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Chicago: What Boston Can Learn From It (Seriously)

Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson has a new book out, Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect, which chronicles a 15-year study of the hog butcher for the world. It was an intense, invasive examination of Chicago's neighborhoods and people. Per the Harvard Gazette:

Sampson and his collaborators interviewed Chicago citizens and key leaders, from principals to politicians; they tracked the young from ages 3 to 18; they even studied pregnant women, following their infants and families over time.

They also observed public spaces. “We mounted cameras in the backseat of SUVs and filmed each side of the street, driving very slowly,” said Sampson, in what he dubs the early version of Google Street View. “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.”

Neighborhoods are where everything's at in a city like Chicago (and Boston). “Neighborhoods have legacies,” Sampson told the Gazette. “Crime and poverty are durable over long periods of time. From the 1960s onwards, cities went through amazing social change—riots, crime—to one of the largest decreases in violence from the late 1990s to the present. Yet communities are persistent in rank ordering. People are moving in and out of neighborhoods, but the perceptions of neighborhoods stay largely the same.”

Tell us about it. Enclaves like Southie and the North End still conjure up certain perceptions (a.k.a. stereotypes—see above), however much demographics and economics have shifted. Sampson, in fact, is part of a push by Harvard's Radcliffe Center to integrate its research with that of Boston's municipal agencies. There's a lot to learn, with the study of Chicago as a model. After all: “Boston, too, is a city of neighborhoods. All of the processes in this book are played out here in terms of spatial inequality, though there’s less segregation in Boston.”

· Chicago As Urban Microcosm [Gazette]
· Harvard Profs Trying to Get Fellow Eggheads to Study Boston [Curbed Boston]

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