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Rethinking how we research neighborhoods

<<Updated Below>>

'Our Neighborhood' Mapping Project

Quick question for you: Do you know the census block you live in? Do you know its boundaries? Probably not. Yet, researchers of neighborhoods often use these census areas to study them. Or they use school districts. But if we want to understand neighborhoods – what makes them tick, why do neighbors help one another, why do they drift apart – we need to get it right. That’s what this project is about.

As a professor at California State University at Long Beach, I study neighborhoods differently: I ask people to draw on a map what they consider to be their neighborhood, and analyze those instead. I developed a new approach to studying neighborhood dynamics, using resident-defined neighborhoods instead of census tracts or blocks. I’ve surveyed my community twice already (in 1998 and again in 2004), and discovered very interesting things. It was my doctoral dissertation, which won an award for its originality and quality (yes, they do give awards for research).

Map Showing Sense of Neighborhood, Claremont, CA
Map Showing Sense of Neighborhood, Claremont, CA

As you can see in the map above, the results produce a rather interesting map rich with information, in this case about how connected we feel to our neighborhoods (for more details, please see FAQ below) . I now want to revisit this community in an effort to validate the mapping methodology. If what I expect to find holds true, this methodology can significantly change the way we view and study our communities. It can help us better understand the places we live and grow, play, learn and love, and it can help us better assist those neighborhoods that struggle for security. And you can be a part of that.

This research is important, since it reveals that how we've been doing neighborhood research is flawed. And that means our conclusions about how neighborhoods operate may not be accurate. And that means that programs focused on coping with neighborhood problems may not be as effective as they could be.

And for those who live in Claremont: This research won't just tell us about neighborhoods in the abstract, but it will tell us about our neighborhoods, throughout this community where I've lived for 16 years (and plan to live in for at least 16 more).

What I’m Doing

When I discovered the Kickstarter community last year, I immediately fell in love with it. As a community psychologist, I appreciated the community it created. It was clear to me that it was about more than just getting stuff.

I considered using the traditional approaches to funding research (e.g., research foundations) but then I had a thought: Ask the community to fund community-based research. And so here I am. I think this community is willing to throw a few dollars into the pot for the purposes of improving our understanding of our other communities.

I’m seeking funding for two things for the surveys: 1) Printing, and 2) Postage. Everything else is on me (and that’s lots of labor). I am not doing this as a business, but as with many others on Kickstarter, because I have a passion for it. I just don’t have the funds to do it.

Ultimately, the results of the research will be published in academic journals and other media sources.

For those who share a passion for research, there are rewards at even higher levels. I think it would be utterly amazing to find others out there who were interested to that degree. So, please check out the rewards levels, and contact me if you have any questions. And please pass it on to others who may be interested.

One benefit of Kickstarter, beyond the ability to reach out to all of you, is that unless we reach the goal, no money goes to the project. Ultimately, I need $3,000 for the project, but I'm investing in this also. So, I hope the project goes ahead with the generous support of all of us (the balance is being funded by me). I will also be testing whether the surveys can be done over the internet, so there will be a mix of old-fashioned mail surveys as well as web-based surveys.

Update

THANK YOU ALL for your wonderful support.

As you can see we have reached our goal. I am thrilled to be able to do this research and am really looking forward to sharing my results with all of you. I am also excited that we still have several days left to keep the momentum going. The more we surpass our goal, the better the research. So, if you haven’t pledged, I encourage you to do so.

For example, the very nature of this project will produce numerous maps. In fact, the maps are the end results of this research, highlighting its relevance. In order to publish a quality product these maps will need to be printed in color, since there is no other way to convey the information in map form. Unfortunately, many academic journals require authors to pay for the cost of color printing. On a more practical level, more funding means a large sample size, which in turn impacts the confidence we have in the results.

I set the bid low because I really want to do this research and I am happily contributing a sizable amount of my own money. However, the more we raise the better the quality or the research and the end product. So please pass on the link to your friends who might be interested in the project  - anything above and beyond the goal will make the research even better (more surveys, better publications, and so on).

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

The risks are minimal: I've performed the research twice already and I have the surveys all ready to go. All that is needed is the funding for the printing and postage. The only potential delay would be the acquisition of a detailed map of the city, but I've already been assured that I will be able to get one in a reasonable amount of time.

FAQ

  • Well, if I may hold off on answering that until after we do the research. Actually, the maps can reflect any variable we wish to measure, be that sense of neighborhood, trust, fear of crime, what-have-you. But since it is possible that some folks who fund this project may actually receive a survey, and I don't want to potentially bias the responses, I'll let everyone know the details once everything is done. OK? But I can offer this: It is relevant to the 210 freeway and other events in recent Claremont history.

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  • This is an understandable question, but hopefully my reluctance to answer it will be equally acceptable. Since it is possible that folks who fund the project may indeed be receiving the survey (since the sample of Claremont residents will be randomly selected), it would be bad research methodology to explicitly state the hypotheses, since that may impact the responses. After the research is completed, a summary of the results will be made public, to those here through Kickstarter, and to the wider public.

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    For Residents of Claremont, CA Only: A personalized report of your neighborhood. This report will use your neighborhood as the focus, and it will include three maps (from 1998, 2004, and 2012) revealing the sense of neighborhood changes over that time.

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    All of the above, plus you will be listed as funder in the journal articles that come from this research. In other words, your name will appear in the publication, in perpetuity. (“This research was made possible by the generous support of….”)

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