«A Journal of Policy Development and Research HoPe VI Volume 12, Number 1 • 2010 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Policy ...»
collective efficacy (derived from shared norms, trust, and the willingness to intervene for the public good) was associated with lower crime rates—even in high-poverty areas.21 Interview Data Although the quantitative survey data provide an informative picture of the relative importance of different individual, household, and neighborhood characteristics for TNR, the data cannot explain why neighborhood institutions, facilities, and public space or feelings of place attachment and safety are so important for the development of TNR among neighbors. Data from the indepth interviews with residents provide two important clues about the ways in which neighborhoods shaped social interaction and, therefore, social capital development. First, neighborhood physical structure, local institutions, facilities, and public spaces shaped opportunities for observing and interacting with other neighborhood residents. Second, stigma based on the negative meanings people associate with a neighborhood structure and its residents shaped interactions with outsiders (nonresidents).
Neighborhood Structure, Institutions, and Public Space: Shaping Trust, Interactions, and Ties With Neighbors Neighborhood structure and the arrangement of public space were common themes that arose when relocatees talked about getting to know their neighbors and making new ties after relocation to new communities. In describing their encounters and relations with new neighbors, residents often made comparisons with Maverick Gardens, their old public housing community, highlighting the differences in community layout and design and the availability of public space. These differences were particularly salient for those who moved from Maverick Gardens to private-market housing with a voucher. Moving out of Maverick Gardens and into private-market housing meant moving from a community that had a unique built environment. The pre-HOPE VI Maverick Gardens was noticeably different from most other neighborhoods due to numerous features typical of traditional public housing developments in the United States, including the “super-block” arrangement of buildings; the walkways that wove their way throughout the housing development;
the unmistakable lack of shops and streets running through the community; the building entryways, hallways, and stairs that were shared by multiple households; the common mail room and management office; and the relatively high population density.
Although the physical arrangement of the buildings and public spaces in the Maverick Gardens public housing community might be described as isolating, stigmatizing, and devoid of “defensible space” (that is, creating safe havens for crime committed by outsiders who can easily evade authorities in such an environment) (Newman, 1972), some features of the built environment were cited by residents as central in shaping neighbor relations, a sense of place attachment and community, and feelings of safety. For example, Nilda, a 23-year-old mother of three children who lived at Maverick Gardens for 4 years before relocation, talked about the sense of belonging and
community she experienced at the old Maverick Gardens and how public spaces in the neighborhood facilitated social networks and exchanges with others:
Their work highlights the importance of collective efficacy and informal social control for discouraging unwanted behavior.
…At Maverick, we used to sit down at the park [across the street]; all the neighbors gathered and had conversations; or [we would] go to the office and talk to the staff. This way we shared, supported each other. …We were all one family. And we used to get along well. …We supported each other; we also consulted each other on things that happened to us in Maverick. We helped each other a lot.
These comments suggest that public spaces such as parks and semipublic facilities or institutions such as community centers or even management offices can provide important opportunities for meeting neighbors for conversation and support. As discussed later in this article, however, some influential factors can also limit the uses of such spaces in a neighborhood.
The resident interviews uncovered numerous other examples of how the spatial arrangement of neighborhood buildings, facilities, and public spaces can influence the likelihood and frequency of contact among neighbors. The old Maverick Gardens community, by housing many families in close quarters and with its particular neighborhood structure, inevitably led to repeated occasions for observations and interactions with neighbors. This environment fostered social ties that were “multiplex” and had intergenerational closure; for example, an environment where children’s friends were the children of their parents’ friends (Coleman, 1988). These dense, overlapping networks enhanced residents’ support systems and contributed to their collective efficacy (Sampson, Raudenbush, and Earls, 1997) because residents knew each other’s children and often felt a shared responsibility to monitor them (for example, from apartment windows) and report misbehavior to their parents. As Josie’s comments suggest, these spatial and social dimensions of the environment at Maverick Gardens also contributed to feelings of belonging and safety and accommodated
neighbors’ supportive exchanges:
…Well, in Maverick you knew everybody. You knew each other’s kids, you knew their parents, their cousins, their uncles. So everywhere you went, everybody knew who you was. So you felt fine....You knew everything that happened at Maverick. …It’s like Maverick is just one big bubble.
…Upstairs, downstairs, across the hall, three buildings over. …That’s the thing you liked about living in a small place like that. You can go three doors over and be like, “Can I borrow a cup of sugar?” Living in a high-density community like Maverick Gardens, where common areas and public spaces encouraged (or even required) recurring encounters with the same people daily, meant that most residents were well informed on who belonged in the area and who did not. In essence, the arrangement of buildings and public spaces promoted public familiarity (Lofland, 1998). Although public familiarity may remain at the level of mere facial recognition of neighbors, for many of the Maverick Gardens residents in this study it led to more meaningful repeated social interactions, the development of social ties, and a sense of belonging. Some residents were deeply affected by the loss of community that occurred with the HOPE VI redevelopment, and their comments indicated that the altered population of residents at Maverick Landing (a mix of old and new residents) and the change in the use of shared public space played a role. Thus, the residents who returned to the rebuilt mixed-income Maverick Landing community connected their altered social environment
with the changes that were made to the built environment. As one resident explained:
…no one sits around outside on the porch and talk. Things are different now. Even my old neighbors that I knew [before] that live in this building don’t talk. No one stops to talk anymore.
Other residents discussed the change to the social environment and the change in residential behavior. In contrast to the old community, where many residents had a habit of leaving their doors open for casual conversation and air to flow in and out, residents in the new Maverick
Landing kept their doors shut and locked. As one resident said:
I was very sad to see my old apartment go. …Because everyone knew everyone and you didn’t lock your doors behind you. Now no one wants to know anyone—they shut their doors and stay to themselves.
Some residents talked about how at the old Maverick Gardens, when the weather was nice, people would put out lawn chairs and plastic kiddie pools in the small paved areas outside the building entrances. There they would spend long hours together as their children played and they enjoyed conversations outdoors. Although the public spaces in the old community were far from glamorous, residents had a lot of flexibility in how they used them and they often made the most of these spaces. The new Maverick Landing, in contrast, contains two well-designed public spaces: a spacious courtyard with attractive stonework design, pleasant greenery, and walls for seating and a new plaza with a fountain located in front of a small new park and community center at one edge of the development. In addition, the entire built environment is different: the new neighborhood consists of townhouse style homes with individual front porches and small, fenced front yards and two midrise buildings with shared entryways. The quality of all of these spaces (public, semiprivate, and private) improved dramatically with the HOPE VI redevelopment; however, many returning Maverick Gardens residents rarely used them because of the constraints placed on the uses of these new spaces. The management office of the new community put into effect strict rules for the uses of public spaces and personal outdoor spaces (see also Graves, 2008). Curfews were stringently enforced for the courtyards (one of which the management office overlooked), biking on the property was forbidden, restrictions were placed on music, and loitering was prohibited in hallways and lobbies of buildings. The rules also forbade residents from personalizing their front doors with decorations and from placing furniture and outdoor children’s toys on front porches or in public spaces outside entryways. Many residents thought these rules discouraged their use of these shared spaces, leading them to spend less time in areas where they could engage with other residents.22 In essence, although Maverick Landing is now sparkling and new, management regulations have reduced opportunities for public familiarity, trust, and social relations to develop among residents in the new community by limiting the uses of both public and private outdoor spaces.23 On a similar note, Collins et al. (2005) also found that residents of another HOPE VI site did not frequently use their new community center that was built as part of the new community because they felt it was not “theirs.” In contrast with the old community center that was well worn and bustling with children and adults most days, the new community center was plain, lacked permanent furniture, and had new time and use regulations.
In her ethnographic study of social relations in the mixed-income Maverick Landing community, Graves (2008) provides a detailed account of the ways in which management discouraged interactions among residents (including structuring and enforcement of the community rules).
Although the physical structure and public spaces of the old Maverick Gardens public housing development contributed to many residents’ tight-knit social networks, their attachment to the community, their feelings of safety, and their sense of belonging, others thought the same neighborhood structure reduced their privacy. The high concentration of resource-poor residents combined with the structural characteristics of public housing communities also contributed to the development of “draining” social ties for some residents (see Curley, 2009 for a detailed discussion about these draining ties). Several relocatees who moved to private-market housing with vouchers talked about how moving away from “the projects” eliminated the hassle of neighbors constantly being involved in each other’s “business” and enhanced feelings of privacy. Relocating out of Maverick Gardens, then, provided some residents the opportunity to step back and regain their sense of privacy
and anonymity. Katherine, a mother of two teenage daughters who moved with a voucher explained:
For me—it’s good [here]. …I don’t like bothering with other people; I don’t like other people knowing my business—I like it. When you live in the projects, it’s like—don’t get me wrong, I’m not putting it down—that’s where I grew up. But you got like all these different smells from all these different foods, everybody who blares their stereo, who’s slamming their door, who’s yelling at their kids, or who’s knocking on your door to use your phone or borrow something, or who’s looking out the door to see when you bought something or when you’re having company—I don’t miss that at all. It’s a total different way of living, you know—it’s not my own house but I have my own space [here]. It’s bright, it’s private, my landlord—he doesn’t bother me.
For Jocelyn, a single mother of two boys who moved to a residential neighborhood in Boston with a voucher, the peace and quiet of the area and the distinct privacy it granted her were similarly welcome reprieves. The street to which she moved was entirely residential and, although she could no longer send her 10-year-old son to get something at the corner store (because there were no stores nearby) and the neighborhood offered little opportunity for social interaction, she was satisfied with the community. Even after living in her new neighborhood for 3 years, she knew only one neighbor by name (her landlord who lives in the downstairs apartment of the two-family home) and could recognize the faces of only three others on the street. Her level of comfort and feeling at home in the neighborhood, however, may be closely tied to the public familiarity she has developed on her street. Everyday, an unmarked space on the sidewalk across the street turns into the school bus stop for her son and three other neighborhood children. In this undefined public space, whose use is transformed only briefly twice a day as children are picked up in the morning and dropped off in the afternoon, public familiarity is established with other parents who wait with their children. Through such repeated encounters, whether they are at the bus stop, the grocery store, or the nearby park, people can gain an awareness of neighbors and their everyday routines.