Finding Place in Making Connections Communities: Applying GIS to Residents’ Perceptions of Their Neighborhoods
By Claudia J. Coulton, Tsui Chan, And Kristen Mikelbank, January 2010
The growing recognition that place matters has led to numerous foundation- and government-sponsored initiatives that address the needs of disadvantaged neighborhoods and families in tandem. Fundamental to these people-based and place-based strategies is the assumption that residents are both the beneficiaries and the cocreators of improvements in their neighborhoods and the systems that serve them. However, despite the centrality of place in these community initiatives, defining neighborhoods as they are experienced by residents has proven challenging. This paper demonstrates how a household survey can be used to ascertain residents’ views of the place they refer to as their neighborhood. The study uses data from the Making Connections (MC) target areas in 10 cities. A representative sample of households were asked the name of their neighborhoods and instructed on how to draw maps of their neighborhoods as they viewed them. GIS tools were used to uncover spaces within the MC target areas that residents included in their definitions of neighborhood as well as spaces that seemed to fall outside their collective definitions. The study revealed several overlapping areas that constituted resident-defined neighborhoods within most Making Connections target areas. The paper discusses the implications of this diversity of resident neighborhood perceptions for community change initiatives.
This research is part of the work that the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development participates in for the Annie Casey Foundation's Making Connections Initiative.