Brief #4 - Whose Space? Whose Rules? Social Challenges in Mixed-Income Developments

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Mixed-income developments are being built in Chicago and across the country as a strategy to help address poverty and rebuild communities in the inner city. These efforts seek to attract higher-income residents to the sites of former public housing developments and integrate low-income residents back into them in contexts of greater safety, stability, opportunity, and order. Such efforts are not without challenges, however. Based on fieldwork conducted between 2007 and 2009, this brief focuses in particular on the challenges raised in negotiating the uses and expectations of space in three mixed-income developments that are part of Chicago’s Plan for Transformation: Oakwood Shores, Park Boulevard, and Westhaven Park. We explore residents’ perspectives on crime, safety, and disorder in the three developments, the kinds of behavioral expectations and cultural assumptions that lie behind these perspectives, and the ways in which formal rules, enforcement, and perceptions of fairness impact dynamics around these issues.

We find that residents’ main concerns are less about safety per se than they are about “disorderly” behavior in the developments. Residents differ in their definitions of acceptable behavior, and perceptions of acceptable behavior differ particularly between higher-income residents and low-income renters. Some rules that strictly limit behavior and the use of space contribute to this conflict. We suggest that, moving forward, development teams and others involved in the planning and ongoing operation of mixed-income developments reconsider development design and the allocation of public space, increase opportunities for residents of all income levels to be involved in decision making, put more effort towards creating mixed-use spaces in the community that are accessible to everyone, and promote the developments as diverse, urban spaces.

Read the brief here (PDF)

This brief is based on a longer paper, “Positive Gentrification, Social Control, and the “Right to the City” in Mixed-Income Communities: Uses and Expectations of Space and Place (Chaskin and Joseph, 2012, Journal of Urban and Regional Research, doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2427.2012.01158.x).