Social Network Analysis of Neighborhoods Research Paper

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Neighborhoods shape a variety of outcomes for children, families, and residents in general, influencing behavior, attitudes, and values as well. While some neighborhoods foster continuous patterns of criminal activity, others develop collective efficacy, the shared understanding that their constituent members have social capital resources which they are mutually able and willing to use to achieve collective outcomes. Neighborhoods cluster outcomes, some of which cannot be accounted for in terms of the characteristics of the individuals or households currently residing in them; they prove to be real communities with enduring characteristic patterns that survive the replacement of their constituent members. A useful neighborhood definition would be one that helped us better understand these neighborhood communities and their effects. These neighborhood communities are not only geographically meaningful but geographically identifiable as well because the networks of interactions among neighboring residents which produce them, which translate neighboring interactions into neighborhood communities and their effects, are constrained by predictable urban geographic substrates. New research has proposed behaviorally oriented definitions of neighborhoods, defining them in terms of their potential for interaction among residents. Defining neighborhoods in this way provides a lens to focus more closely on neighborhoods as effect-generating communities emerging from the networked interactions of their constituent residents.

Fundamentals/Key Issues

Why Neighborhoods Matter In The Twentyfirst Century: The Continual Emergence Of Neighborhood Effects

Neighborhoods: Social Capital, Collective Efficacy, And Crime

There appears to be a continually increasing interest in the role of neighborhoods in shaping a variety of outcomes for children, families, and neighborhood residents in general (for an overview, see BrooksGunn et al. 1997a, b). These “effects” have included a vast array of phenomena ranging from child and adolescent development (e.g., abuse and maltreatment, school completion and achievement, drug use, deviant peer affiliation, delinquency and gangs, adolescent sexual activity and pregnancy and childbearing, parenting behaviors) to concentrated disadvantage and its many corollaries (economic attainment and labor market success, crime and violence, physical disorder, the perpetuation of racism, to name just a few). An overwhelming conclusion reached by all of these studies of neighborhood effects is that neighborhoods influence our behavior, attitudes, and values. They shape the types of people we will become and expose us to or shield us from early hazards that would seriously restrict the opportunities available to us later in life. After our homes, and in conjunction with them, they are where we first learn whether the world is safe and cooperative or inchoate and menacing.

Not all neighborhoods are alike, however. Some neighborhoods are characterized by high levels of effective community. They clearly offer social capital to their residents, a social organization which facilitates and coordinates cooperative action for mutual benefit, which allows residents to deal with daily life, seize opportunities, reduce uncertainties, and achieve ends that would not otherwise have been possible. This social organization is a resource which is not individually attainable because social capital is not a characteristic of individuals; it is a supraindividual property of social structure and it seems to be particularly well grounded in neighborhood communities. These sources of social capital tied to the neighborhood community context are analytically distinct from and as consequential as the more proximate family processes and relationships occurring in the home. Some neighborhoods develop a further layer, mutual trust and shared norms, values, and expectations, beyond the resource potential of neighbor networks, which allows them to utilize these networks to achieve desired outcomes. Collective efficacy occurs when members of a collectivity, with social capital resources, believe they are mutually able and willing to use these resources to achieve an intended outcome (Morenoff et al. 2001). The distinction is a subtle, but important, one. A neighborhood may have social capital resources available for its constituent members to utilize but they may not trust the willingness or ability of their fellow residents to use these networked resources for the collective good or they may not even be certain that they agree as to what the collective good might be.

From a less positive perspective, neighborhoods show remarkable continuities in patterns of criminal activity as well. For decades, criminological research in the ecological tradition has confirmed the concentration of interpersonal violence in certain neighborhoods, especially those characterized by poverty, the racial segregation of minority groups, and the concentration of single-parent families. Even in neighborhoods with less socioeconomic or racial isolation, crime rates persist despite the demographic replacement of neighborhood populations (Brantingham and Brantingham 1993). In addition, neighborhoods determine not only one’s exposure to crime and violence but also a host of less tangible deleterious factors which contribute to the development of an urban underclass, signs of social disorder which lead residents to perceive their neighbors as threats rather than as sources of support or assistance (Massey and Denton 1993).

Neighborhoods: Geography And (Potential) Effects

These neighborhood effects, both the community enhancing and the community degrading effects, necessarily involve a geographic context. Thus, to analyze and understand them, they necessarily require a geographic equivalent of a neighborhood and a geographic definition of one. Researchers have utilized a variety of such definitions. In fact, they have used so many that Galster (2001, p. 2111) argued that “urban social scientists have treated ‘neighborhood’ in much the same way as courts of law have treated pornography: a term that is hard to define precisely, but everyone knows it when they see it.” Apparently, however, researchers often don’t know it when they see it. The modifiable area unit problem (MAUP) is a statistical bias affecting areal unit summary values (e.g., totals, rates, proportions) when they prove “arbitrary, modifiable, and subject to the whims and fancies of whoever is doing, or did, the aggregating” (Openshaw 1984, p. 3). Miller’s (1999) survey suggests that, when the spatial units used to study a phenomenon are not clearly defined by theory, any conclusions derived about the studied phenomenon may be hopelessly prejudiced by the arbitrary, at least from a theoretical perspective, choice of spatial unit.

While many statistical techniques and error modeling approaches have been used to try and counteract, reduce, or remove the effects of MAUP, Miller perceives that the ultimate solution has to involve a more behavioral-oriented definition of neighborhood. One needs better intuitions about the general nature of neighbor-hoods, not better statistical methods. The very existence of the modifiable areal unit problem (MAUP) evidences that theory has taken a back seat. Researchers who have developed methods for creating optimal analytic units with respect to predefined objective functions note correctly that MAUP would be irrelevant if neighborhood equivalents were chosen for theoretical reasons rather than administrative convenience (Alvanides et al. 2001).

Despite this, however, when a geographic definition of neighborhood is required for the purpose of quantitative analysis, “most social scientists and virtually all studies of neighborhoods … rely on geographic boundaries defined by the Census Bureau or other administrative agencies… [which] offer imperfect operational definitions of neighborhoods for research and policy” (Sampson et al. 2002, p.445). Administratively defined units such as census tracts and block groups do not directly measure, nor were they designed to measure, the potential for interaction among resident members, the primary process hypothesized to produce neighborhood communities and their effects. For example, the Census Bureau appears to theoretically focus on segregation type effects, defining tracts as “relatively homogeneous units with respect to population characteristics, economic status, and living conditions.” In most cases, however, the sheer ubiquity of data gathered by the Census Bureau or other administrative agencies (e.g., school districts, police districts) proves to be an overwhelming temptation for most researchers. Theory succumbs to the preponderance of data. The very existence of the modifiable area unit problem (MAUP), however, evidences that census geography is not measuring what researchers are studying.

Undoubtedly, neighborhood effects involve a geographic context. Neighborhood effects, however, are not produced by neighborhood geography. Neither are neighborhood effects, at least not a lot of them, merely a by-product or spurious confound of the geographic co-location of residents with particular demographic characteristics or psychological profiles. Neighborhood effects hypothesize that there exists a thing, a social entity, a neighborhood community, which has effects. Neighborhood effects are the product of these neighborhood communities. Neighborhood communities and their effects emerge from neighboring interactions among their constituent members. Neighborhood communities are geographically constrained because the interactions which produce them are geographically constrained. Neighborhood communities are both geographically identifiable and have effects which persist through the replacement of their residents because the networks of interactions which produce them, which translate neighboring interactions into neighborhood communities, are constrained by predictable urban geographic substrates.

When we think about geography having an effect on community, it is because we believe that something about physical space affects something about how individuals interact within that space. Neighborhoods are more than colored boxes on a map or sets of geo-referenced variables for use in a geographic information system (GIS). A focus on maps, especially maps based on census or administrative geography, emphasizes those aspects of neighborhoods and their residents which can be effectively displayed or referenced to administratively defined polygons and ignores those which cannot. To understand the social-interactional aspect of neighborhoods, we may not necessarily have to think outside the box, but we do have to think about what’s inside of it, residents potentially interacting with each other as neighbors.

Neighboring And Geographic Neighborhoods

While it may seem obvious, it is worth highlighting that, at its most fundamental level, neighboring is a proximity-dependent relation. When we say that someone is our neighbor, we are making a statement about them being proximal to us. Neighbors must, by definition, live close to each other; but what constitutes the geographic proximity or availability that defines neighboring?

Many studies have called attention to the strong role of extremely short distances in neighborly contacts. At least from an individual household’s perspective, the distances associated with neighboring are often effectively measured in feet and yards (Festinger et al. 1950). Residential propinquity’s influence on social interaction is typically limited to those who live within a few households away. What is most important is who lives next door, not who lives in the same census tract; who lives a few houses away, not who lives a few blocks away. Neighbors have also been defined to be people who live within walking distance (Grannis 2009). Walking distance, of course, varies by person, being much greater for some than others due to their age and physical fitness and even changing seasonally in some areas. No matter how far walking distance is, however, for any particular person, the probability that someone will be identified as a neighbor declines rapidly with increased distance from one’s home.

Because neighboring is so close at hand, it depends upon very subtle geographic features. Besides focusing on the number of houses or yards separating two households, a natural division, in both cognition and behavior, occurs at the face block. The face block includes all of the dwellings that front on the same street and are situated between only two cross streets (an exception would be cul-de-sacs which are face blocks delimited by only one cross street). The face block has been found to be an important sociospatial unit (Suttles 1972). At one level, the face block includes virtually all neighbors who live either next door to each other or directly across the street from each other and most of those who live within a few house lengths; therefore, it could be viewed as simply a reflection of the more general effects of proximity. However, studies have shown that residents have more interaction with those on the same face block than they do with residents beyond an intersection, even if they were spatially closer to the latter group (Greenbaum 1982).

Not all face blocks, however, are oriented towards the pedestrian nature of neighboring. Some front on large arterial streets devoted to providing access for travelers while others front on smaller streets more devoted to local living space. Studies of peoples’ perceptions of street life reveal that residents clearly perceive the difference between heavy traffic face blocks continuously filled with strangers which are used solely as thoroughfares and corridors between the local neighborhood and the outside world on the one hand and light traffic face blocks which form the basis of lively, close-knit communities where everyone knows each other and residents consider the boundaries between house and street space to be quite permeable on the other hand (Appleyard and Lintell 1986). A tertiary face block has been specifically designed and maintained by governing authorities to promote local and pedestrian traffic. The tertiary face block is a more or less “natural” unit of face-to-face neighborly interaction (Suttles 1972). Tertiary face blocks are both oriented towards pedestrian travel and local residents, rather than outsiders who arrive by automobile or mass transit. Thus, tertiary face blocks are the types of face blocks most likely to give rise to social interactions (Rabin 1987). Tertiary face blocks provide a meeting place for neighbors (de Jong 1986). People use them for a host of activities including walking pets, riding bicycles, and chatting with neighbors. Shared tertiary face blocks provide a “permeable boundary” between households’ private spaces. Tertiary face-block neighbors are “used for easy sociability and assistance when quick physical accessibility is an important consideration.”

Face blocks terminate at intersections. An alternative way of thinking about this, of course, is that intersections connect face blocks with each other. The important question then becomes: Do they also connect neighbors and do neighbor networks terminate at intersections or do they bridge them to form larger structures? Intersections form a different metric than face blocks for measuring functional distance. Just as different types of streets differentially induce or fail to induce neighborly relations, different types of intersections may induce or inhibit neighborly relations from bridging them. Fortunately, the intersections of streets can also be operationally defined in a convenient and meaningful way. When streets of different classifications intersect, planners consider the intersection to be of the higher classification. For example, if a larger street intersects a tertiary street, planners would consider the intersection to be part of the larger street, but not part of the tertiary street. This makes intuitive sense because the inhibiting effects of the larger street will dominate. The nature of intersections either facilitates or impedes pedestrian-based neighborly interaction; therefore, an intersection is a tertiary intersection if all of the face blocks, however many, contiguous with it are tertiary face blocks. A non-tertiary intersection, in contrast, is an intersection such that at least one of the face blocks contiguous with it is a non-tertiary face block.

Studies have shown that tertiary intersections combined with tertiary face blocks can serve as a “pedestrian circulation system.” Sidewalks provide access between residence and parks, churches, and neighborhood shops. Neighborly relations bridging face blocks occur “through the routes people take in meeting an average day’s basic needs and desires. The newsstand where one buys the Sunday paper, the store one runs to for a quart of milk, and the streets one travels on to visit a friend” (Anderson 1992, p. 46). People come to envision their neighborhoods as networks of paths and channels along which they move (Lynch 1971). Tertiary intersections guide this “natural movement” (Hillier 1996) within a city.

Potential Neighbor Networks And Actual Neighbor Networks

Individual neighbor networks evolve into neighborhood networks through the process of concatenation. Residents have relations with their neighbors who interact with other neighbors, and so on. These neighborly relations concatenate and consolidate neighbor-to-neighbor-to-neighbor. There are several important corollaries of this fact. First, the resultant network is as far reaching as its most extensive ramification. Relations concatenate to form a network typically larger, both relationally and geographically, than any individual’s relations. Thus, relatively micro-level relations can result in a macro-level structure. Second, the resultant network is as fragile as its weakest link. Anything which can cause a relation to not form, no matter how trivial, breaks the network. In contrast to the first corollary, micro-level fragilities can destroy a macro-level structure. Third, the characteristics of the resultant network are not readily predictable from the characteristics of the local networks which concatenate to form it. Only as sets of individual networks concatenate do the characteristics of this aggregated network emerge. Finally, because a neighboring relation cannot exist unless residents are geographically available to each other, the network of potential neighbors cannot transcend the network of geographic availability; it is logically impossible. While individuals’ lifestyles and habits may prevent them from having contacts and interactions with those who are geographically available to them, they cannot cause them to have contacts with those who are unavailable.

To study efficacious neighborhood communities emerging from neighbor networks, therefore, we need a definition of a neighborhood community whose importance is derived from the potential for neighbor networks to concatenate within it. Grannis (2009) defined this geographic availability in terms of shared walking arenas which mediate, guide, and constrain potential neighborly encounters. Building on this, the concatenated network of overlapping neighborly contacts can be no larger than the concatenated network of walking arenas; conversely, the network of potential neighborly relations, based on concatenated interactions, is a subset of the concatenation of these walking arenas. Grannis argued that tertiary block faces effectively proxy walking arenas in urban areas and thus the maximal concatenation of contiguous tertiary block faces, of walking arenas, represents the maximal consolidation of individual residents’ potential to access each other.

Such a neighborhood equivalent would signify internal access. All residents within it would have a potential for neighborly relations using walking arenas. While it is unlikely that all, or even any, residents would traverse the entirety of this neighborhood equivalent, this internal contiguity would allow residents to interact with their neighbors down the street who interact with other neighbors further down the street, and so on throughout the network. Such a neighborhood equivalent would also signify constraint. To the extent to which the potential for neighboring relations depends upon walking arenas, it would constrain their concatenation. Based on these criteria, Grannis (2009) defined two types of neighborhood equivalents, t-communities and islands, one connecting tertiary block faces using only tertiary intersections and the other connecting tertiary block faces using all intersections. A t-community is a maximal contiguous network of tertiary block faces and tertiary intersections, while an island is a maximal contiguous network of tertiary face blocks and any intersections. The label “t-community” is short for “tertiary street communities” indicating that these neighborhood equivalents are connected by tertiary streets (Grannis 2009). A pair of neighborhoods would be geographically unreachable if they could only reach each other by crossing water; Grannis (2009) analogously label these discontinuous networks of tertiary block faces as “islands” since it is impossible for households in two different islands to access each other using tertiary block faces, even if they use non-tertiary intersections. Since islands are maximal networks of tertiary block faces and any intersections while t-communities are maximal networks of tertiary block faces and tertiary intersections, t-communities are necessarily subsets (although not necessarily proper subsets) of islands.

Selection vs. Influence These t-communities and islands, these walking arenas, interact with two different social forces to create neighborhood communities and their effects. First, neighborhoods are more than just neighbors residing nearby each other. They are vital entities, or at least they have the potential to be. Even when it appears static, neighborhood social life generally is not; it is a stable equilibrium reached amidst the strife of social flows. The vibrant, living part of neighborhoods consists of the flow and exchange, both spoken and silently modeled, of norms, values, identities, symbols, ideas, affect, sentiment, and other social and cultural goods and resources among neighbors along the conduits provided by neighbor networks. This flow pressures neighbors towards conformity.

This certainly happens verbally, through the exchange of personal information, life histories, and stories, as well as through establishing and enforcing rules for neighborhood children; however, it happens even more nonverbally. Community members model and enforce “appropriate behaviors” in their daily interactions with each other, especially with children (Coleman 1990). In addition to modeling appropriate behaviors, neighbors may use rewards to encourage normative behaviors or sanctions to discourage behaviors not compliant with social or personal norms. The degree of these sanctions or rewards varies greatly with the nature of the society; for example, in communities that emphasize social control and social cohesiveness, sanctions may be enforced by direct social pressure for conformity (Hogan and Kitagawa 1985). As norms, values, ideas, and other social goods and resources traverse and commingle along neighbor networks, they have the potential to engender a sense of community and identity, social capital, mutual trust, social control, collective efficacy, and many other important facets of neighborhood life social researchers interest themselves in. The collectively efficacious community network which emerges, or which fails to emerge, however, is embedded in the network of neighborly interactions which is embedded in the network of potential neighborly interactions which is embedded in the network of geographic availability.

Second, locational choice and homophily may certainly account for some of the effects of neighborhoods but numerous studies have shown that neighborhoods with similar population demographics, in terms of race, socioeconomic status, family structure, and a host of other characteristics, often yield different outcomes for their constituent members. Market explanations, while intuitively appealing, have failed to account for the richness and complexity of effects correlating to neighborhoods.

Locational-based neighborhood effects such as residential differentiation and segregation correspond to the influence-based neighborhood effects such as social capital and collective efficacy because in choosing to move away from dissimilar households, residents are implicitly choosing to segregate their networks of potential neighborly interactions as well. Since contact is a necessary prerequisite for interaction, if households settle in such a way that their immediate neighbors are similar to themselves, then they have settled in such a way as to not have neighborly interactions with those different from themselves. Neighborhood communities result from both the concatenation of homophilous locational choices and the flow and exchange of norms, values, and beliefs among neighbors. Their correspondence is not additive, as in a regression model, but rather sequential. Relocation, which is responsible for residential differentiation and segregation, determines geographic availability and the potential for neighborly interactions and thus, of necessity, the actualized neighborly interactions which influence works upon to create social capital, collective efficacy, and other important neighborhood effects.

Children And Their Families

Neighborhoods are especially important for households with children because children are much less mobile, and thus more geographically dependent, than adults. Children and their playful interactions depend upon proximity much more than adults and their interactions do. Since children cannot drive and have little, if any, voice in relocation decisions, they are forced to share lives with neighboring children even more than are their parents. For children, the street in front of their home is “the mediator between the wider community and the private world of the family” (Appleyard 1981, p. 4). This is where children first learn about the world. They often play games in the middle of these streets, use them to walk pets and to ride bicycles, and the majority of their recreational activity occurs there (Brower 1977). Sidewalks provide access between residence and schools and parks. As a result, the relationships children form will primarily depend upon the opportunities to interact provided by walking arenas immediately surrounding them (Appleyard and Lintell 1986). Especially for young children, neighboring children are the most likely to become their playmates (Hillier 1996). Thus, the networks of relationships they form will be much more dependent upon the network of geographic availability. Unlike children, adults have many venues for social relationships beyond their neighborhood including work and voluntary activities. School-age children may have some of these to the extent their parents allow. Preschool children, however, have few, if any, of these alternative venues for social opportunities. Their lives are tightly bound by geography.

“The micro-ecology of pedestrian streets bears directly on patterns of interaction that involve children and families. Parents are generally concerned with demarcating territory outside of which their children should not wander unaccompanied by an adult, to ensure that their children stay in areas that are safe for play and conducive to adult monitoring. To the extent that these limited spaces of children’s daily activities usually do not cross major thoroughfares, defining tertiary communities may provide a foundation for constructing neighborhood indicators of child well-being and social processes more generally ” (Sampson et al. 2002).

Not only are your neighbors’ children predisposed to become your children’s friends, but they also determine the character of your children’s playmates (Cochran 1994) and the kinds of role models they emulate (Massey and Mullen 1984). The flow of norms and values discussed above acts not only on children but their families as well. “For example, when parents know the parents of their children’s friends, they have the potential to observe the child’s actions in different circumstances, talk to each other about the child, compare notes, and establish norms. Such intergenerational closure of local networks provides the child with social capital of a collective nature” (Sampson 2001: 9). As a result, households with children are far more influenced by the norms and values of surrounding households with children than households in general are influenced by the norms and values of their surrounding neighbors.

Neighboring parents may become intimately involved in the socialization of each other’s children. Neighbors rear children side by side and together have the potential to co-create a safe and value-laden environment. Parents monitor their own children as well as those of their neighbors (Sampson et al. 1999). Some neighborhoods expect that residents share values and are willing and able to intervene on the behalf of children. They expect that residents will actively engage themselves in the support and social control of children (Bandura 1997) and that the community will work together to successfully support and control children. Parents get to know the parents and families of their children’s friends; they observe children’s actions, both their own and their neighbors’, in a variety of circumstances; they talk with other parents about their children; and they establish norms (Coleman 1990). Such structural and normative adult-child closure gives children social support, provides parents with information, and facilitates control (Sandefur and Laumann 1998). The choice to live in a neighborhood is to some extent a choice to rear children together with one’s neighbors. Ultimately, a community of parents may develop around the community of children, mirroring it. People whose children play together form friendship relations based in part on that fact (AbuGazzeh 1999; Grannis 2009). While it is the children who are immobile and thus confined to neighborhoods that are most immediately impacted by neighborhoods, children’s geographic dependence encumbers their parents as well.

The Menu Of Neighborhood Equivalents

Altogether, for both children and adults, through influence and selection, neighborhoods cluster outcomes which cannot be accounted for in terms of the characteristics of the individuals or households currently residing in them. It is as if neighborhoods have personalities, enduring characteristic patterns that survive the replacement of their constituent members. Neighborhood communities are geographically constrained because the interactions which produce them are geographically constrained. Neighborhood communities are both geographically identifiable and have effects which persist through the replacement of their residents because the networks of interactions which produce them, which translate neighboring interactions into neighborhood communities, are constrained by predictable urban geographic substrates. To study efficacious neighborhood communities emerging from neighbor networks, therefore, we need a definition of a neighborhood community whose importance is derived from the potential for neighbor networks to concatenate within it.

Grannis (2009) defined this geographic availability in terms of shared walking arenas which mediate, guide, and constrain encounters. What do neighborhoods such as t-communities and islands, defined and measured by their potential for interactions, offer us that traditional neighborhood equivalents do not? They provide us with a lens to focus more closely on neighborhoods as communities emerging from the interactions of their constituent residents. They use an entirely different metric than census geography, one based precisely on the potential for community generating neighborly relations. In contrast, administrative geography often focuses on neighborhoods as statistical abstractions, perhaps reflecting segregation but agnostic to any potential for community, for interaction, for neighboring. While both types of neighborhood equivalents have their uses, researchers need to use care as to which one they choose and perhaps use both to disentangle different mechanisms that are at work in neighborhood communities, one mechanism provided by the concatenation of neighboring relations into neighbor networks and another provided by service areas, such as those offered by schools or marketplaces or police which unite residents around similar needs and opportunities. Tcommunities precisely measure the first. Neighborhood equivalents, defined solely by their boundaries, measure the second to the extent their boundaries coincide with the service areas. A careful use of both t-communities and neighborhood equivalents defined by their boundaries could tease apart the different mechanisms at work (Grannis 2009).


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