Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



Neighborhoods -- Oregon -- Portland -- Social conditions, Charity organization -- Effect on neighborhood vitality, Neighborhood planning -- Oregon -- Portland


This paper addresses the issue of neighborhood vitality from the perspective of social capital building. Numerous studies have shown that social capital - a complex of networks, norms, and social trust that promotes citizens involvement in local affairs - is crucial for the continuous well-being of communities. Among many political, economic, and cultural factors influencing social capital, the spatial dimension is most often overlooked. Yet the accessibility of places promoting social interactions and interpersonal communication between local residents should have a direct effect on the vitality of a neighborhood. Among these civic places are formal institutions - churches and locally oriented membership organizations, and informal, or “third places” such as small retail establishments including coffee shops, pubs, markets, and beauty parlors. While having different functions they all provide opportunities for individuals, and especially - for local residents, to transcend the “work-home” dichotomy, to become a part of local social networks.

We assess the vitality of urban neighborhoods in the city of Portland, Oregon, using four indicators: residential stability, degree of racial integration, and the frequency of property crimes and crimes against persons. We hypothesize that the spatial concentration of civic places in neighborhoods should be associated with a higher share of non-migrants, higher racial integration, and lower per capita crime rates. These neighborhood outcomes serve as indicators of social capital and have received little or no attention in earlier research. This analysis is conducted at the census block group level using a geographic information system (GIS) to generate spatial indices of urban accessibility, and an ordinary least squares model to examine the spatial distribution of civic organizations on neighborhood vitality. This research contributes in several ways to the theoretical and methodological debates related to the concept of social capital. The results suggest that civic places influence neighborhood vitality outcomes and provides additional evidence that such places may facilitate formation of social capital by creating opportunities for informal interactions and civic engagement. We argue that the formal definition of social capital should be expanded to include its spatial component - the notion of place - together with social and psychological components of networks, norms, and social trust.


Revised: 11/10/99. Catalog Number DP99-3.

A production of the Center for Urban Studies, College of Urban and Public Affairs, Portland State University.

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