Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Helpful Neighborhoods Tend to Stay Helpful

My topic on WKYB this morning.

Neighborhoods differ in how helpful they are.

Robert Sampson studies "enduring neighborhood effects," to take the subtitle of his fine Great American Cities. He did surveys of Chicago neighborhoods, and found that they differ in how trusting or cynical they are.  However, what people say is not always what they do.  So he compared this attitude data with some ingenious studies of behavior in different neighborhoods.

People have heart attacks all over Chicago.  Sampson looked at how likely bystanders were to offer CPR in different neighborhoods.  This gives a map of helpful behavior.

Then, years later, he did a letter-drop study.  He dropped addressed, stamped letters all over the city, then counted how many from each neighborhood were picked up by a stranger and put in the mail.  This also gives a map of helpful behavior.

The two maps are highly correlated.  Helpful neighborhoods tend to stay helpful; unhelpful neighborhoods likewise have an enduring effect.

Sampson then compared these behavioral maps with the survey data. Here, again, there was a strong correlation.  People in helpful neighborhoods said they were trusting, thought local government was legitimate, and were more likely to create civic organizations to do good.

Other research has shown that helpful attitudes and behavior are contagious.  So if you want your neighborhood to be one of the helpful ones, start a viral trend of visible helpfulness.

1 comment:

Mac said...

It takes someone to seed the neighborhood with the idea of being helpful.

The most helpful "neighborhoods" in which I have lived were aboard Marine Corps and Navy Bases--communities well-acquainted with the stresses of moving. On moving day, neighborhood spouses and kids--people you had never met--would automatically be "johnny-on-the-spot" with coffee, offers of tools, offers to watch young children, and, in the dark ages of the 70s and 80s, offers of use of telephones.

In my first moves in the civilian community, people hid in their homes, peering out from curtained windows at the strangers who were invading their neighborhood. When I automatically walked over to people moving in with offers of the same kind of help I was used to, I was usually met with suspicion--a "what's in it for you" vibe. However, when yet another family moved in, sometimes a person who had rejected offers of help would show up with me.