Robert Orsi, Emily Badger, and “Why the Lowest Income Families Might Care the Most About Their Neighborhoods”

I’ve been a fan of Emily Badger’s work at Atlantic Cities for a while.  She finds really interesting things to write about.

Today’s piece struck me in particular because these findings mimic exactly what Robert Orsi reported 30 years ago in his seminal survey of the Italian American urban experience in historic East Harlem (1880 – 1950), The Madonna of 115th Street.  I happen to be reading that book right now, so Badger’s headline, “Why the Lowest Income Families Might Care the Most About Their Neighborhoods,”  hits me in a very timely way.  I read Orsi’s discussion of that very phenomenon last night.

Badger writes:

In less academic language, they wanted to know if these people took pride in their neighborhoods, felt a sense of community there, and were willing to look out for their neighbors – and, if so, whether those attitudes were associated with income level, crime rates or neighborhood perception. The researchers surveyed each subject with a mailed questionnaire or telephone interview, and they compared the results with local crime data.

Income levels turned out to be strongest predictor of “community care” and vigilance, but not in the way that the authors suspected. All of these people lived in low-income neighborhoods, but they weren’t all equally poor. The residents with the lowest incomes turned out to care the most about their communities (based on agreement with statements like “if I witnessed a crime in my
neighborhood, I would report it”).

More here.

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