Skip to main content

Fertile Ground for Community: Inner-City Neighborhood Common Spaces

Abstract

Research suggests that the formation of neighborhood social ties (NSTs) may substantially depend on the informal social contact which occurs in neighborhood common spaces, and that in inner-city neighborhoods where common spaces are often barren no-man's lands, the presence of trees and grass supports common space use and informal social contact among neighbors. We found that for 145 urban public housing residents randomly assigned to 18 architecturally identical buildings, levels of vegetation in common spaces predict both use of common spaces and NSTs; further, use of common spaces mediated the relationship between vegetation and NSTS. In addition, vegetation and NSTs were significantly related to residents' senses of safety and adjustment. These findings suggest that the use and characteristics of common spaces may play a vital role in the natural growth of community, and that improving common spaces may be an especially productive focus for community organizing efforts in inner-city neighborhoods.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

REFERENCES

  • Adams, R. E. (1992). Is happiness a home in the suburbs? The influence of urban versus suburban neighborhoods on psychological health. Journal of Community Psychology, 20, 353–372.

    Google Scholar 

  • Altman, I. (1975). The environment and social behavior: Privacy, personal space, territory, crowding. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

    Google Scholar 

  • Baron, R. M., & Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1173–1182.

    Google Scholar 

  • Baum, A., & Valins, S. (1979). Architectural mediation of residential density and control: Crowding and the regulation of social contact. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 12, pp. 131–175). New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Baum, A., Davis, G. E., & Aiello J. R. (1978). Crowding and neighborhood Mediation of urban density. Journal of Population, 1, 266–279.

    Google Scholar 

  • Belle, D. E. (1982). The impact of poverty on social networks and supports. Marriage and Family Review, 5(4), 89–103.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brown, B. B., & Werner, C. M. (1985). Social cohesiveness, territoriality and holiday decorations: The influence of cul-de-sacs. Environment and Behavior, 17, 539–565.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brunson, L., Kuo, F.E., & Sullivan, W.C. (in preparation). Benefits of residents' involvement in greening: Experience from the inner city.

  • Buckner, J. C. (1988). The development of an instrument to measure neighborhood cohesion. American Journal of Community Psychology, 16, 771–791.

    Google Scholar 

  • Calthorpe, P. (1991). Towns for all seasons. Architectural Record, 179, 44–45.

    Google Scholar 

  • Campbell, D. E. & Campbell, T. A. (1988). A new look at informal communication: The role of the physical environment. Environment and Behavior, 20, 211–226.

    Google Scholar 

  • Campbell, K. E., & Lee, B. A. (1992). Sources of personal neighbor networks: Social integration, need, or time? Social Forces, 70, 1077–1100.

    Google Scholar 

  • Casey, C. H. (1995). Characteristics of HUD-assisted renters and their units in 1993. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chavis, D. M., & Wandersman, A. (1990). Sense of community in the urban environment: A catalyst for participation and community development. American Journal of Community Psychology, 18, 55–81.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chicago Housing Authority. (1995). Statistical profile: The Chicago Housing Authority 1994 to 1995. Chicago, IL: Author.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cimprich, B. (1992). Attentional fatigue following breast cancer surgery. Research in Nursing and Health, 15, 199–207.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cohen, J., & Cohen, P. (1983). Applied multiple regression/correlational analysis for the behavioral sciences. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cohen, S., & Lezak, A. (1977). Noise and inattentiveness to social cues. Environment and Behavior, 9, 559–572.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cohen, S., & Spacapan, S. (1978). The aftereffects of stress: An attentional interpretation. Environmental Psychology and Nonverbal Behavior, 3, 43–57.

    Google Scholar 

  • Coley, R. L., Kuo, F. E., & Sullivan, W. C. (1997). Where does community grow? The social context created by nature in urban public housing. Environment and Behavior, 29, 468–492.

    Google Scholar 

  • Conklin, J. E. (1971). Dimensions of community response to the crime problem. Social Problems, 18, 373–385.

    Google Scholar 

  • Coulton, C. J., Korbin, J. E., & Su, M. (1996). Measuring neighborhood context for young children in an urban area. American Journal of Community Psychology, 24(1), 5–32.

    Google Scholar 

  • DePooter, S. (1997). Nature and neighbors: Green spaces and social interactions in the inner city. Unpublished master thesis, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ebbesen, E. B., Kjos, G. L., & Konecni, V. J. (1976). Spatial ecology: Its effects on the choice of friends and enemies. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 12, 505–518.

    Google Scholar 

  • Festinger, L., Schachter, S., & Back, K. (1950). Social pressures informal groups. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fleming, R., Baum, A., & Singer, J. E. (1985). Social support and the physical environment. In S. Cohen & S. L. Syme (Eds.), Social support and health. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • French, J. R. P., Jr., Rodgers, W., & Cobb, S. (1974). Adjustment as person-environment fit. In G. V. Coelho (Ed.), Coping and adaptation. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gerson, D., Stueve, C. A., & Fischer, C. S. (1977). Attachment to place. In C. S. Fischer, R. M. Jackson, C. A. Stueve, K. Gerson, L. M. Jones, & M. Baldassare (Eds.), Networks and places: Social relations in the urban setting (pp. 139–161). New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Glynn, T. (1986). Neighborhoods and sense of community. Journal of Community Psychology, 14, 341–352.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gobster, P. H., & Delgado, A. (1993). Ethnicity and recreation use in Chicago's Lincoln Park: In-park user survey findings, (General Technical Report GTR-NE-185). USDA Forest Service Northeastern Forest Experiment Station.

  • Greenbaum, S. D. (1982). Bridging ties at the neighborhood level. Social Networks, 4, 367–384.

    Google Scholar 

  • Greenberg, S. W., Rohe, W. M., & Williams, J. R. (1982). Safe and secure neighborhoods. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hartig, T., Mang, M., & Evans, G. W. (1991). Restorative Effects of Natural Environment Experiences. Environment and Behavior, 23, 3–26.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hester, R. T., Jr. (1984). Planning neighborhood space with people. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hull, R. B., & Michael, S. E. (1995). Nature-based recreation, mood change, and stress restoration. Leisure Sciences, 17, 1–14.

    Google Scholar 

  • Isen, A. M., & Shalker, T. E. (1982). The effect of feeling state on evaluation of positive, neutral, and negative stimuli: When you “accentuate the positive,” do you “eliminate the negative?” Social Psychology Quarterly, 45 (1), 58–63.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ittelson, W. H., Proshansky, H. M., & Rivlin, L. G. (1970). Bedroom size and social interaction of the psychiatric ward. Environment and Behavior, 2, 255–270.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kaplan, R., & Kaplan, S. (1989). The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. Cambridge, U.K: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kaplan, S. (1987). Mental fatigue and the designed environment. In J. Harvey & D. Henning (Eds.), Public environments. Washington, DC: EDRA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Keane, C. (1991). Socioenvironmental determinants of community formation. Environment and Behavior, 23, 27–46.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kuo, F. E., Bacaicoa, M., & Sullivan, W. C. (1998). Transforming inner-city landscapes: Trees, sense of safety, and preference. Environment and Behavior, 30, 28–59.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lee, B. A., Campbell, K. E., & Miller, O. (1991). Racial differences in urban neighboring. Sociological Forum, 6, 525–550.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lezak, M. D. (1983). The problem of assessing executive functions. International Journal of Psychology, 17(2-3), 281–297.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mathews, K. E., & Canon, L. K. (1975). Environmental noise level as a determinant of helping behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32, 571–577.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mayo, J. M. (1979). Effects of street forms on suburban neighboring behavior. Environment and Behavior, 11, 375–397.

    Google Scholar 

  • McCarthy, D., & Saegert, S. (1978). Residential density, social overload, and social withdrawal. Human Ecology, 6, 253–272.

    Google Scholar 

  • McMillan, D. W., & Chavis, D. M. (1986). Sense of community: A definition and theory. Journal of Community Psychology, 14, 6–23.

    Google Scholar 

  • McNair, D., Lorr, M., & Droppleman, L. F. (1981). EITS Manual for the Profile of Mood States. San Diego, CA: Educational and Industrial Testing Service.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mesulam, M. M. (Ed.). (1985). Principles of behavioral neurology. Philadelphia, PA: F. A. Davis.

    Google Scholar 

  • Newman, O. (1972). Defensible space: Crime prevention through urban design. New York: MacMillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Newman, O., & Franck, K. A. (1980). Factors influencing crime and instability in urban housing developments. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.

    Google Scholar 

  • O'Brian, R. M. (1990). Estimating the reliability of aggregate-level variables based on individual-level characteristics. Sociological Methods & Research, 18(4), 473–503.

    Google Scholar 

  • Perkins, D. D., Brown, B. B., & Taylor R. B. (1996). The ecology of empowerment: Predicting participation in community organizations. Journal of Social Issues, 52, 85–110.

    Google Scholar 

  • Perkins, D. D., Florin, P., Rich, R., Wandersman, A., & Chavis, D. M. (1990). Participation and the social and physical environment of residential blocks: Crime and community context. American Journal of Community Psychology, 18, 83–115.

    Google Scholar 

  • Plas, J. M., & Lewis, S. E. (1996). Environmental factors and sense of community in a planned town. American Journal of Community Psychology, 24, 109–143.

    Google Scholar 

  • Riger, S., & Lavrakas, P. J. (1981). Community ties: Patterns of attachment and social interaction in urban neighborhoods. American Journal of Community Psychology, 9, 55–66.

    Google Scholar 

  • Riger, S., LeBailly, R. K., & Gordon, M. T. (1981). Community ties and urbanites' fear of crime: An ecological investigation. American Journal of Community Psychology, 9, 653–665.

    Google Scholar 

  • Robinson, D., & Wilkinson, D. (1995). Sense of community in a remote mining town: Validating a neighborhood cohesion scale. American Journal of Community Psychology, 23, 137–148.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rohe, W. M., & Burby, R. J. (1988). Fear of crime in public housing. Environment and Behavior, 20, 700–720.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sarason, S. B. (1974). The psychological sense of community. Prospects for a community psychology. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    Google Scholar 

  • Shinn, M. (1996). Ecological assessment: Introduction to the special issue. American Journal of Community Psychology, 24, 1–3.

    Google Scholar 

  • Skjaeveland, O., Garling, T., & Maeland, J. G. (1996). A multidimensional measure of neighboring. American Journal of Community Psychology, 24, 413–435.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stack, C. B. (Ed.). (1974). All our kin: Strategies for survival in a Black community. New York: Harper & Row.

    Google Scholar 

  • Taylor, R. B., Gottfredson, S. D., & Brower, S. (1981). Territorial cognitions and social climate in urban neighborhoods. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 2, 289–303.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tennessen, C. M., & Cimprich, B. (1995). Views to nature: Effects on attention. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15, 77–85.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tognoli, J. (1987). Residential environments. In D. Stokols & I. Altman (Eds.), The handbook of environmental psychology (pp. 655–690). New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ulrich, R. S. (1981). Natural versus urban scenes: Some psychophysiological effects. Environment and Behavior, 13, 523–556.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ulrich, R. S., Simons, R. F., Losito, B. D., Fioriteo, E., Miles, M. A., & Zelson, M. (1991). Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 11, 201–230.

    Google Scholar 

  • Unger, D. G., & Wandersman, A. (1982). Neighboring in an urban environment. American Journal of Community Psychology, 10, 493–509.

    Google Scholar 

  • Unger, D. G., & Wandersman, A. (1985). The importance of neighbors: The social, cognitive, and affective components of neighboring. American Journal of Community Psychology, 13, 139–169.

    Google Scholar 

  • Warren, D. I. (1981). Helping networks. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wellman, B., & Leighton, B. (1979). Networks, neighbors, and community: Approaches to the study of the community question. Urban Affairs Quarterly, 14, 363–390.

    Google Scholar 

  • West, C. (1993). Race matters. Boston: Beacon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilson, G., & Baldassare, M. (1996). Overall “sense of community” in a suburban region: The effects of localism, privacy, and urbanization. Environment and Behavior, 28, 27–43.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilson, W. J. (1987). The truly disadvantaged: The inner city, the underclass, and public policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilson, W. J. (1996). When work disappears: The world of the new urban poor. New York: Alfred Knopf.

    Google Scholar 

  • Yancey, W. L. (1971). Architecture, interaction, and social control: The case of a large-scale public housing project. Environment and Behavior, 3, 3–21.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Frances E. Kuo.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Kuo, F.E., Sullivan, W.C., Coley, R.L. et al. Fertile Ground for Community: Inner-City Neighborhood Common Spaces. Am J Community Psychol 26, 823–851 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1022294028903

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1022294028903

  • neighborhood social ties
  • environmental variables
  • sense of community
  • neighboring