Their paper examined maps, presentations and photographs made by Homewood youth, as well as interviews with them, to understand how they viewed their neighborhood. The youth had taken pictures of litter, illegal dumps, vacant lots and shuttered homes, and they talked about how gun violence affected them. Teixeira and Zuberi used this qualitative data to pinpoint elements of the neighborhood affecting them — using “youth perceptions to inform our understanding of what aspects of a neighborhood’s built and social environment shape youth well-being,” they wrote.
One participating youth, anonymously quoted in the study, said that, “[I]f we didn’t have all these abandoned houses and people started moving here … Homewood would be a much better place.”
In turn, according to another article on this research by Teixeira for the Journal of Adolescent Research, “[T]he research has begun to establish a link between environmental features, and more specifically, abandoned properties, and health and social outcomes among adolescents.”
“Neighborhoods create a set of experiences, connect us to certain social networks. Thinking about neighborhoods as contexts of development is probably a helpful way to think about it.”
Still, many of the youth also felt the emotional weight of stigma associated with these issues and the neighborhood itself.
“The reality is, there is no perfect neighborhood,” Wallace noted, “and each of our neighborhoods has its unique set of challenges.” He emphasized the need to not only consider the deficits of any neighborhood, but also assets such as businesses and community organizations doing good work.
The presence of strong networks of social capital — networks of relationships and resources within social groups — also make neighborhoods work, Zuberi said.
Larry Davis, professor and dean emeritus for the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh, commented on the role of a neighborhoods’ social capital.
“It’s also the social support system. Mom babysits my kids. Uncle takes me to the barber shop.” People count on that system, he said, if they have it. If they don’t, possibly due to forced relocation or impoverished circumstances, then positive outcomes are more difficult to achieve. And that social capital can’t easily be created or recreated somewhere else.
“Sometimes it’s social capital that allows you to get by day to day, which is especially important if you’re lower income,” Zuberi said. She noted that neighborhood networks can provide connections to internships and jobs, for example.
Still, residents within a neighborhood aren’t going to respond uniformly to any set of circumstances.
In a 2014 literature review for the Annual Review of Sociology, sociologists Patrick Sharkey and Jacob Faber of New York University noted the need for “more complete evidence designed to capture the lived experience of individuals as they navigate their residential environments over time.” They advocate for “research that examines where, when, why, and for whom do residential contexts matter.” As much as data analysis can help us understand neighborhoods, it’s still important to consider other ways of researching how individuals react to their circumstances, such as through ethnographic studies.
“If unemployment is high in a community, then multi-generationally people will have trouble getting jobs. If communities are over policed multi-generationally, then people from those communities will end up being locked up. If health care is denied multi-generationally in neighborhoods, then folks will be sick. If there’s lead pipes for decades, then those children in those communities will disproportionately have lead in their blood, which has implications for their thinking and their ability to learn.
“…So poverty creates and arguably recreates the results that people experience.”
Chetty notes that their research has significant implications for civic leaders and policy, in the area of affordable housing in particular. Cities can use this data to help families choose where to live and, more specifically, where to use housing vouchers or locate programs, effectively using limited funds for the best results.
Williams described a recent meeting in Washington, D.C., where officials were kicking off a new affordable housing strategy that used this data to target neighborhoods with better outcomes for low-income children. “That really is exciting to see their housing department, the mayor’s office, the planning department, really thinking around all of the different policy levers they can pull to really create more access throughout the district for their residents,” he said.
Chetty and his research team are finding that it’s possible to determine which neighborhoods have helped people climb out of poverty. They suggest targeting voucher use there, rather than simply targeting any high-income area.
This content was originally published here.