WUOMFM

How does your neighborhood shape you? We hope to find out this year

May 24, 2016

This month we entered our fifth and final year of State of Opportunity.

Whether you've followed us from the beginning, or joined us somewhere along the way, you'll know we've talked a lot about factors that affect the development of children and adolescents, from birth to young adulthood.

This year, we'll be shifting our focus heavily to neighborhoods.

How do our neighborhoods make us who we are? How much do they define us and the way we see the world? How do they shape our personality or impact our future?

These are some of the questions we want to explore.

A 2010 studyThe Mechanisms of Neighborhood Effects Theory, Evidence, and Policy Implications, found direct links between a person's neighborhood and factors like health, education, and personal outcomes.

According to the study:

  • Four neighborhood factors—social cohesion, social control, spatial mismatch, and environmental hazards—have the strongest effect on personal outcomes;
  • There is a direct line from exposure to neighborhood violence and pollution to poorer health;
  • Peer effects and role models among disadvantaged teens are particularly influential in later outcomes;
  • Having more affluent neighbors can help inspire more positive norms among residents, but not as much as “bad influences” can undermine positive norms;
  • The chronic stress of living in dangerous or rundown neighborhoods can affect parenting styles, which can in turn affect children; and
  • Less clear is the effect of stronger social networks, perhaps because there is less socializing across socioeconomic lines than one might expect.

In 2013, Princeton University Press published, "Climbing Mount Laurel: The Struggle for Affordable Housing and Social Mobility in an American Suburb." The book was the result of two years of research by the university, analyzing the development of the Ethel R. Lawrence Homes in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. It was the state's first affordable housing community in the suburbs to reach the very poor.

David Kirp is a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. In an op-ed piece for The New York Times, Kirp wrote of the book:

Suburbia beckons many poor and working-class families with the promise of better schools, access to non-dead-end jobs and sanctuary from the looming threat of urban violence. But many suburbanites balk at the prospect of affordable housing in their midst.

They fear that when poor people move next door crime, drugs, blight, bad public schools and higher taxes inevitably follow. They worry that the value of their homes will fall and the image of their town will suffer. It does not help that the poor are disproportionately black and Latino. The added racial element adds to the opposition that often emerges in response to initiatives designed to help poor families move to suburbs from inner cities.

He continued:

Where you live profoundly shapes who you are. “I would go as far as to argue that what is truly American is not so much the individual but neighborhood inequality,” concludes the Harvard sociologist Robert J. Sampson in his landmark 2012 book, “Great American City.” The families that migrated to Mount Laurel — earning from 10 to 60 percent of median income — obtained more than a nicer house. They secured a new lease on life, a pathway out of poverty for the adults and a solid education for the children.

Over the next year we will be looking at studies and stories, and going out into neighborhoods and spending time among the people who live there. We look forward to sharing what we find out.

How do you think your neighborhood has defined who you are?

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