Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Rick Grannis' "From the Ground Up"

Rick Grannis is assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, From the Ground Up: Translating Geography into Community through Neighbor Networks, and reported the following:
On the one hand, page 99 is only a small part of an argument involving multi-staged neighboring relations, network influence theory, and the special role of children, an argument that accounts for where neighborhood communities come from, why certain effects (e.g. segregation, social capital, collective efficacy, etc.) bundle together in some neighborhoods and not in others, and why neighborhood communities often outlive the residents who comprise them.

On the other hand, page 99 is quite appropriately a neighborhood map. It’s not a map of a real-estate neighborhood or a school catchment or a census tract, however, but rather a map of how one resident understood her neighborhood. One of the activities conducted during the many data collections reported in this book asked people to draw maps of their neighborhoods and to locate neighbors they knew on these maps. This respondent’s map shows that, like thousands of others interviewed for this book, a small set of interconnected face blocks and intersections delimited how she cognitively understood her neighborhood.

In this way, page 99 nicely illustrates (literally) one of the central messages of the book: that residents’ understanding of their neighborhood communities are experientially based, constantly developing as they interact with and observe each other on the streets and walkways surrounding their residence.

These walking arenas guide the evolution of neighbor networks, formed by the passive transmission of norms and values, and thus constrain the neighborhood communities which emerge as a bi-product. Furthermore, walking arenas form substrates for neighborhood community networks, substrates which remain relatively stable even as the residents comprising them are constantly in flux.

Neighboring’s passive nature gives walking arenas this power. Residents didn’t typically go searching for specific others to become neighbors. They accepted whomever they met while living out their life along the streets in their neighborhood; or they didn’t. Either way, few went looking for neighbors. The only active choice most residents made about whom to interact with as neighbors involved choosing where to live in the first place.

In the end, perhaps the book’s most intriguing argument is that, in our age of cell phones, blogs, and twitter, when we can choose to become part of any electronic community we desire, some of the most important communities in our lives are relatively non-volitional. They are formed for us by the subtle geography of neighborhood streets.
Read an excerpt from From the Ground Up, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue