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Cityscape Spotlights Residential Mobility

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January 23, 2013  

Cityscape Spotlights Residential Mobility

The latest issue of Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research features a symposium of articles about residential mobility and its impact on families and communities. Guest editor Cynthia Guy explains that the goal of the symposium is to present policy-relevant research and evidence-based discussions on residential mobility and its implications. The symposium features innovative analytical methods, rich but underused data resources, and discussions of technical challenges and advances in the study of residential mobility.

Patrick Sharkey includes data from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods in his examination of how residents’ “cognitive maps” and underlying population dynamics contribute to residential mobility patterns that lead to urban inequality. The author finds that residential mobility tends to reproduce, rather than disrupt, urban inequality — which is resilient because system-level processes also contribute to this inequality. Therefore, residential mobility does not, in itself, create lasting, significant changes in the racial composition of neighborhoods.


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Ingrid Gould Ellen, Keren Horn, and Katherine O’Regan use census tract data to study trends in the prevalence of racially integrated neighborhoods and to identify the pathways through which integration has evolved over the last 20 years. The researchers find an increase in both the share of previously non-diverse neighborhoods that became integrated and the portion of integrated neighborhoods that remained integrated.

Claudia Coulton, Brett Theodos, and Margery A. Turner use a panel survey from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Making Connections initiative to investigate mobility decisions and effects on neighborhoods in 10 cities, identifying residents as “movers,” “newcomers,” or “stayers” and analyzing reasons for their decisions. The analysis found that neighborhood change was largely attributable to differences between movers and newcomers, rather than changes for stayers, highlighting the need for policymakers to take mobility and residential demographics into account when constructing place-based interventions.

Kate Bachtell, Ned English, and Catherine Haggerty examined methodological challenges of defining, tracking, and explaining mobility at the household level. The study provides a nuanced method for analysis of residential mobility that encompasses both the moves of whole, intact families and internal household dynamics.

William A.V. Clark examines the relationship between the socioeconomic status of households and their residential mobility decisions using Census and Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey data. The author found that income, homeownership, and education influence both decisions to move and neighborhood choices. The study also showed that ethnicity and family composition can shape relocation outcomes.

Susan J. Popkin, Michael J. Rich, Leah Hendey, Chris Hayes, Joe Parilla, and George Galster employed complex modeling to study the relationship between crime and the relocation of large public housing resident populations in Atlanta and Chicago. They found that crime rates fell significantly in neighborhoods in which public housing was demolished. Destination neighborhoods of relocatees experienced shallow changes in crime rates, although the density of relocated households did affect their crime rates. Neighborhoods receiving modest or high densities of relocatees experienced some negative effects, although there were small net decreases citywide.

G. Thomas Kingsley, Audrey Jordan, and William Traynor analyze the incidence and patterns of moves made by low-income residents in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Making Connections initiative survey. An important finding was that most moves were short-term moves made by vulnerable families — the kind of mobility associated with negative education and health outcomes for young children. The authors identified strategies to combat such short-distance mobility for these families and suggested ways to link at-risk households with resources and opportunities.

Ade Kearns from the University of Glasgow notes the complexity and the challenge to understanding what constitutes mobility, the process of mobility, and its effects. The author suggests that future research agendas should extend to discovering effects not just on individuals, but also on neighborhoods, cities, and societies.

The issue also features short analytical works, including, “Reducing Worst Case Housing Needs With Assisted Housing,” by Kirk McClure; “Using Administrative Data for Spatial and Longitudinal Analysis of the Housing Choice Voucher Program,” by Eric Schultheis, Gregory Russ, and Carolina Lucey; “Concentrated Out-Migration,” by Ron Wilson; “The Impact of Limiting Sellers Concessions to Closing Costs,” by Alastair McFarlane; “Using Dual Kernel Density Estimation To Examine Changes in Voucher Density Over Time,” by Ron Wilson; and “Comparative Analysis of Best Practices of Sustainable Communities: Adelaide, Australia Case Study,” by Alven H. Lam and Brianne M. Mullen.

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