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Evaluating a Pop-Up Resource Village in West Oakland: Making Connections with Sense of Place and Perceptions of Safety

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Abstract

A non-profit organization called Designing Justice+Designing Spaces led the implementation of a pop-up resource village (PRV) to transform an underutilized urban site into a vibrant community space. One aim of the PRV was to affect public safety through site activation while merging access to education, social services, and retail resources that ‘pop-up’ in customized mobile units. This case study employed a mixed-methods research approach to examine how community attendees at the first four stages of the PRV’s operations, as well as at its formal launch, conceptualized its design in terms of sense of place (SOP), safety, and level of engagement with local businesses and the diverse cultural aspects of West Oakland. Generally, the PRV was understood positively by attendees and community members in the area. Attendees indicated strong place attachment toward the area in which the events were situated, as well as a strong agreement that the PRV enhances relationships in their community, offers residents and visitors a sense of safety, assists local entrepreneurs in growing their businesses, and increases access to social services. Participants also agreed very strongly that a PRV set up regularly in the area would benefit the community of West Oakland. A primary theme of community togetherness came forward in qualitative analyses. Results suggest that those implementing PRVs should work to create or sustain social connection within a community’s established culture while supporting local entrepreneurs and artists, engendering a sense of safety, and affording opportunities for education.

A pop-up resource village (PRV) can be conceptualized as an organized effort to bring together the people, local businesses, and cultural aspects of a particular community. When planned and curated to suit the needs and preferences of local residents, community efforts like this may have the potential to serve as ‘platforms for change’ (Beer 1975) as ‘engines of social purpose’ (Van Schaik 2015). Along with a positive economic return for the community in which it is situated, this form of place-making may also afford opportunities for psychosocial experiences, such as aesthetic enjoyment, group entertainment, and social participation within the urban fabric (Markusen and Schrock 2006; Rota and Salone 2014).

Rota and Salone (2014) state that “far more than formal policies, unconventional events can benefit from a higher level of commitment and identification by citizens, which allow for larger participation and consensus for the policy itself” (pp. 91). However, little is known about how attendees of PRVs conceptualize sense of place (SOP), and perceptions of safety, in relation to these short-term community gatherings. Even less is known about how community members’ perceptions of PRVs change as they pop-up over time and become a more familiar part of a neighborhood.

The bodies of environmental and community psychology literature indicate that place attachment and sense of community play a role in neighborhood revitalization (see Brown et al. 2003; Manzo and Perkins 2006). Manzo and Perkins (2006) note that individuals’ attachments toward places can assist planners and developers in knowing how human “preferences, perceptions, and emotional connections to place relate to community social cohesion, organized participation, and community development” (pp. 336). The objective of the present case study is to gather evidence of some areas of achievement, as well as lessons learned, from an iterative development model of a PRV that occurred in the neighborhood of West Oakland, CA. In fact, this research is a portion of a broader initiative in the form of a “site activation project to harness the power of design to catalyze the magic that emerges when people and programs come together in public space. Its mission is to create a village of civic resources for under-resourced communities so they can thrive” (Designing Justice+Designing Spaces 2018).

In 2016, the non-profit organization (NPO) Designing Justice+Designing Spaces (DJ + DS) received a research and development grant from the James Irvine Foundation to lead the implementation and evaluation of a PRV pilot project to transform an underutilized urban site into a vibrant community space. The aim of the PRV was to affect public safety through site activation, as well as to merge access to education, social services, and commercial/retail resources that ‘pop-up’ in customized mobile units (e.g., converted buses, mobile vending units, and temporary placemaking elements).

The PRV model used in this project is similar to the types of markets researched by Watson and Studdert (2006). Those authors explored the importance of street markets as social spaces in towns and cities in the UK and found that when markets functioned in particular ways, they served as positive social spaces that seemed to promote elements of the three dimensions of SOP (i.e., place attachment, place identity, and place dependence) as conceptualized by Jorgensen and Stedman (2001, 2006). For example, Watson and Studdert (2006) note that street markets that purposefully (and not passively) attracted visitors to the site by offering a diverse range of products and services that fit with community needs and ‘tastes’ because they are tailored to the culture of the nearby neighborhood tended to become social spaces where people stay and connect with each other. This notion that markets are more socially successful when they are responsive to the “surrounding community needs, socioeconomic and demographic profile, and local conditions” (Watson and Studdert 2006, pp. viii) supports the notion that a market or PRV that respects the unique cultural attributes of those living and working in the area will be more successful in affording opportunities for place attachment and place identity to develop toward the community. It also supports an expectation that place dependence will be experienced at the PRV, whereby attendees can reliably attain their behavioral goals in a proximal physical space (Jorgensen and Stedman 2001, 2006).

Moreover, place attachment is more likely to develop the longer we spend time in a place (e.g., Brown & Raymond 2007; Catrill 1998). Watson and Studdert (2006) found that markets affording opportunities to linger, often by offering food and beverage options on site, as well as informal seating areas, is an important factor when individuals make decisions to stay and interact with people they know (and do not know). Similarly, Abdulkarim and Nasar (2014) found that plazas with seats, food, and/or sculptures had higher levels of visitability compared to plazas without such attributes. Although the present case study is novel (and, thus exploratory) in its investigation of the psychological construct of SOP in relation to a PRV initiative, the dimensions of place attachment, place identity, and place dependence are predicted to be experienced by PRV users and neighborhood residents alike because of the PRV’s intentional design to welcome specific groups by affording symbolic coherence with the cultural heritage of West Oakland (e.g., Madureira, 2015).

Fear of crime can develop from, and be subsequently perpetuated by, a number of aspects, such as victimisation, vulnerability, and disorder in an area (Foster et al. 2010; Hale 1996). However, if placemaking is encouraged, some degree of fear in community members may be mitigated, and a sense of safety and surveillance evoked. Of course, more ‘eyes on the street’ can minimise crime, and fear of crime (Jacobs 1961). However, those who experience place attachment toward a setting also tend to perceive fewer incivilities in the place to which they have attached (Brown et al. 2003). This may be, in part, because of a connection between how we perceive neighborhood safety depending on the extent to which we experience physical and social cohesion—aesthetics, maintenance of physical space, and positive social interactions help to reduce fear in community members (Foster et al. 2013). Given Foster et al.’s (2010, 2013) findings that particular neighborhood characteristics that promote walking or consumer behaviour are often associated with reduced fear of crime in adults, the nature and design of a PRV as a community hub may foster a sense of safety, as well as a SOP, in community members.

Thus, the present case study measures how community members conceptualize a PRV’s design in terms of SOP, safety, and level of engagement with local businesses. We utilize a mixed-methods approach to satisfy the environmental psychological portion of a broad program evaluation of a PRV project in West Oakland that centres on psychosocial attitudes and perceptions of those attending the PRV in its first four stages of implementation (i.e., two mini-pop up events and two pre-launch pop up events), as well as at the formal launch of the PRV. A sample of community members who were not attending the PRV at the time of data collection are also surveyed to understand baseline levels of SOP and perceptions of safety in the neighborhood for present and future comparisons.

Methods

Site Details

During the planning phase of the PRV initiative, DJ + DS participated in community events set up by local organizations in a number of different locations in Oakland, CA. Their participation included hosting design and branding workshops with residents where residents could discuss what they wanted from a PRV, and what is missing from their particular neighborhood in Oakland. They also completed several activities, including model creation using diagrams to identify the types of structures that a PRV might have, and their desired positions. Although the data informed the structural design of the PRV installation, DJ + DS needed to change the planned location of the PRV to the community of West Oakland shortly before the start of the mini-PRV events. Fortunately, DJ + DS was able to attract an enthusiastic anchor partner in the community: a local co-op grocery store that represented a social landmark in West Oakland. The store has a prominent location in the area and a community mission in alignment with the PRV’s objectives.

DJ + DS’s design process also included strategic planning of the types of services and products that would be featured at the events. DJ + DS hired a community liaison to establish connections to potential local vendors who wished to afford social vibrancy in West Oakland as well as to provide their goods or services in a way that activated the space. Vendors who chose to partner with the PRV initiative committed to providing community members with learning experiences (or experiences whereby some other tangible benefit was gained by attendees from having interacted with the vendors), instead of only selling products or services. Vendors also recruited other vendors to participate at the PRV.

The PRV’s location on a main avenue in West Oakland (outside of the local co-op grocery store) was an optimal position with respect to accessibility: high foot traffic could be relied upon because it was across the street from modes of public transportation (e.g., a bus stop, a “park and ride,” and a train station). Proximal locations believed by DJ + DS to be most affected by the presence of the PRV were the ‘Acorn,’ ‘Village Bottoms,’ and ‘South Prescott’ areas of West Oakland (see Fig. 1). Data gathered at each of the four events described below was provided to DJ + DS to help guide the PRV’s development as it approached its formal launch.

Fig. 1
figure1

Map of the areas of West Oakland believed to be affected by PRV development

The Mini-PRVs

Two small “mini-PRVs” were held in July and August, 2018 at the local co-op grocery store. These trial events included demonstrations from a company that makes bicycle-powered blended smoothies, as well as stations featuring herbal medicine vendors, massage and acupuncture services, yoga, painting opportunities, a mobile classroom, a ‘book bike,’ live music, and a number of pop-up shops operated by local businesses (see Fig. 2).

Fig. 2
figure2

Blender Bike Smoothie demonstration at the mini-PRV held in August, 2018

The Pre-Launch PRVs

Two relatively larger “pre-launch PRVs” were held in September and October, 2018 in the same area of West Oakland that hosted the mini-PRVs. Activities occurring at the pre-launch PRVs were quite similar to those at the mini-PRVs (e.g., yoga, cooking demonstrations, live music, massage and acupuncture services, as well as information offered about herbal medicine; see Fig. 3). However, more involvement from, and event promotion at, the local co-op grocery store (i.e., via a Memorandum of Understanding agreed upon between the store and DJ + DS) was integral in affording a vibrant and dedicated setting for the PRV to become known and formalized in the community. The pre-launch PRVs were also promoted by DJ + DS more frequently than the mini-PRVs had been.

Fig. 3
figure3

Attendees at the pre-launch PRV held in October, 2018

The PRV Launch

Although the official “launch” of the PRV occurred in November, in the same area as the other PRV events, it was the final PRV to occur in 2018. The launch was heavily promoted in the community with the assistance of the local co-op grocery store and included many of the same vendors that took part in the other events, as well as a number of new vendors. The launch hosted a mobile classroom, a women’s refuge trailer, a herbal medicine vendor, and massage and acupuncture services. It also included bicycle-powered blended smoothie demonstrations, cooking opportunities, a ‘book bike,’ a barber, live music, and pop-up shops operated by local businesses (see Fig. 4).

Fig. 4
figure4

Cooking demonstration at the PRV’s launch event held in November, 2018

The Neighborhood of West Oakland

West Oakland is part of the city of Oakland, CA, with a rich cultural history known for its social activism, lively jazz culture, transportation and industrial developments, and strong pan-African roots (City of Oakland 1998; Gioia 1992; Rhomberg 2004; Self 2000). In the 1940s, the city thrived on an influx of jobs, resulting in a wave of new residents (US Census Bureau 1940–1950). Overcrowding and housing barriers affected many residents, and the economic downturn in the 1980s augmented poverty and crime rates (Johnson 1996). By 1990, Oakland had lost an overwhelming number of stable employment opportunities and, in turn, long-time residents with diverse backgrounds and cultural histories moved out of the area (Rhomberg 2004) and many socioeconomic initiatives to bolster the area have displaced many of West Oakland’s local residents and businesses (City of Oakland 1998; Stein 2018).

Today, over 20% of new residents to West Oakland have come from outside of the city of Oakland, creating diversification in the community (American Community Survey 2017; McCann 2019). With rapid gentrification also occurring in West Oakland, cultural preservation, social cohesion, and displacement are, not surprisingly, important topics currently being discussed concerning the area (Elhalaby 2018; Zuk et al. 2017). Generally, gentrification leads to the transformation of a region’s image in a way that can have a positive impact on perceptions of safety (David et al. 2017), especially in West Oakland where safety has historically been a concern. DJ + DS designed the PRV with safety in mind. For example, to protect against the danger of passing vehicular traffic, vendor tables and “shops-in-a-box” were positioned as close to the side walk as possible, with cars double parked to form a symbolic barrier. One of the vendors was a security company; it provided a security guard (who was also a member of the surrounding community), who offered familiarity, along with safety enforcement. However, for residents, the current transformation occurring in West Oakland may highlight negative perceptions of the region concerning the loss of socio-economic resources and threats to cultural preservation (Sullivan 2007). Indeed, the PRV initiative seeks to bolster positive perceptions of West Oakland as it changes and grows.

Participants

Mini-PRV Attendees

Only five individuals attending the first mini-PRV volunteered to complete a questionnaire (2 males, 2 females; one person did not report their gender). The average age of these participants was 30.5 years (SD = 3.11, one person did not report their age). One individual chose not to report their ethnicity; of the remaining four participants, 25% declared themselves as “Hispanic/Latino” while 75% stated that they were not. Moreover, out of the two participants who answered the item about race, 50% stated that they were “Asian” while the other 50% self-reported as “other” (this response was noted by hand to be “both Caucasian and Asian”). Most participants held a “Bachelor’s degree” (75%), or a “Master’s degree” (25%). Fifty percent of the four participants who chose to report their income earned between $50,000–$74,999 a year. Another 25% reported earning between $35,000–$49,000 annually, and the other 25% between $75,000–$99,999 a year.

Participants at the second mini-PRV were four females with an average age of 40.0 years (SD = 15.64). With respect to ethnicity, one person declared themselves as “Hispanic/Latino” and one stated that they were not (two individuals did not offer a response to this item). Moreover, out of the two participants who answered the item about their race, 50% stated that they were “Black/African American” while the other 50% self-reported as “other” (these responses were noted by hand to be “native/Indigenous” and “Xicana”). Half of the sample had “some college, no degree” (50%) and half reported holding an “Associates degree” (50%). In terms of income, 25% of the three participants who chose to respond to this item reported earning less than $15,000 a year. Another 25% reported earning between $15,000–$24,999 annually, and the other 25% between $75,000–$99,999 a year (one participant did not report their income).

Pre-Launch PRV Attendees

Thirty-seven attendees chose to complete a questionnaire at the first pre-launch PRV (15 females, 2 males, 20 individuals did not disclose their gender). Most participants (i.e., 78.4%) reported to have not attended a previous PRV event. The average age of the 17 participants who disclosed their age was 40.76 years (SD = 17.64). With respect to ethnicity, no one declared themselves as “Hispanic/Latino;” 16 participants reported that they were not Hispanic/Latino (21 individuals did not offer a response to this item). Out of the 17 participants who answered the question about race, 64.7% stated that they were “Black/African American,” 29.4% self-reported as “White,” and 5.9% reported being “American Indian or Alaska Native.”

Of the 16 individuals answering the item about their highest level of education, 31.3% self-reported to have “some college, no degree,” and a “Master’s degree,” respectively. Another 18.8% reported to have a Bachelor’s degree, while 12.5% had an Associate’s degree, and 6.3% a high school graduate/GED. In terms of income, 33.3% of the 15 participants who responded to this item reported earning between $15,000–$24,999 and $50,000–$74,999 a year, respectively. Another 6.7% of participants reported to earn less than $15,000 a year, between $35,000–$49,999, between $75,000–$99,999, between $100,000–$149,999, and between $150,000–$199,999 a year, respectively.

Attendees at the second pre-launch PRV were 27 individuals (15 were female, 6 were male, 6 did not disclose their gender) with a mean age of 40.29 (SD = 1.50, n = 21). Most (70.40%) had not attended a PRV before. Of the 15 individuals who answered the item about their ethnicity, most reported that they were “not Hispanic/Latino” (93.3%). And, of the 21 individuals responding about race, most self-identified as “Black/African American” (66.7%), while 28.6% identified as “White,” and 4.8% as “other” (i.e., the one participant handwrote “Moor”).

Similarly, only 21 individuals responded to the item about their highest level of education. Most (33.3%) had attained a Bachelor’s degree; many others stated “some college, no degree” (28.6%). Nineteen percent reported having a high school diploma while 9.5% had a Master’s degree and 4.8% had an Associate’s degree or a professional degree, respectively. Finally, most (25%) of the 20 participants who self-reported their income earned between $25,000–$34,999 per year. Twenty percent earned between $35,000–$49,999 and $50,000–$74,999, respectfully. Fifteen percent earned “less than $15,000 per year,” while 10% percent earned between $15,000–$24,999. Five percent earned between $75,999–99,999 and $100,000–149,000 a year, respectfully.

PRV Launch Attendees

Twenty-one individuals (12 female, 5 male, 1 transgender, 1 “alternative identification;” 2 did not report their gender) completed a questionnaire at the launch. Their average age was 42.79 years (SD = 10.11, n = 19). Most (66.7%) had not attended a PRV event before. Of the 15 individuals who chose to answer the item about their ethnicity, all reported that they were “not Hispanic/Latino.” Of the 19 individuals answering about race, most self-identified as “Black/African American” (73.7%), while 21.1% identified as “White,” and 5.3% as “American Indian or Alaska Native.”

Eighteen individuals responded to the item about their highest level of education. Most (38.9%) had a Bachelor’s degree; others stated that they had a “Master’s degree” (27.8%), “some college, no degree,” or an Associate’s degree (11.1%, respectively). Finally, 5.6% reported having graduated high school or attaining a professional degree, respectively.

Most (42.9%) of the 14 participants who self-reported their income earned between $50,000–$74,999 per year. The next most frequent income bracket (21.4%) was between $100,000–$149,999. The other income brackets (e.g., $15,000-24,999; $25,000–$34,999; $35,000–$49,999; $75,000–$99,999; $200,000 or more) were chosen by 7.1% of participants, respectively.

Community Baseline

Thirty West Oakland community members completed a baseline questionnaire (11 females, 10 males, 9 participants did not report their gender) with a mean age of 37.52 (SD = 13.50). Of the 18 individuals who chose to answer the item about their ethnicity, 13 reported that they were “not Hispanic/Latino,” whereas 5 were. Of the 20 individuals who responded about their race, most self-identified as “Black/African American” (65%) while 20% identified as “White,” 10% stated “Other” (e.g., “Italian”), and 5% as “Asian.”

Twenty individuals responded to the item about their highest level of education. Most (50%) had a Bachelor’s degree and 30% noted having completed “some college, no degree.” Ten percent stated that a high school diploma or GED was their highest education level while 5% had an Associates’ degree, and another 5% had a Master’s degree. Of the 18 participants who self-reported their annual household income, the two most frequent brackets were between $15,000–$24,999 and $25,000–$34,999 (27.8% respectively). The next most frequent bracket (22.2%) was between $35,000–$49,999, while the other income brackets (e.g., less than $15,000; $50,000–$74,999; $75,000–$99,999; and $150,000–$199,999) were chosen by 5.6% of participants, respectively.

Materials and Procedure

Compliance with Ethical Standards

The first author’s institutional ethics board determined that the project, as it is described in this manuscript, relies solely on the secondary use of anonymous data and does not produce identifiable information (Article 2.4 of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans, TCPS2) (Government of Canada 2018). Informed consent sheets were used when recruiting community members. No known conflicts of interest were involved in this case study.

Mini-PRV Questionnaire

Inspired, in part, by Rota and Salone (2014), the questionnaire provided to attendees at the mini-PRVs consisted of items measuring perceptions of a number of psychosocial constructs that have been shown in an interdisciplinary body of literature to predict positive place-making, such as place attachment, place identity, and perceptions of enhanced relationships among community members. Items measuring the extent to which participants felt that a PRV would assist local entrepreneurs to develop their businesses, and help community members access social services, were also asked. Five-point Likert scales were used (i.e., 1 = strongly disagree and 5 = strongly agree). Table 1 (in the Results section) provides exact wording of these items. Demographic items were also asked, such as age, gender, annual income, highest level of education, race, and ethnicity. In addition, participants were asked in open-ended format about specific ways in which West Oakland may benefit from a PRV if it were to be regularly set up in the area.

Table 1 Descriptive statistics for psychosocial variables at the first mini-PRV on July 6th, N = 5

Data were collected from mini-PRV attendees by DJ + DS staff members who sat at an information table at the events. Adult attendees (i.e., appearing over the age of 18) who approached the table were asked to fill out a questionnaire. DJ + DS staff members who were tasked with the responsibility of walking around the event to greet and engage with community members also invited attendees to fill out a questionnaire. In addition, questionnaires were available on vendors’ tables. The informal script that staff and vendors used to speak with attendees about the questionnaire read: “DJ+DS is working with independent evaluators to help us understand what community members think of the PRV. Would you be willing to fill out a survey? If not, that is ok, but it would help us understand what works and what does not. Thanks!”

Pre-Launch and Launch Questionnaire

The questionnaire used at the two pre-launch events, and at the launch event, was similar to the one used at the mini-PRV events in that it contained the same demographic items, and items measuring perceptions about place attachment, place identity, safety, and benefits that the PRV may afford the community. However, the pre-launch and launch questionnaire included a number of additional items to gather behavior-based information from attendees. For example, one additional item asked whether participants had attended a previously-held PRV. The questionnaire was measured on Likert scales where 1 represented “strongly disagree” and 5 represented “strongly agree.” Participants’ perceptions of whether they spent time with, and talked to, other community members they knew (and with those they did not know) at the PRV were asked, along with items concerning whether they felt safe, were interested in what vendors were selling, the extent of their interest in what social services were available, and whether they believed they would come back to the PRV (see Table 4 in the Results section for exact wording of these items).

Finally, two open-ended items were included. One asked the same item as the mini-PRV questionnaire (i.e., what are some specific ways in which the area of West Oakland benefits from the PRV), and the other asked participants to describe, in their own words, what a pop-up village is. The procedure for gathering questionnaire data was very much the same as the procedure used at the mini-PRV events except that some of the vendors also distributed the questionnaire to those who visited their booths or stations.

Community Baseline Questionnaire

A community baseline questionnaire was used to gather the same types of demographic information as the other questionnaire types, as well as more standardized psychosocial data from the wider community of West Oakland (and not only from those who were attending a PRV). At the top of this questionnaire was a map of the area of West Oakland that we believed would be most affected by the presence of the PRV. It included instructions for participants to answer items considering the area described (i.e., “when answering the following questions, please generally consider the ‘Acorn,’ ‘Village Bottoms,’ and ‘South Prescott’ areas of West Oakland”).

The first section of the questionnaire contained a standardized 12-item SOP scale developed by Jorgensen and Stedman (2001, 2006) that has been used successfully at the neighborhood-level in previous research done by one of the authors (McCunn & Gifford, 2014; 2017). It measures three place dimensions (i.e., place attachment, place identity, and place dependence) on a Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) (see Table 9 for item wording). A test of this scale’s internal consistency revealed a very strong Cronbach’s alpha (α = .92) and is considered reliable (as per DeVellis 2012).

The second section asked about perceptions of safety using five items drawn from three standardized scales. The first two items were the Fear of Crime measure created by Haberman et al. (2016) and the next two items were taken from the 5-item Neighborhood Collective Efficacy scale (Thomas et al. 2016). The final item was taken from the 3-item Perceived Neighborhood Safety measure (Merrin et al. 2015) (see Table 9 for item wording). Taken together, these items form a moderately reliable ‘perceived safety’ scale (α = .71).

As part of the MOU between the local co-op grocery store and DJ + DS, the questionnaire was given to staff members at the local co-op, along with informed consent sheets, to have available for community members to voluntarily complete between August, 2018 and the PRV launch date (November 2nd, 2018). A small sign to draw attention to the questionnaires, as well as pens, pencils, and a large envelope for submission, were placed near the cash register so that staff members could assist with distribution and submission, or with answering general questions. However, because participation from community members was voluntary, staff members were not instructed to encourage anyone to participate or offer specific responses to any item.

Results

The Mini-PRVs

Each continuous item for questionnaires distributed at both mini-PRV events was tested for normality based on recommendations by Kline (1997). All items met the criteria for acceptable skewness (values between +3 and − 3) and acceptable kurtosis (values between +8 and − 8). Participants indicated mild to strong agreement that place attachment was felt toward the area of West Oakland in which the mini-PRV was situated (M = 4.60, SD = 0.55; see Table 1 for all means and standard deviations), and that a PRV would enhance relationships in this community (M = 4.40, SD = 0.55), offer community members a sense of safety (M = 4.60, SD = 0.55), assist local entrepreneurs in growing their business (M = 4.60 SD = 0.55), and increase access to social services in the area (M = 4.40, SD = 0.55). On average, participants agreed most with the item asking about whether a PRV, once fully launched, would benefit the community of West Oakland (M = 4.80, SD = 0.45).

In contrast, participants attending the first mini-PRV responded quite neutrally, on average, about their place identity toward the area. Participants’ average responses to how well the area represented them was significantly lower than their average responses to the item to do with place attachment, t(4) = −6.00, p < .01.

All five participants chose to respond to the open-ended item asking about specific ways in which the neighborhood of West Oakland would benefit from a PRV regularly set up in the area. Of the 13 distinct comments made by participants, 11 were relevant to the question and could be understood as forming three key themes: “community and coming together” (n = 5), “health and social services” (n = 4), and “structural aspects of the PRV” (n = 2). Some examples of words and phrases in the “community and coming together” theme were “community building,” and “community members could find somewhere to congregate.” Examples of the “health and social services” theme were: “showers,” and “clothing donation/swap.” Examples of some structural comments about the PRV itself included: “close off a lane of the street,” and “increase foot traffic.”

Data collected from attendees of the second mini-PRV revealed a similar pattern of responses with respect to a strong perception of place attachment toward the area (M = 4.50, SD = 0.58), that the PRV would enhance relationships in the community (M = 4,75, SD = 0.50), and offer a sense of safety (M = 5.00, SD = 0.00). All participants strongly agreed that a PRV would be able to assist local entrepreneurs in developing their businesses (M = 5.00, SD = 0.00), and that a PRV could enhance community members’ access to social services (M = 5.00, SD = 0.00). Full agreement was also indicated as to whether a PRV would benefit the community if it were to be regularly set up (M = 5.00, SD = 0.00; see Table 2 for all means and standard deviations). However, unlike at the first mini-PRV, participants felt the same strength of agreement with items concerning place attachment and place identity (M = 4.50, SD = 0.58).

Table 2 Descriptive statistics for psychosocial variables at the second mini-PRV on August 3rd, N = 4

Only two of the four participants chose to respond to the open-ended item. Of the three distinct comments made by these participants, all were relevant to the question and could be understood as falling under one theme: “community building.” The three comments were: “Helping small businesses grow in their community,” “Building community,” and “Knowledge and resources offered in the area.”

The Pre-Launch PRVs

As was done for data from the mini-PRVs, each continuous item on questionnaires given at both pre-launch events was tested for normality based on recommendations by Kline (1997). All items met the criteria. Attendees at the first pre-launch PRV gave generally positive responses on items concerning place attachment (M = 4.22, SD = 1.02), perceptions of safety (M = 4.58, SD = 0.69), access to social services (M = 4.51, SD = 0.73), as well as on the ability of a PRV to enhance relationships among community members (M = 4.69, SD = 0.53), and West Oakland in general (M = 4.70, SD = 0.62; see Table 3).

Table 3 Descriptive statistics for psychosocial variables at the first pre-launch PRV on September 7th, N = 37

Interestingly, the highest mean response revealed by those attending the first pre-launch PRV related to the item about whether a PRV would assist local entrepreneurs in developing their businesses (M = 4.78, SD = 0.48). Indeed, 89.2% of participants reported an intention to make purchases at the PRV and, of the 26 participants who wrote down how much they planned to spend, $23.08 was the average estimated amount. And, as found in data from those attending the first mini-PRV, the mean of the item concerning place identity was significantly lower than the mean response concerning place attachment (M = 4.22, SD = 1.02 and M = 3.56, SD = 1.23, t(35) = 4.04, p < .01).

Mild to strong levels of agreement were also revealed through a descriptive analysis of the six behavior-based items. A relatively high mean value was found for the item asking whether participants felt safe while at the PRV (M = 4.63, SD = 0.60). Generally, participants agreed that they spent time with, and talked to, community members who they knew at the PRV (M = 4.00, SD = 1.14), and did not know at the PRV (M = 4.14, SD = 1.02), that they were interested in what the vendors were selling (M = 4.51, SD = 0.69), as well as in what social services were available (M = 4.11, SD = 1.10). Participants also reported strong agreement that they would come back to the PRV (M = 4.78, SD = 0.48; see Table 4 for means and standard deviations).

Table 4 Descriptive statistics for behavior-based variables at the first pre-launch PRV on September 7th, N = 37

Thirty-two participants (out of the 37 who competed the first pre-launch questionnaire) chose to answer the first open-ended item describing, in their own words, what a pop-up village is. When content analyzed, 39 distinct words and phrases could be categorized into five themes. A theme of “community togetherness” was the most frequent (i.e., 36% of comments). Next was the theme of “aesthetic,” (28%), and “connection between local business and community” (18%). Themes of “culture” (10%) and “education” (8%) also emerged from the data. Some examples of words and phrases comprising the two most frequent themes were: “it appears to be a place where people get to try new experiences and enjoy themselves while bettering the community,” “a way to communicate freely with my people,” “alive with interaction, fresh,” and “like a main street with no walls,” respectively.

The second open-ended item asked participants to state specific ways the area of West Oakland benefits from the PRV. Twenty-four participants chose to answer this item, yielding 36 distinct comments. From these comments emerged nine themes of “community building” (44% of the comments), “economic support to local business” (14%), “social and health services” (11%), “food resources” (8%), “connection to culture” (8%), and “knowledge sharing” (6%). The last three themes were negligible, with only one comment made in each: “aesthetic” (3%), “accessibility” (3%), and “safety” (3%). Examples of comments concerning the most frequent themes to do with community connectivity and the growth of local business are: “building connections in the community” and “giving exposure and support to black entrepreneurs,” respectively.

In contrast with data from the first pre-launch event, not all data from the second pre-launch event met the criteria for acceptable skewness and acceptable kurtosis as per Kline (1997). Therefore, Tables 5 and 6 include normality statistics for data from this PRV event. Those taking part in the second pre-launch PRV were generally positive in their self-assessments of place attachment (M = 4.30, SD = 0.91), perceptions of safety (M = 4.56, SD = 0.89), access to social services (M = 4.33, SD = 1.04), the ability of a PRV to benefit the area of West Oakland (M = 4.69, SD = 0.84), and assist local entrepreneurs in developing their businesses (M = 4.67, SD = 0.83) (see Table 5).

Table 5 Descriptive statistics for psychosocial variables at the second pre-launch PRV on October 5th, N = 27
Table 6 Descriptive statistics for behavior-based variables at the second pre-launch PRV on October 5th, N = 37

The highest mean response revealed by those at the second pre-launch PRV related to the item about whether a PRV would enhance relationships among community members (M = 4.74, SD = 0.81). All participants reported an intention to make purchases at the PRV and, of the 23 participants who reported how much they planned to spend, $22.65 was the average estimated amount. As found in data from the first mini-PRV, as well as the first pre-launch event, the mean of the item concerning place identity was significantly lower than the mean response concerning place attachment (M = 4.30, SD = 0.91 and M = 3.81, SD = 1.39, t(25) = 2.39, p < .05).

As revealed by data from the first pre-launch event, mild to strong levels of agreement were also indicated through a descriptive analysis of the six behavior-based items. Again, a relatively high mean value was found for the item asking whether participants felt safe while at the PRV (M = 4.69, SD = 0.74), and for the item asking whether they thought that they would come back to the PRV (M = 4.67, SD = 0.96). Generally, participants agreed that they spent time with, and talked to, community members who they knew (M = 3.89, SD = 1.28) but their mean response was higher for the item asking whether they spent time with people they did not know at the PRV (M = 4.37, SD = 0.88). Participants were quite interested in what the vendors were selling (M = 4.52, SD = 1.01), as well as in what social services were available (M = 3.96, SD = 1.16) (see Table 6).

Twenty-one of the 27 participants who completed the second pre-launch questionnaire chose to answer the first open-ended item about what they believe a PRV is. Thirty-three distinct words and phrases could be content analyzed; six themes emerged. Similar to other events, the theme of “community togetherness” was the most frequent (i.e., 37% of comments). The next most common theme was one of “positive emotionality” (21%) whereby words such as “freedom and peace” and “engaging and empowering” were reported. Other themes of “culture” (18%), “health and healing” (9%), “education” (9%), and ‘urgency” (6%) were also found.

Just as in the other questionnaires, the second open-ended item asked participants to state specific ways the area of West Oakland benefits from the PRV. Twenty-one participants chose to answer this item, yielding 31 distinct comments. From these comments emerged seven themes of “community building” (35% of the comments), “healthy lifestyle” (13%), “access and exposure to culture” (13%), “positive social change” (13%), “Economic support to local business” (10%), “safety” (10%) and “education” (6%).

The PRV Launch

Continuous items on the launch questionnaire were tested for normality as per Kline (1997). All but one item met the criteria for acceptable skewness and kurtosis (participants’ level of interest in what vendors were selling revealed values of skewness = −3.10 and kurtosis = 10.58). Just as at both pre-launch events, those attending the first pre-launch PRV gave generally positive responses on items concerning place attachment (M = 4.38, SD = 1.12), perceptions of safety (M = 4.67, SD = 0.80), access to social services (M = 4.38, SD = 0.97), as well as on the ability of a PRV to enhance relationships among community members (M = 4.67, SD = 0.66), and West Oakland in general (M = 4.62, SD = 0.67; see Table 7).

Table 7 Descriptive statistics for psychosocial variables at the launch PRV on November 2nd, N = 21

Similar to the result found at the first mini-PRV, and the first pre-launch event, the highest mean response revealed by those attending the launch related to the item about whether a PRV would assist local entrepreneurs in developing their businesses (M = 4.81, SD = 0.52). Most (85.7%) participants reported an intention to make purchases at the PRV and, of the 17 participants who wrote down how much they planned to spend, $30.41 was the average estimated amount. Moreover, in the data supplied by those attending three of the previous other events (the first mini-PRV and both pre-launch PRVs), the mean of the item concerning place identity was significantly lower than the mean response concerning place attachment—this was also nearly the case at the launch event (M = 4.38, SD = 1.11 and M = 3.76, SD = 1.22, t(20) = 2.03, p = .056).

As revealed in the analyses of the previous events, mild to strong levels of agreement were found for the six behavior-based items. Again, the highest mean value was related to the item asking whether participants felt safe while at the PRV (M = 4.91, SD = 0.30). Generally, participants agreed that they spent time with, and talked to, community members who they knew (M = 4.43, SD = 1.08), and did not know at the PRV (M = 4.55, SD = 0.69), that they were interested in what the vendors were selling (M = 4.71, SD = 0.71), as well as in what social services were available (but to a relatively lesser extent; M = 3.95, SD = 1.23). Participants also reported strong agreement that they would come back to the PRV (M = 4.86, SD = 0.36; see Table 8).

Table 8 Descriptive statistics for behavior-based variables at the launch PRV on November 2nd, N = 21

Eighteen participants (out of the 21 who completed a questionnaire at the launch) chose to answer the first open-ended item describing what a PRV is to them. When content analyzed, 22 distinct words and phrases were categorized into five themes. Again, the theme of “community togetherness” was the most frequent (i.e., 45% of comments), followed by one concerning the “support of local business,” (32%), and of “positive emotionality” (13%). Themes of “culture” (5%) and “urgency” (5%) also emerged from the data.

The second open-ended item asked participants to state specific ways the area of West Oakland benefits from the pop-up village; 12 participants responded, yielding 25 distinct comments. As at other events, out of the comments emerged six themes, the most frequent being one of “community building” (44% of the comments), followed by “economic support to local business” (24%). Themes concerning “access to exposure to culture” (16%), “healthy food resources” (8%), “safety” (4%), and “positivity” (4%) also emerged.

The Community Baseline

All continuous items on the launch questionnaire were tested for normality based on recommendations by Kline (1997); all items met the criteria for acceptable skewness and kurtosis. The omnibus SOP scale revealed a neutral mean of 3.52 (SD = 0.88; see Table 9) and the place attachment, place identity, and place dependence sub-scales were all similarly neutral (M = 4.48, SD = 1.08; M = 3.79, SD = 0.90; M = 3.28, SD = 0.92, respectively). However, in contrast to some of the data from those attending a PRV, the highest mean from the sample of community members was revealed by the place identity sub-scale rather than the place attachment sub-scale. Mean scores on the place attachment sub-scale were significantly lower than those on the place identity sub-scale, t(28) = −2.41, p < .05.

Table 9 Descriptive statistics for psychosocial variables in the community baseline questionnaire, N = 30

Another contrast between the community sample and participants attending PRVs is that while mean scores on the item measuring perceptions of safety at the PRVs were quite high, on average, mean scores on the perceived safety scale given to community members not attending the PRV were revealed to be quite neutral (M = 3.79, SD = 1.17). Finally, and not surprisingly, scores on the perceived safety scale and the SOP scale were significantly positively correlated (r = .76, p < .001).

Discussion

The fields of urban planning and environmental psychology systematically consider how people understand and use physical environments and, thus, require a cross-communication of research to explain observations, contribute to theories, and foster ideas (Churchman 2002). Conceptualizing how community members experience physical spaces as users (as is done in environmental psychology) is a prudent step toward optimizing spaces in practice (a key objective of urban planning). Planners should understand the complexities in peoples’ attitudes and behaviors and be aware that individuals do not always relate to a space in the same way, or in the way a planner might intend (Churchman 2002). While working toward the common goal of gathering information about how people experience and respond to urban settings, environmental psychologists might ask residents about how they perceive their neighborhood, while urban planners may set up forums for public input en masse. Indeed, the most effective civic policies are those that address the emotions, attitudes, and perceptions held by individuals (Nanzer 2004). The results and methods in the present case study offer a guide for researchers and planners alike to undertake participatory planning in an interdisciplinary format with respect to PRVs— a newer context within the bodies of literature.

Generally, the PRVs set up in West Oakland were understood by attendees to be a positive community-building events. Attendees of five successive events indicated strong place attachment toward the area, as well as a strong agreement that PRVs enhance relationships in the community, offer a sense of safety, assist local entrepreneurs, and increase access to social services. Participants also strongly agreed that a regularly set-up PRV would benefit West Oakland. Interestingly, participants attending the first mini-PRV event reported having relatively weak place identity toward West Oakland. In fact, responses concerning place identity were significantly lower than responses about place attachment. Although this result was not found for those attending the second mini-PRV, or the formal launch event, it was found in both pre-launch events. This result highlights that people develop and maintain place identity differently than the more emotional dimension of place attachment. Such a difference may influence individuals to choose to attend a PRV, given that those responding to the community baseline questionnaire reported significantly higher place identity than place attachment—perhaps those who experience less place identity in their community tend to seek out a PRV because of the potential for social vibrancy, and for opportunities to identify more with people, place, and space. Indeed, a PRV may serve to increase residents’ place identity over time if it is designed to enhance the community with vibrancy, access to culture, and a sense of togetherness, as alluded to by the themes emerging from participants’ words about the PRV events they attended.

Pre-launch questionnaires included items about individuals’ intentions to spend money at the PRV. For both pre-launch events, as well as at the launch, a high percentage of participants reported intentions to make purchases at the PRV and, when the dollar amount was averaged across the three events, participants thought that they may spend around $25.38. This amount can serve to alert vendors interested in taking part in PRV models about what to expect from attendees’ estimated spending and, thus, how to more accurately market and price their goods and services. PRV attendees also noted that they spent time with, and talked to, community members who they knew (and, also, did not know) and that they were interested in what the vendors at the PRV were selling. However, the item measuring participants’ levels of interest in what social services were available was the lowest (or second lowest) mean score for all questionnaires that included this item. This result may help those looking to create PRVs in the future to reconsider the amount of interest or trust participants may feel toward receiving social services at a public event.

Behaviour-based items included in the pre-launch and launch questionnaires revealed that participants felt safe while at the PRV. While we do not know whether this assessment differs from how community members would have ordinarily felt about the area, other research has shown that the presence of others in a public place can decrease fear of crime (Jorgensen et al. 2012; Maruthaveeran and van den Bosch 2014; Nasar and Jones 1997). Foster et al. (2015) note that the benefit of others present in a public space may depend on whether those others are understood as legitimate users of the space. Thus, the dedicated and accessible nature of a PRV may communicate that people are ‘supposed to be’ where they are and, therefore, bolster perceptions of safety. As per Foster et al. (2010) and Hillier (2004), any ‘strangers’ who were drawn to a public event may have been interpreted by other attendees as a source of safety or comfort rather than danger. This may, in part, explain why PRV attendees agreed strongly that they felt safe at the PRV (compared to the lower average score from those who responded to the community baseline questionnaire’s perceived safety scale about the neighborhood of West Oakland). PRV users’ stronger perceptions of safety may also be, in part, because of the relatively high levels of place attachment reported by participants toward the area. Brown et al. (2003) found that those with strong place attachment tend to perceive fewer incivilities in the area to which they have attached. Perhaps this interplay between place attachment and perception of safety can aid in the success of future PRV events, especially if they are placed in areas where crime is (or has been) an objective or subjective issue.

It is worth nothing that despite community members’ relatively neutral perceptions of safety in West Oakland, scores on the perceived safety scale significantly correlated with those on the SOP scale. This indicates a positive linear association between the psychological construct of SOP and perceptions of safety that supports and augments a growing interdisciplinary body of literature. Participants also reported that they planned to attend future PRVs: this supports the general notion that the PRV, in all of its iterative forms in the community of West Oakland over a period of 5 months, offered something of value as perceived by users and community members alike who wished to return.

With respect to qualitative data afforded by the open-ended item concerning specific ways in which the neighborhood of West Oakland may benefit from a PRV, participants at both mini-PRVs offered words and phrases highlighting the importance of community-building and togetherness, as well as health. The theme of community was repeated in responses to this item from attendees at both pre-launch PRVs, and the launch, with an additional focus on the importance of supporting local businesses and affording access to a space to feel healthy and safe. With the addition of an open-ended item asking participants to describe what a PRV is in both the pre-launch and launch questionnaires, the primary theme of community togetherness came forward. Other common themes, such as culture and education, are also present in the perceptions of PRV users as they defined the environment in relation to those who use it.

These results suggest that PRV attendees understood the events as a new hub for social interaction and an accessible avenue to support a local economy. Thus, the design of the PRV successfully communicated the purpose of the initiative to those who took part in a questionnaire. These findings resonate with a point made by van Schaik (2015) that pop-up villages can serve as “facilitators of the inherent knowledge of people” (pp. 11). One of the main goals of the PRV project was to introduce community members to new people, locally-made and curated goods and services, and activities that raise awareness about what those living and working in West Oakland are doing to activate their community. Given this case study’s results from both quantitative and qualitative methodologies, a successful PRV creates or sustains social connection within a community’s established culture while supporting local entrepreneurs and artists, engendering a sense of safety, and affording opportunities for education.

Limitations

Community-based research is optimized when a project, and a project’s team, are flexible and adaptable to changing situations in the field, to decisions made by partnering organizations and vendors, and to participants’ interest levels in taking part in paper and pencil questionnaires in situ. In future iterations of this research, online questionnaires may be created and offered to participants, by DJ + DS staff, to complete at PRVs on a tablet. However, while this electronic method of data collection may improve usability and response rates, unless a number of tablets are available for use, it may ultimately reduce the number of people who can fill out a questionnaire at the event simultaneously (i.e., attendees may not wish to wait for someone else to finish taking a survey on a tablet to complete one themselves).

An electronic data collection method may also introduce a barrier to participation for individuals who have difficulties using a hand-held tablet or phone (e.g., challenges seeing words clearly on a screen or exercising hand-eye coordination to enter and submit data). Another option for future research is to offer attendees a piece of paper with instructions and a website address that would allow attendees to complete a questionnaire online, at their convenience. However, such a procedure may also include barriers concerning accessibility because every attendee may not have convenient access to the internet. This method would also introduce differences between participants because some would complete a questionnaire about the PRV in situ, while others would not. Being ‘in place’ when answering psychosocial items about one’s perceptions of a physical environment is important for exploring psychological appraisals of place-making. Thus, while the ways in which the authors collected data in the present study included limitations, they also had the advantage of affording a fast, relatively simple way of attaining data about a place and how it relates to users, and to the community.

This case study is also limited by a lack of data about community members’ attitudes and behaviors from before the PRV events were implemented. Changes to the planned location of the PRV made by DJ + DS late in the development process did not afford the authors an opportunity to gather data from potential PRV attendees in the area of West Oakland where the PRV would eventually be situated. This lack of pre-design data introduces constraints in how our results can be interpreted because no ‘before-and-after’ comparisons can be made. However, the community sample’s average SOP was quite neutral, and PA was often higher for PRV attendees. Thus, a sampling bias likely did not occur (as it may have if only individuals who had strong PA toward the community to begin with attended a PRV and completed a survey in a strong positive way). PRV attendees also had lower PI scores compared to the community sample. In addition, the baseline community survey was done, in part, to gather data from those in community at large who were not reporting on their perceptions about West Oakland while at a PRV event. Future research on the PRV initiative can use this study’s community baseline data, as well as data from PRV attendees, to compare perceptions of the PRV within the area, as it grows and changes over time. We hope that researchers working with similar constraints can use our approach (and its limitations) can use this case study as example and a source of lessons learned.

This research utilizes very small sample sizes in some analyses. Indeed, this prevented some comparisons from occurring during analyses (e.g., exploring whether those who had attended a previous PRV answered more or less favorably on items than someone who was a first-time attendee). Questionnaire completion was not mandatory for PRV attendees; although a dedicated individual working with DJ + DS helped to alert attendees of an opportunity to take part in a questionnaire about the PRV, it was not appropriate that this individual strongly encourage participation from passersby or individuals attending for leisure (i.e., Article 3.1 of the TCPS-2 notes that survey methodologies involving human participants ought not be coercive or undermine the voluntariness of a participant’s consent) (Government of Canada 2018). The fact that not all attendees who chose to complete a questionnaire reported favourable impressions of the PRV suggests that questionnaires were handed out in a way that did not bias for only (or overly) positive responses. Moreover, no incentives for participation were used (e.g., gift cards, vouchers) in order to avoid placing pressure on attendees to take part or, perhaps, bias their responses to be more positive than they might have been otherwise. Although the TCPS2 does not encourage (or discourage) incentivising potential participants, the onus is on the researcher to consider the possibility of undue influence involving financial (or other) incentives and must be “sensitive to issues such as the economic circumstances of those in the pool of prospective participants, the age and decision-making capacity of participants, the customs and practices of the community, and the magnitude and probability of harms” (Chap. 4, Section B of the TCPS2) (Government of Canada 2018).

Future Research and Conclusions

The development of this PRV initiative in West Oakland affords rich and helpful information for community psychologists, local businesses, and NPOs considering bottom-up approaches to fostering SOP and wellbeing at the neighborhood level. This case study used a mixed methods approach to explore how PRV attendees, and members of the community, felt about the PRV, their perceptions of safety, and their SOP in West Oakland. Although this study is only a portion of a broader program evaluation of the PRV framework, community members’ psychological perceptions and attitudes toward their neighborhood, and the new PRV within it, are worth reporting as one way to understand the model’s success. Moreover, this case study’s description of the social scientific methods used to gather data (and interpret it in a context with a variety of limitations) may serve as a guide for others who wish measure community members’ attitudes and perceptions about a number of psychological attributes concerning PRVs over time, as this form of temporary gathering becomes more popular.

Generally, the PRV was understood by study participants to be a benefit to the area. Those who visited the stages of the PRV reported place attachment to the community (but felt often less place identity). Participants felt safe at the events and intended to spend money to support local entrepreneurs. A number of positive words and phrases were used to describe the PRVs by attendees — many concerned the successful merger of culture, health and wellness, education, and support of local business. Indeed, the overlap between these themes and the aim of the PRV put forward by DJ + DS suggest that community members are conceptualizing the PRV in the ways in which its designers had intended, and that the physical and cultural design of the events communicated the aims of the PRV initiative.

As the project grows, SOP and perceptions of safety in PRV attendees and community members will continue to be measured in order to compare data presented in this case study over time and, undoubtedly, learn from changes that the PRV may make to West Oakland, its residents, and how individuals conceptualize and use this place. As time passes, a deeper investigation into what the theme of community building will come to mean will occur. Similar to the ways in which civic engagement projects can afford an increase in SOP for local residents (e.g., Semenza and March 2009), we expect that SOP and perceptions of safety will increase for community members as the PRV occurs more frequently in West Oakland.

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Author Note

The pop-up resource village was designed and implemented by Designing

Justice+Designing Spaces.

This research began when the lead author was an Assistant Professor at the University of

Washington Tacoma. She relocated to a Canadian institution during the research and was paid as

an independent contractor.

Special thanks to Dr. Barb Toews at the University of Washington Tacoma for her

leadership and assistance.

Funding

This research was partially funded by the James Irvine Foundation. The results of this manuscript have been given to the funder for reporting.

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Correspondence to Lindsay J. McCunn.

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McCunn, L.J., Vickerie-Dearman, L.S. & Gagnon, T. Evaluating a Pop-Up Resource Village in West Oakland: Making Connections with Sense of Place and Perceptions of Safety. Int. Journal of Com. WB (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42413-019-00048-4

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Keywords

  • Pop-up village
  • Community-building
  • Place-making
  • Neighborhood safety