Why did the western San Gabriel Valley rank lowest in neighborhood belonging?

As you may know, the Alhambra Source is a collaborative project initiated by journalists and communication researchers at the USC's Annenberg School. Before the site launched, we spent close to two years getting to know your city. We talked to Alhambra residents, visited local organizations and interviewed business owners. We looked at maps, collected census data, spoke to officials and followed Alhambra stories in the media. Now we want to share with you the research side of Alhambra Source. Every other week, the Alhambra Source staff and the USC Metamorphosis research group will post some of the insights gleaned through our work in your community. As we share what we have learned, we hope you will let us know what you think through comments or e-mailing info@alhambrasource.org.

Residents of the Western San Gabriel Valley, including Alhambra, have the lowest sense of neighborhood belonging compared to six other areas in the Los Angeles area. This was the disturbing finding of a study the USC Metamorphosis Project conducted in 2001. Belonging, a key element of civic engagement, motivates residents to engage in neighborly acts and collective problem-solving, which in turn improve the well-being of everyone living in the neighborhood. The low levels of neighborhood belonging in areas like Alhambra with large populations of new immigrants concerned researchers at the Metamorphosis Project — an initiative at USC Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism. As a result, Metamorphosis began to investigate what helps people belong to their residential community, an ongoing study that serves as the foundation for the Alhambra Source.

 Levels of Neighborhood Belonging in Seven Residential Areas in Los AngelesIn the 2001 study, we focused on seven L.A. neighborhoods with a large and historically significant population of a particular ethnicity to understand the interaction between place and ethnicity in creating an individual’s sense of belonging. Data were obtained, for example, from Mexican-origin residents in East Los Angeles, Caucasian residents in South Pasadena, as well as the Chinese-origin residents in what we called Greater Monterey Park. In each of these areas, a telephone interview was conducted with between 250 and 320 randomly selected residents of a particular ethnicity to learn about their experience of belonging to their neighborhood. The respondents were asked about how they feel about their neighbors and how they actually interact with their neighbors as a way of assessing their experience of belonging. Questions included: “Are you interested in knowing what your neighbors are like?” “Do you enjoy meeting and talking with your neighbors?” “Do your neighbors borrow things from you or your family?”  “How many of your neighbors do you know well enough to ask for a ride?”

Results from this study were both anticipated and surprising. Contrary to some people’s expectation that Caucasians, who had been living in Los Angeles for a long time as the city’s elite, would have the highest level of belonging, it was African American residents in Greater Crenshaw who reported the strongest sense of belonging to their residential area. They had a belonging score of 20.0, but South Pasadena’s Caucasian community, at 19.5, was not for behind, nor was the Westside’s. On the other hand, the comparatively low levels of belonging in Greater Monterey Park and Koreatown were in line with the expectation that areas populated by recent immigrants still adjusting to their adopted country would show the weakest sense of belonging.

As a result, the Metamorphosis Project team has embarked on more research during the past decade to identify what helps people belong to their residential community. One key factor consistently found to have a positive effect on neighborhood belonging is the telling of local stories by neighbors, local media and community organizations. This enables residents to imagine themselves as part of a community and provides the information necessary for them to engage in collective problem-solving. Unfortunately, many L.A. neighborhoods in Los Angeles no longer have a local media outlet beat reporter. Furthermore, our research has found that many residential areas do not have a sufficient number of community organizations.

These findings are a key reason USC’s Annenberg School of Communication started the Alhambra Project. The Alhambra Source, an outgrowth of the project, is striving to tell stories about this diverse community. It is seeking participation from the residents and community organizations in sharing local stories from their perspective, suggesting topics they consider important, and engaging in conversations with one another on community issues. In doing so, our team of scholars, researchers, journalists, and students are working with residents of Alhambra in an effort to create a stronger storytelling network which should lead to a greater sense of neighborhood belonging in this diverse city. 

 Do you have questions for the Metamorphosis research team? Are there issues that you think should be covered? Please let us know.

4 thoughts on “Why did the western San Gabriel Valley rank lowest in neighborhood belonging?”

  1. I agree about immigrant Asians not being particularly friendly despite my smiling, waving hi or trying to engage in conversation. It’s a bit disheartening to be walking the neighborhood with our toddler (who is very friendly) and say “Hi!” and see the look on his face when he’s ignored. This doesn’t happen in just in the next town over in South Pasadena (I have a relative there).

    Then again, South Pasadena isn’t plagued with with low-rent apartments everywhere (like Alhambra) and there are more intact, single-family neighborhoods.

    1. Just to clarify: do you believe that friendliness correlates with social economic status? I get the sense that you believe that there is a correlation from your last sentence.

      On a different note, thank you for submitting a comment to the Alhambra Source!
      We truly appreciate your support and engagement.

  2. I’m not surprised actually. It would be interesting to ask why immigrant Asians don’t connect with their neighbors. Is it a language thing, or a “just keep it in the family” sort of dynamic? We’ve been doing neighborhood barbeques around Monterey Park last year, and I think the immigrant neighbors are a lot harder to get out! Keep up the good work!

  3. Thanks for sharing this fascinating research. I’ll be sure to pass along to colleagues in Bokyle Heights as well, where the USC Annenberg School has embarked on another community media project to build a sense of connectedness! Here is a link to a blog post describing what’s underway in English: http://bit.ly/eTgkvi as well as a column in Spanish by my colleague and collaborator at La Opinion: http://bit.ly/gZv2Jq

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