Academic journal article URISA Journal

Evaluating Neighborhoods through Empirical Analysis and Geographic Information Systems

Academic journal article URISA Journal

Evaluating Neighborhoods through Empirical Analysis and Geographic Information Systems

Article excerpt


In 1949, the U.S. government housing policy formally recognized that residential environment is one crucial element of increasing the quality of life (Dahmann 1985). Since then, many cities throughout the United States have experienced substantial emigration, economic decline, poverty, segregation, decentralization, and general strife that counters this housing policy (Kitchen and Williams 2009). Many of these externalities are concentrated in collapsed neighborhoods and communities, vastly decreasing the quality of life for residents within them. To reverse this trend, many U.S. cities are taking appropriate courses of action, starting from understanding the causes to finding solutions that could reverse these effects. Neighborhood planning efforts are often at the forefront of this effort. A notable example can be witnessed in cities that have adopted neotraditional design elements. This planning strategy is formalized under the charter for New Urbanism and posits that proper urban design can create communities that are walkable, bikeable, diverse, dense, and safe, while deterring suburban sprawl and curing ailing communities (Leccese 2000, Day 2003). This strategy has become so popular that the U.S. government views it as a means to alleviate distressed neighborhood conditions (Bohl 2000). While this tactic appears promising, defining neighborhoods remains controversial.

The challenge of defining neighborhoods dates back to the 1960s when geographic places were vaguely summarized as conglomerations of commonly held residential attributes (Galster 2001). An example of early neighborhood definition is that of Keller (1968) who posited that neighborhoods consist of physical as well as symbolic boundaries. Several additional early neighborhood definitions attempted to address intangible views such as commonsense walking limits (Morris and Hess 1975), sociological and ecological paradigms (Schoenberg 1979, Hallman 1984), and spatial boundaries bounded by shared public space or social networks (Schoenberg 1979). Moreover, neighborhood boundary determination, selection of controversial neighborhood attributes, and inefficient modeling strategies remain the norm in many neighborhood studies (Ellen and Turner 1997).

Greenberg (1999) and Galster (2001) suggested that most neighborhood studies do not incorporate the full spectrum of variables that make up neighborhoods, thus compromising the validity of any result. Therefore, in this study, an attempt is put forth to objectively assess neighborhood quality using contextual variables that address three neighborhood factions: sociodemographic, economic, and transportation conditions. The goal of this research is to progress current objective neighborhood analyses by employing easily obtainable variables from administrative sources that will address previous shortcomings regarding neighborhood quality-measurement techniques. The remainder of this paper is organized as follows. The second section presents how neighborhoods are defined and assessed, followed by a thorough review of past neighborhood studies that support this research in the next section. The fourth part describes the conceptual framework of this research followed by the study area and the data used in this research. A detailed assessment of the methods utilized is highlighted in the fifth section. The next part describes the results from the empirical analysis, which is followed by a conclusion.


The geography of localized social spaces has been studied since at least the early 20th century (Burgess and Park 1925, Shevky and Bell 1955). Neighborhood scale analysis has a rich tradition of representing and deciphering localized forces that affect and shape people's lives (Galster 2001, Lewicka 2010). The forces that shape and define neighborhoods are deeply rooted in inhabitant perception and environmental features that help fortify a fundamental human attachment to a particular space (Jordan et al. …

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