Closer groceries and cafes make us better citizens?

Amenity Proximity and Social Goods

This spring, the American Enterprise Institute put out research looking at the importance of living in proximity to what they describe as “neighborhood amenities”. These include cafes, grocery stores, restaurants, parks, libraries, gyms and entertainment venues (think everything from bowling to movie theatres). With a rule of a 15 minute ride from these items being close, they made three groups: high, middle and low amenity proximity.

Their finding: folks in America living in high amenity proximity areas (these can be urban or rural) are more trusting, less lonely, believe their community is great and safe, more interested in their neighborhood happenings, chat with neighbours, etc.

More to the point, they found this is true controlling for an individual’s social class, education, gender, race, political ideology and community type.

This seems pretty intuitive, though it doesn’t say much about the conditions that may cause high amenity proximity into being. Certainly amenity access can be symptomatic of social and civic conditions that encourage inclusion and feelings of community.

But even then, an analysis at the individual level doesn’t speak to neighborhood effect. This may say that individuals experiencing low socio-economic inclusion can feel differently when they’re in a highly active neighborhood that has strong resource support, individuals and families with strong roots and optimism about the future of the area, and responsive institutions and civil organizations. But how might a low inclusion, high-amenity neighborhood fare?

What this made me think more about are the mechanisms by which amenities are driven, (for example, gentrification or on the other hand, strong institutional investment), and how might those mechanisms and systems that drive amenity dispersement be underlying drivers of inclusion and exclusion. Can government service intervention still fail, and could gentrification possibly succeed in generating positive social outcomes for a broader swathe of our society?

  1. This feature from the National Recreation and Park Association (“Place-Based Design and Civic Health”) could be read as an argument for how the nature of and act of developing a riverfront park in Detroit is an actual driver for civic health, and not just an indicator.

  2. In a similar yet different vein, this Joseph Rowntree report (“The Social Value of Public Spaces”) argues that yes, public spaces can promote social inclusion, but this definition of local public space should and could include street markets and vendors, car boot sales etc as opposed to a predominant focus on metropolitan urban renaissance projects.

  3. Finally, this paper on neighborhood income and facility maintenance raises the point that while, yes, facilities and community center amenities may be present in a number of neighborhoods, their maintenance and functional accessibility is heavily moderated by the neighborhood’s income leve.

  • What’s the ladder theory of civic engagement? What might it mean, how is it now popularly understood, what are its potential strengths and what are its pitfalls as a model for understanding individuals and their communities? Expect a post from Farrah touching on this … coming next week!

  • Thoughts on electioneering, current battles and challenges in our approach to electoral inclusion.

  • Expanding our thinking around non-citizen civic engagement to other groups and civil society organizations.What’s the ladder theory of civic engagement? What might it mean, how is it now popularly understood, what are its potential strengths and what are its pitfalls as a model for understanding individuals and their communities? Expect a post from Farrah touching on this.

  • Thoughts on electioneering, current battles and challenges in our approach to electoral inclusion.

  • Expanding our thinking around non-citizen civic engagement to other groups and civil society organizations.

If you think of feedback, suggestions, or people we should meet, please get in touch! You can email us at: 1stpersonprojects@thedifferenceengine.co

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