Cover Image

Not for Sale



View/Hide Left Panel
Click for next page ( 195


The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 194
CHAPTER 8. COMMUNITY COHESION OVERVIEW Community cohesion is the term that describes the social network and actions that provide satisfaction, security, camaraderie, support, and identity to members of a community or neighborhood. Of all the environmental justice issues related to implementation of transportation projects, this one may be the most difficult to address because it is hard to find a practical way of predicting the impact of projects on community cohesion. Though this issue may be viewed as primarily psychological, it is very much a part of the day-to-day experience and behavior of people. For many people, community cohesion is essential to the success of family life, contributes to feelings of satisfaction and fulfillment in community life, and provides a sense of security. Estimating changes in community cohesion relies heavily on the researcher's experience and common sense judgment, as well as on the quality of public discussion and involvement. An analysis of community cohesion is inherently inexact; and a flexible, give-and-take approach to public involvement in estimating these effects is necessary. Because transportation projects have impacts on community cohesion that "may be beneficial or adverse, and may include splitting neighborhoods, isolating a portion of a neighborhood or an ethnic group...or separating residents from community facilities..." (FHWA 1987, p. 17), it is important not to dismiss or overlook these impacts. Understanding impacts starts with defining the impact area, which is not always obvious. STATE OF THE PRACTICE Assessing the likely effects of a proposed transportation project on community cohesion is a blend of public discussion and careful analysis. This effort commonly involves five steps. Step 1 Define the impact area. Defining the impact area begins with an understanding of the approximate boundaries of the affected community or neighborhood. Though each community or neighborhood needs to be defined in the context of the perceptions and everyday realities of the people living there, the impact area will assume a distinctive physical space with boundaries. Determining the impact area requires developing an intimate relationship with the affected neighborhood, in particular with community leaders, in addition to tapping the knowledge of city staff and the general public, when appropriate. Although each impact area will have its own characteristics, four possible scenarios are anticipated: 1. The area is constrained by its geography. In such a case, the inhabited area is bounded by a wide area of undeveloped land or by a land use activity other than residential (such as industrial) or a very different kind of residential development. In such a case, the geographically defined area is the impact area. 199

OCR for page 194
2. There is a cluster of residences, businesses, and other social amenities that are predominantly owned, occupied, or used by low-income or minority populations. Though such a formation readily lends itself to defining the impact area, there may also be important facilities that foster a sense of community and contribute to community cohesion located outside the cluster-area. These facilities may include houses of worship, schools, and places of recreation and should be considered part of the community. 3. There are multiple clusters of low-income or minority residences and businesses located in a large geographic area that is well defined. In such a case, it is important to ascertain the level of cohesion that exists between clusters. It is reasonable to assume that the clusters nearest to each other are most connected and those farthest apart are less connected, but such may not always be the case. 4. The low-income or minority households are dispersed in a broad geographic area among households of a higher income level or some other larger ethnic group. In this case, defining the impact area could be difficult. However, determining the level of interaction that takes place between persons living within the geographic area can greatly contribute to identifying alternatives that preserve the overall cohesion and stability of the community. Understanding the dynamics of community cohesion among protected groups requires recognition that, even among homogeneous minority groups, the level of cohesion can vary significantly. One factor in this variability may be income. If only part of a large homogenous minority community is affected by a project, it may be more appropriate to use level of income as the basis for decision-making rather than ethnicity. Consideration of distributive effects would then be based on a comparison of project-related costs borne by low-income earners relative to high-income earners. Research shows that the spatial sphere of social activities among low-income earners is much smaller that that of high-income earners, largely because they tend to have a greater proportion of family and/or friends residing near their places of residence (Donnelly and Majka 1996, p. 270). This often leads to strong community cohesion among low-income groups. In addition, residents with similar economic status and lifestyle patterns are more likely to interact with each other and form strong bonds (Donnelly and Majka, 1996, p. 271). Therefore, it is reasonable to also expect social networking among the wealthier even though the characteristics of this networking may differ somewhat from that which takes place among the less wealthy. Step 2 Collect information. Community leaders and civic groups can provide valuable information because of their first-hand knowledge about the important social institutions in the community, important activity centers and gathering spots, and other features that bind the community together. They can identify community characteristics that are not apparent to an outsider charged with evaluating the community cohesion effects of a transportation project. Their participation also lends credibility to the analysis. But experience suggests that greater, community-wide participation is needed if projects, particularly those that significantly alter the spatial composition of the impact area, are to win the approval of a majority of affected community members. 200

OCR for page 194
The step of collecting information is an excellent point at which to start involving community members because it gives them a sense of being part of the creative process of the project and not merely the recipients of a plan devised elsewhere. Failure to involve members of the community raises the likelihood that the project may be resisted, with possible negative effects. Discussions of the issue of resistance and strategies to gain community participation also follow. Step 3 Spend time in the study area. To evaluate social networks and to estimate how a transportation project might affect those networks, you must get to know the study area. Site walks and visits to special community centers and gathering spots can provide important insights for evaluating community cohesion effects. While spending time in the area, information may be collected through visual observation and informal discussion, and photographs may be taken of community facilities, shops, services, and recreation facilities. These photographs can be very useful in public meetings and workshops. Being in the study area also facilitates a more formal site analysis for evaluating relocation effects, as detailed in Forkenbrock and Weisbrod (2001, p.103-104). Step 4 Estimate the existing level of community cohesion. Secondary data about personal attitudes and social networking in a particular neighborhood generally do not exist. As a result, first-person interviews and workshops are necessary to gain information about community cohesion in the study area. Block-level census data that identify areas of relative demographic homogeneity can substitute (albeit, not always very well) for primary survey data or can be used to extrapolate from information collected in the field. You can also map the results of the interviews and surveys to locate community facilities and to identify blocks or clusters of blocks that show relatively high levels of cohesiveness. Step 5 Predict the project's effects on areas of relative cohesiveness. Most existing analytic methods provide little predictive information about how social networking within a community may change in response to a transportation project. With input and discussion from community stakeholders, however, it is possible to identify ways that the project may discourage (e.g., by increasing traffic on neighborhood streets) or enhance (e.g., by providing new pedestrian access across existing facilities) opportunities for community interaction. Because major transportation projects can create barriers to community cohesion, dialogue with members of the affected community is the most effective way of identifying the nature and magnitude of the hindrance to cohesion. This dialogue is also the most practical way to develop an understanding of the most effective and feasible mitigation measures. How much the project affects existing levels of accessibility and how it alters the current living environment are important factors in predicting a project's effects on community cohesion. Suggested communication strategies In the previous description of the five steps for estimating the probable effects of a transportation project on community cohesion, we noted the importance of effective interaction with the public. 201

OCR for page 194
Below are several suggested approaches and specific considerations that should be taken into account regardless of the selected approach. Be attentive to possible resistance. It is possible that implementing any transportation project will have some impact on community cohesion. Being able to understand the nature of community cohesion, and to predict the level of impact the project will have on it provides a basis for considering the degree of resistance that can be anticipated. Accordingly, you gauge the amount of effort needed to involve community members early on in formulating alternative strategies for project implementation, including the "no-action" alternative. Awareness of the nature of the impact on cohesion also helps you consider the type and extent of mitigation and/or compensation that may be required to complete a project. In general, the greater the impact in the presence of a strongly cohesive community, the greater the mitigation and/or compensation required. Select an appropriate communication strategy. Before looking at the methods for involving community members, it is important to consider systemic barriers to participation. Language could be a barrier for individuals whose first language is not English. Outreach and literature therefore should be prepared in the language(s) of residents of the affected community, and translators provided to assist at meetings. Another barrier is fear of speaking before a large group. In such a case, it may be necessary to set up a spokesperson who can read the written comments of those who do not wish to speak. It is important to keep in mind that the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 28.1 Sec.35.130 requires the state or local government unit to ensure that individuals with disabilities are not "excluded from participation in or...denied the benefits of the...activities of [the] public entity." The time schedule of public meetings may also hinder participation, so two or more meetings at different times may be required. It may also be necessary to underwrite the cost of child care for low-income individuals who show an early interest in participating in the collaborative processes. A good discussion of techniques for communicating with members of affected populations is presented by Barnard and Lall (1998) in their publication titled, "We've Got to Stop Meeting Like This: 36 Ways to Encourage Civic Participation." We draw on their ideas in the discussion that follows. The objective of the methods outlined in this section is twofold: (1) to gain the fullest possible community participation and (2) to arrive at the best choice of alternatives for implementing public transportation projects. The methods are ranked according to the predicted level of community cohesion, the anticipated intensity of the impacts of the project on it, and the size of the community (see Table 8-1). These three factors must be weighed together when selecting a strategy. The communication methods suggested in Table 8-1 offer flexibility and an opportunity to match scarce resources, financial and otherwise, with the goal of achieving the desired outcome--i.e., the fullest possible level of participation by affected residents--given unique circumstances. 202

OCR for page 194
The effectiveness of each of these communication strategies is directly related to the amount of effort exerted to organize the forum and the skill of the facilitator in guiding the discussion of the agenda items. Greater success is likely if participants receive written information about the issues before the meeting. The information packet should contain a full disclosure of the costs and benefits of each alternative for implementing the project, including the "no action" alternative. You should clearly identify the preferred choice. The possible adverse impacts associated with each alternative, along with proposed recommendations for mitigating them, should also be presented in a neutral manner and in language familiar to community members. In addition, each alternative may include a number of arguments for and against it. Because the task of the facilitator includes motivating and controlling, it is important that the person be well trained and competent. Table 8-1. Community participation strategies Scale of: Communication methods Nominal group 1, 2a 2a 2b 2b Cohesion Impacts Focus group Fish bowl Charrette workshop Weak Weak Weak Moderate Weak Strong Moderate Weak Moderate Moderate Moderate Strong Strong Weak Strong Moderate Strong Strong 1. A stratified random selection of participants is recommended when cohesion is dispersed. 2. Useful when there are dispersed pockets of cohesion a. Most appropriate for small- to medium-size communities. b. Most appropriate for medium- to large-size communities. Focus groups are adequate for situations where only a few people are willing to participate or where community cohesion is so strong that the community feels that a few knowledgeable persons could represent the majority view. Because a focus group usually involves six to eight people, this method is also well suited to small communities in which cohesion is weak to moderate, and where a weak-to-moderate project impact is expected. In addition, it may be useful in medium-size communities where cohesion is strong. A random selection of participants, particularly one that is stratified, can ensure that all sectors of society are adequately represented. 203

OCR for page 194
Fish bowls are so named because in the initial portion of the consultation, the researcher plays a passive, observing role as the discussion takes place. Like the focus group, the fish bowl is applicable to small- and medium-size communities and in situations where a larger group of interested participants is expected to observe the discussion. These observers usually are unclear or undecided about the project and its impacts on the community, and so wish to listen to the views and ideas of others before forming their own opinion. At the end of the "formal" discussion, the facilitator should invoke a response from observers either vocally or in writing. Charrettes (for full description, see pages 302-304) are useful when dealing with medium-large communities and are frequently used by planners. They are appropriate when the moderate-to- strong nature of anticipated impacts is expected to draw significant attention from residents nurturing a moderate level of cohesion. From 50 to 100 people can be expected to participate in the discussion. As a consequence, many charrettes are day-long events that require a facilitator who is very knowledgeable about group process and is able to motivate all attendees to participate. Nominal group workshops are also suited for medium-to-large communities, particularly where cohesion is strong and the predicted impacts are medium to strong. This is a good strategy in communities where polarization of racial or group interests can lead to tense situations; it ensures that all interests are heard in a well-organized manner. After a briefing by the planning staff about the project and the impacts associated with each alternative, participants are asked to fill out a card (with staff assistance, as necessary) stating their major issues of concern regarding each alternative and what make the issues important to them. Participants are then assigned to small groups (four to seven persons), along with a resource person from the relevant planning authority. Each individual in the group is given a chance to voice his or her issues of concern with arguments related to each alternative. The resource person provides group members with information that enhances the discussion. The facilitator records all of the highlighted issues and pro and con arguments on a flip chart for all group members to see. Afterward, the large group is reassembled and the flip charts displayed. A reasonable time is given for their perusal, then participants are asked to vote on the alternatives, including the no-action alternative. The chosen alternatives are ranked according to the ballot count for further discussion, which is mediated by the workshop facilitator. Persons are asked to lobby for and against each alternative, after which a final vote is taken to decide which alternative should be adopted. Resources needed. Table 8-2 presents a summary of the comparative costs associated with the various approaches discussed above. As with many other worthwhile public exercises, time, funds, organization, and resources are required to achieve community participation. Table 8-2 provides estimates of the amount of time involved in staging a discussion forum. Time here refers to the length of the discussion period, as well as the time it takes to prepare materials, notify the participants, and complete all other organizational arrangements. Expenses include the out-of-pocket costs associated with arranging and staging the discussion forum, as well as the cost of training or hiring a facilitator. Preparing and staging any forum requires organization, but as with time, each method calls for a varying level of financial commitment, as Table 8-2 indicates. Likewise, because each communication strategy is intended to fit a community and a 204