About Communities in Context

Communities in Context is an effort to illustrate and draw attention to how our cities and communities are organized, how resources are divided across communities and how those spaces matter.


 The neighborhoods and places we live shape our identity. Americans have been organizing themselves according to these constructed identities for generations and continue to reinforce the pattern when they choose to move or stay. Our neighborhoods, the specific, immediate communities where we live, provide the most opportunities for us to interact with other people. These relationships deepen our understanding of the world and come to define us both as individuals and as a member of a group. When our neighborhoods represent divisions that exist across our society, we as members of those neighborhoods come to embody those divisions -- be they racial, economic, ethnic, cultural, political or religious -- in ourselves. For instance, neighborhoods and places, urban and suburban, north and south, have maintained stark racial identities despite the conviction that America has progressed beyond race. How can we expect ourselves to overcome decades-old divisions when we maintain those divisions through the places we choose to live? How can we expect ourselves to appreciate people as anything more than a stereotype when we only live among and interact with people who think or look like us?


Our neighborhoods and communities provide the context and structure around our lives as they unfold. These spaces can expose us to opportunities and challenges. Some spaces hold certain advantages such as access to good schools, proximity to jobs, status or neighborhood identity, access to fresh and nutritious foods, safe drinking water and clean air. Spaces with advantages augment and stabilize the lives of residents. Conversely, some spaces hold certain disadvantages such as exposure to violence, a dearth of jobs or social stigma; disadvantages which disrupt and destabilize the lives of residents. While many communities have some mix of advantages and disadvantages, the reality is that advantages or disadvantages are often concentrated with each other, creating communities of advantages and communities of challenges. A child growing up in a community with concentrated advantage will grow up healthier physically, psychologically and socially compared to a child growing up in a community with concentrated disadvantage. It is an injustice if, by virtue of geography alone, one child's physical well being and life chances are significantly restricted. Yet, when these maps of concentrated advantage and disadvantage resemble the divisions among communities, it is an even more disturbing injustice.