Revealing the Cues Within Community Places: Storiesof Identity, History, and Possibility

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Abstract

Place-based approaches to community change have become increasingly popular strategies for addressing significant social problems. With their intentional focus on ‘place,’ most efforts have sought to gain greater understanding into how neighborhood contexts affect people. However, while both aggregate characteristics and social dynamics of neighborhoods have been subject to scrutiny in the literature, less attention has been paid to understanding how the environmental characteristics of neighborhoods and communities as places have meaning for residents. The present study used an innovative methodology called Photovoice to obtain a greater understanding of themeanings residents ascribe to the salient characteristics of their neighborhoods and communities. As part of a place-based initiative, 29 adult and youth residents in seven distressed urban neighborhoods photographed and dialogued about the meaningful physical attributes of their community. According to participants, place characteristics provided cues about their personal histories as members of the community; communicated messages about the value and character of the community and its residents; defined social norms and behavior within the community; and provided markers that could remind residents of who they are and inspire a sense of possibility for who they could become. Implications for practice are discussed.

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