Inactive by design? Neighborhood design and political participation

Hopkins, D. J., & Williamson, T.

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Hopkins, D., & Williamson, T. (2012). Inactive by design? Neighborhood design and political participation. Political Behavior, 34(1), 79–101.

Neighborhood Effects , Political Participation , Social Capital , Suburban Sprawl , Urban Design

Critics have long denounced the design of suburban communities for fostering political apathy. We disaggregate the concept of suburban design into four distinct attributes of neighborhoods. We then use tract-level Census data, the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, and multilevel models to measure the relationship between these design features and political participation. Certain design aspects common in suburban neighborhoods are powerful predictors of reduced political activity, illustrating a potential link between neighborhood design and politics. Yet low-density environments appear to facilitate some types of participation. Suburban designs vary, and so do their likely impacts on political participation.

Main finding
The authors' analysis finds that driving alone to work is a negative predictor of voting and attendance at a rally, a political meeting, or a public meeting. The median year of neighborhoods correlates negatively with attendance at rallies and public meetings, but not voting. However, population density had a negative effect on public meeting attendance, political group membership, and voter registration. The authors suggest that increased social norms in newer, more suburban communities restricts conflictual forms of political participation, but that perceived political efficacy is not negatively affected. Aggregate commuting time was a weak predictor of political participation.

Description of method used in the article
The authors use census tract level data on neighborhood density and age, percentage of commuters traveling alone, and commuting times as proxies for suburban design. They then use multi-level logistic regression to test the relation of these design proxies to political participation obtained from the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey. Data was analyzed in 42 communities across the United States.

Of some practical use if combined with other research

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