property interfere with tolerance, what can be expected from design and planning, what are human rights for space collectively and individually, and how does space exclude, separate and control particular social groups?

The two major concepts explored are pluralism and tolerance.  This idea of the good is central: not that there is right or wrong or winners and losers but that different perceptions are good whether they are good or bad.  Tolerance entails “mutual tolerance of the other” (p.8).  A pluralist approach to space encompasses the idea that different ideas of what is good exists and that we should accept and tolerate these differences.

Space and Pluralism recognizes that one cannot theorize about tolerance without talking about space.  Race, ethnicity, gender, class and more are grounded in space.  Tolerance and intolerance are spatial.  Human rights are spatial.  How can one even begin to understand human conflict without incorporating space as a key dimension? This focus on space may be the best feature of this book.

Spaces and Pluralism would be a useful addition to graduates courses associated with the fields of urban and global studies.  It will generate debate, frustration and hope over the possibility of tolerance and the role that designers can play in fostering understanding.

The full book review will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Urban Affairs.

Anne B. Shlay
Georgia State University
ashlay@gsu.edu