By: Matthew Desmond
Published: September 12, 2017
If neighborhood perceptions can drive selection into and out of certain areas,
influence the concentration of social problems, exacerbate negative health outcomes,
and steer urban policy, then identifying factors that influence those perceptions
is crucial to understanding city life and developing effective urban policy.
What shapes how we see city streets? Research has shown that perceptions of
disorder are influenced less by outright signs of decay and neglect – e.g., litter,
broken windows, graffiti, public nuisances, crime – than by the kinds of people who
inhabit a neighborhood. As it was at the turn of the century, when Du Bois (
1996) was writing about Philadelphia, and as it was at midcentury, when Jacobs
(1961) was writing about New York, race infuses our evaluations of urban neighborhoods.
Sampson demonstrates that nonblack residents are more likely to leave the
city if they live in neighborhoods where blacks have a growing presence (2012, 300).
Quillian and Pager show that city dwellers’ perceptions of crime are positively
associated with the percentage of young black men in their neighborhood, controlling
for crime levels and other neighborhood factors (2001).
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