«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 ...»
Discussion This study explored the factors that contribute to low-income residents’ development of trust and social relations—the foundations of social capital. Both quantitative and qualitative methodologies helped uncover an important and understudied connection among trust, norms, reciprocity, interactions, and encounters on the one hand and neighborhood structure, facilities, institutions, and public spaces on the other. Multivariate analysis identified the significance of the availability of these neighborhood resources and, to a lesser extent, feelings of place attachment and safety, because neighborhood attributes mattered more for TNR among neighbors than all other individual, household, and neighborhood factors examined. The residents in the study who had access to more neighborhood institutions and public spaces (and who had greater feelings of place attachment and safety) were significantly more likely to trust their neighbors and perceive shared norms and reciprocity among coresidents in their communities. Data from the indepth interviews with residents living in different types of housing and neighborhoods were used to better understand some of the patterns found in the survey data. This rich qualitative data revealed that neighborhood resources were important for generating and sustaining trust and social relations.
In addition to shaping the development of trust and interactions among coresidents, neighborhood structures, according to the findings, can also influence the development of relations with outsiders. This was the case for public housing residents who reported that the profound social stigma associated with public housing, combined with the inescapable stark appearance of their neighborhood’s structure, weighed heavily on their encounters and relations with people from outside their community. Ironically, although the physical structure of the pre-HOPE VI Maverick Gardens community often contributed positively to the development of trust, interactions, and social ties among many coresidents, the same physical form negatively affected residents’ ability to form relations with nonresidents (and contributed to overbearing, draining relationships with neighbors for some).
Policy Implications and Future Research Transforming poverty-concentrated housing developments into mixed-income or mixed-tenure communities has become popular policy practice in the United States and in Western Europe, Australia, and Canada. Aside from the improvements in housing quality, one expectation of this approach is that lower income people living in a more mixed environment will have greater access to social capital. Contrary to this expectation, numerous studies have found that such initiatives do not produce anticipated effects on at least one prerequisite for social capital—social networks.
The current research suggests that this approach may also not have the desired effect on another important foundation of social capital—trust, norms, and reciprocity. The evidence from this study indicates that these prerequisites for social capital depend not on neighborhood poverty concentration but on neighborhood facilities and public spaces, the feeling of attachment to place, and the feeling of safety. Thus, the connection between income mix and social capital made by some policymakers and academics may be overstated.25 The qualitative evidence from the current study confirms that spatial arrangements of neighborhoods, public spaces, and facilities are significant for residents’ encounters with others and, subsequently, for the development of public familiarity, trust, and social relations in neighborhoods. Simply relocating residents to lower poverty areas does not result in relocatees being well integrated or enmeshed in rich, new social worlds that provide them with access to social leverage and upward mobility opportunities. Rather than simply trying to place residents in communities with the “right” social mix, a more effective strategy for encouraging the development of social capital may be building, preserving, and improving public spaces, facilities, and institutions that serve a variety of residents; making communities safe;
fostering a sense of community and attachment to place; and providing residents opportunities to observe and meet one another.26 Housing programs like HOPE VI that seek to improve prospects for upward mobility should move beyond the fixation on mixed neighborhoods and lower poverty rates by broadening the definition of desirable neighborhoods to include “opportunity areas” (Briggs, 2006): resource-rich areas with ample social supports, good-quality services, institutions and public spaces, transportation, schools, and entry-level jobs with career ladders.
Dekker and Bolt (2005) similarly found that socioeconomic status (that is, higher income and more education) was not associated with strong levels of social capital, suggesting that social mixing may be “a counter-intuitive strategy to strengthen social cohesion” (Dekker and Bolt, 2005: 2468).
Although not the focus of this article, encounters in public space could possibly lead to or enhance existing tensions and conflicts among groups in a neighborhood.
Improving neighborhood resources for lower income people may be particularly important not only because of the potential effect on public familiarity, trust, and social ties (and therefore social capital) but also for the simple fact that high-quality services and resources can compensate for lower individual resources. Further, quality and accessible resources in the neighborhood may reduce the likelihood of low-income residents “draining” or being drained by other lower income people (Curley, 2008). Finally, the important functions of public space in promoting familiarity, trust, norms, and social contacts should be kept in the forefront of any discussion of urban redevelopment. For example, public spaces can be designed as friendly places with design features and seating arrangements that promote flexible use and maximize potential opportunities for repeated encounters, observations, and interactions (Whyte, 1988). Public spaces can play an important role in enhancing everyday life in communities, and policies and initiatives that support or allow the privatization of public spaces in urban areas must also consider how these changes may negatively affect a community’s social fabric (Holland et al., 2007).27 A key contribution of this study is that it highlights the significance of neighborhood resources for the development of social capital. Although previous research has suggested that neighborhood institutions are important for the stability of communities, few studies have considered the role neighborhood structure, local facilities, and public spaces play in the social capital-building process among residents. Thus, future research and policy discussions on social capital and neighborhoods should carefully consider physical structure, local institutions, and public spaces.
More qualitative and quantitative research is needed to further assess the role of different types of neighborhood resources and determine whether certain institutions or public spaces better provide more useful meeting places, better promote familiarity and trust, or provide greater access to resources or other social capital-building opportunities. Future studies could also investigate the extent to which different design features of public spaces, neighborhood structures, and facilities promote or inhibit encounters with other residents and with nonresidents.
Appendix A Index Measures Trust, norms, and reciprocity (TNR) (11-item index, Cronbach’s α =.78) Scores ranged from a low of 0 to a high of 1. (True/false, coded 1/0 [reverse coded as necessary])
1. My neighbors and I want the same things from this neighborhood.
2. I care what my neighbors think of my actions.
3. Most of the residents in this neighborhood are respectful of their neighbors.
4. People in this neighborhood can be trusted.
5. People living here do not share the same values.
See Smith (1996) and Lofland (1998) for further discussion on the privatization and regulation of public space. Smith warns that in many cities public spaces have been transformed, purified, and privatized to accommodate and attract new, higher income urban dwellers, investors, and tourist consumers.
6. People living in this neighborhood generally do not get along with each other.
7. I have no influence over what this neighborhood is like.
8. If there is a problem in this neighborhood people who live here can solve it.
9. People around here are willing to help their neighbors.
10. I can recognize most of the people who live in this neighborhood.
11. Very few of my neighbors know me.
Neighborhood institutions, facilities, and public spaces (15-item index, Cronbach’s α =.74) Scores ranged from a low of 0 (few resources) to a high of 1 (many resources).
Are the following services available in your neighborhood? (yes /no )
1. Health care.
2. Afterschool programs.
4. Recreation for youth.
5. Recreation for adults.
10. Employment services.
11. Job training.
12. Food pantry.
13. Parks or playgrounds.
14. Lack of social services in the neighborhood (some/big problem  vs. no problem ).
15. Have you needed any services and not been able to get them? (yes /no ).
Place attachment (4-item index, Cronbach’s α =.82) Scores ranged from a low of 0 (negative) to a high of 1 (positive).
1. I think this neighborhood is a good place for me to live.
2. I feel at home in this neighborhood.
3. It is very important to me to live in this particular community.
4. I expect to live in this neighborhood for a long time.
Safety index (8-item index, Cronbach’s α =.79) Scores ranged from a low of 0 (unsafe) to a high of 1 (safe).
1. Do you feel safe in the neighborhood? (y/n)
2. Do police patrol neighborhood? (y/n)
3. Satisfaction with police patrols. (y/n)
4. Do the police come when called?
5. I feel physically safe in this neighborhood (true/false).
6. Residents in this neighborhood worry about illegal activities occurring in the neighborhood.
7. People living in this neighborhood worry about being physically attacked.
8. Residents in this neighborhood do not worry about stealing or thefts.
Neighborhood problems (13-item index, Cronbach’s α =.96) (some/big problem  vs. no problem ) [Scores ranged from 1 (some/big problem) to 0 (no problem)?]
2. People being attacked/robbery.
3. Rape/sexual attacks.
4. People selling drugs.
5. People using drugs.
7. Groups of people just hanging out.
8. Police not coming when called.
10. Lack of outside lighting.
11. Trash in parking lots, on sidewalks, and on lawns.
12. Unattractive common outdoor areas.
13. Lack of recreational space.
Acknowledgments This research was funded in part through a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Doctoral Dissertation Research Grant and the Boston Housing Authority. The author thanks the residents of Maverick for their participation and colleagues at OTB for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this article.
Author Alexandra M. Curley is a guest researcher in the Department of Urban Renewal and Housing at the OTB Research Institute for Housing, Urban and Mobility Studies at Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands.
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