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New Book Tackles the Power of Neighborhood Legacies

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Lest you find the body of writing on Chicago growing stale, there's a new 552-page book sprucing things up from Harvard and one-time University of Chicago sociology professor Robert Sampson entitled Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect. The book is the presentation of an exhaustive 15-year study on the push and pull of transition and legacy at the neighborhood level. As the Harvard Gazette states in their review, Chicago was chosen over several candidate cities for its relatively even split of whites, blacks, and Latinos and the ease of access to local statistics. Prof. Sampson's study kicked off with interviews of citizens and leaders, and meticulous surveillance of public spaces. A taste of his process, as told to The Gazette: "We mounted cameras in the backseat of SUVs and filmed each side of the street, driving very slowly. We had people in the vehicle observing what was going on, and recording sound and information. These films were used to code detailed aspects of the physical and social structure of these neighborhoods."

At the end of his book, Sampson revisits the target neighborhoods to record changes. Although our neighborhoods are always changing, legacies of crime, violence, and decay have a tendency to stick harder to parts of the South and West Sides. Fact of the matter is, not a single predominately black neighborhood transitioned to white over the study period, and all ten of the worst-off neighborhoods economically were majority-black.

The crack epidemic is long gone, and violent crime has been steadily declining for years. But in the most segregated big city in the land, how do we go about freeing the citizenry of negative neighborhood associations? By recognizing new realities and interpreting neighborhood patterns, we reckon, the same ones that play out all in our cities. As our brethren at Curbed Boston report, Sampson is well on his way to utilizing his research—with the help of Boston's intelligentsia—to benefit that town.
·Chicago as urban microcosm [Harvard Gazette]
·Chicago: What Boston can Learn From It (seriously) [Curbed Boston]
·Book Review [Gapers Block]