Threads Across the Urban Fabric: Personal Relationships in the City

Through a partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS), we model geolocated mentorships as personal day-to-day interaction across urban neighborhoods. We use a novel dataset of over 12,000 BBBS “Bigs” and “Littles”, in seven U.S. American cities (Philadelphia, Tampa, Kansas City, Dallas, Houston, Denver, and Los Angeles). Using statistical tests and GIS, we find that “matches” live closer than simulated pairs. Despite being geographically close, matches create socio-economic bridges. Little neighborhoods have a higher percentage of African Americans and significantly fewer bachelor’s degrees, more unemployment, and lower median household income than Big neighborhoods. Neither matches nor simulated pairs align with the network of urban commuting patterns. We also find that Bigs hail from inner-city areas, suggesting civic engagement and ‘giving back’ of (often young) adults who choose to live in the city.

Results suggest that social-capital-facilitating organizations create a spillover effect by facilitating bridges between neighborhoods and disconnected social networks, benefiting the larger city. This work can help inform research in geography, city science, and sociology and advance the quantitative study of economic social systems within the urban environment.

Poster Winner, Urban Geography Specialty Group Poster Competition: Understanding the 21st Century City,Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, 2019.

See related paper at: Andris, C., Liu, X., Mitchell, J., O’Dwyer, J., & Van Cleve, J. (2019). Threads across the urban fabric: Youth mentorship relationships as neighborhood bridges. Journal of Urban Affairs, 1-16. Special Issue Edited by Z Neal and B Derudder.

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