Violence. Children’s exposure to community violence in the United States, particularly among poor children living in urban settings, is strikingly high (Osofsky et al., 1993; Purugganan et al., 2000). The most extreme form of community violence, reflected in homicide rates, reached its peak in the early 1990s and has since been on a decline (Cole, 1999). Between 1985 and 1991, the homicide rate among youth ages 15–19 increased 154 percent, surpassing that of other age groups (Buka et al., 2001). Although the United States is experiencing a welcome decline in violence (Cole, 1999), homicide rates for youth remain among the highest compared with other age groups (http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/homicide/teens.htm). Moreover, investigators estimate that homicide rates reflect only a small fraction (1/100th) of the violence witnessed or experienced by today’s youth (Rosenberg and Mercy, 1986).
An emerging literature suggests that the long-term consequences of childhood exposure to community violence are similar to those noted for child victimization. Children’s exposure to violence has been linked to a number of adverse health consequences, including depression, withdrawal, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, fatigue due to sleep disturbance, poor school performance, participating in harmful events, having negative beliefs and attitudes toward others, and aggressiveness (Dyson, 1990; Pynoos et al., 1987; Kendall-Tackett, 2002; Buka et al., 2001; Zuckerman et al., 1995; Groves et al., 1993; Martinez and Richters, 1993). It is important to note, however, that this emerging literature lacks specificity, as it is currently not clear which types of exposure to violent events pose the greatest threat to children in terms of resulting in impaired social and emotional development and functioning.
Social Organization of Neighborhoods and Schools. Communities vary greatly in the degree to which people know each other, care about each other, and even share responsibility for each others’ children. These connections among people—social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them—are sometimes referred to as “social capital.” A higher level of social organization in a neighborhood is associated with better family and child outcomes (see National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 1995b, p. 13; Sampson et al., 2002). Neighborhoods in which parents frequently come into contact with one another and share values are more likely to monitor the behavior of and potential dangers to children (Sampson, 1992; Sampson and Groves, 1989; Sampson et al., 1997).
Social organization is affected by the degree of sprawl in a community; increased sprawl restricts the time and energy people have available for civic involvement and reduces the opportunities for spontaneous, informal social interactions. Sprawl also is associated with decreased use of public facilities, reducing opportunities to mingle with other people, segregating people, and disrupting continuity of community across the life span. There also is evidence that mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods contribute to social capital, as measured by know-