Living on the Edge: Neighborhood Boundaries and the Spatial Dynamics of Violent Crime

Abstract

Neighborhood boundaries are a defining aspect of highly segregated urban areas. Yet, few studies examine the particular challenges and spatial processes that occur at the bordering region between two neighborhoods. Extending the growing literature on spatial interdependence, this article argues that neighborhood boundaries—defined as sharp changes in the racial or socioeconomic composition of neighborhoods—are a salient feature of the spatial structure with implications for violent crime and other outcomes. Boundaries lack the social control and cohesion of adjacent homogeneous areas, are contested between groups provoking intergroup conflict, and create opportunities for criminal behavior. This article presents evidence linking racial neighborhood boundaries to increased violent crime. The findings illustrate the importance of neighborhood boundaries for our understanding of spatial dimensions of population dynamics above and beyond the characteristics of neighborhoods.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Related research has attempted to overcome the limitations of predefined, mutually exclusive spatial units with nonoverlapping boundaries and instead has used alternative definitions of neighborhoods (Hipp et al. 2012; Sampson et al. 1997; Spielman and Logan 2013).

  2. 2.

    Also note Pattillo’s later work (2013), in which she argued that members of the black middle class often reside at the boundary between white middle-class communities and poor black neighborhoods. This location influences the opportunities and disadvantages of the black middle class in important ways (see also Sharkey 2014).

  3. 3.

    The correlation between boundary values based on Wombling and edge intensity as an alternative boundary detection method used by Legewie and Schaeffer (2016) ranges from 0.71 for proportion Hispanic to 0.74 for proportion African American.

  4. 4.

    The definition of the index is \( HH1=1-{\sum}_{i=1}^I{s}_i^2 \), where s is the population share of group i, and I is the number of groups in a given census block.

  5. 5.

    Major roads are based on the 2010 TIGER/Line Files (U.S. Census Bureau 2012) and are defined as either divided, limited-access highways or main arteries that are part of the U.S. highway, state highway, or county highway system (primary or secondary roads).

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Acknowledgments

I thank Dave Brady, Rory Kramer, Merlin Schaeffer, and Patrick Sharkey for helpful comments and discussions. An example analysis with software to implement different boundary detection methods is available at https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/jc78a (Legewie 2018). Replication materials for all results in this article are available online at https://osf.io/hfjgw/.

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Correspondence to Joscha Legewie.

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Legewie, J. Living on the Edge: Neighborhood Boundaries and the Spatial Dynamics of Violent Crime. Demography 55, 1957–1977 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-018-0708-1

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Keywords

  • Neighborhoods
  • Neighborhood boundaries
  • Crime
  • Segregation
  • Spatial inequality