Weekly Feature

2018-10-10 / Education

Community satisfaction demands interaction, says UB study

Being a good neighbor can have a powerful effect on residents’ attitudes and behaviors even for those living in highly disadvantaged communities, according to the results of a new study by a University at Buffalo sociologist.

While most research examining the relationship between people and place has looked at individual characteristics reflecting lifecycle stages, Gregory Sharp, an assistant professor in UB’s Department of Sociology, instead looks at the potential mechanisms that link neighborhood disadvantage with neighborly attitudes and behaviors.

Sharp says that under the right conditions, community matters in the 21st century, and it can still positively affect lives.

“We know that living in disadvantaged neighborhoods is associated with dissatisfaction, but the effect is amplified by fear, isolation and a lack of social support,” says Sharp, an expert in urban and community sociology. “Having frequent conversations with neighbors, doing favors for one another and watching each other’s home makes a difference.

These neighborly interactions have a cumulative effect. The study’s results suggest that neighboring encourages residents to become more active in their communities, regardless of the level of disadvantage.

“Policy makers need to hear this,” said Sharp. “Neighborhoods and communities matter. They have consequences for people’s lives and their life chances – and their attitudes often determine whether they’ll be invested in the places they live.”

The findings are published in the latest edition of the journal City & Community.

Sharp relies on data from the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey to examine how neighborhood disadvantage affects residents’ satisfaction and interactions.

The survey’s data provides researchers with unique information, according to Sharp. First, it’s a longitudinal study that covers two waves of attitudes from 2000-02 and 2006-08 in 65 neighborhoods and more than 3,000 households.

“Los Angeles is a huge multiracial and multiethnic metropolis. And the survey digs into not only the attitudes and perceptions of residents about their neighborhood, but also their actual behaviors in the neighborhood.”

Sharp says that living in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods can intensify fear and work against the advantages generated by consistent interactions.

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