Urban neighborhoods and the quest for community: Implications for policy and practice

Gila Menahem, Shimon Spiro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The sociological study of neighborhoods is devoted largely to the search for community. In light of the shortcomings of this approach, we propose an alternative, focused on the functions that residential areas fulfill for their inhabitants. We demonstrate the advantages of this approach through the discussion of two issues: school integration and the rehabilitation of distressed neighborhoods.Residential areas serve their inhabitants as an area for social interaction, as an agent of socialization, as a component of social status, as a source of opportunities and services, as an environment for self-fulfillment, and as a protected area. People differ in their dependence on their place of residence for satisfaction of needs and aspirations, and residential areas differ in the degree to which they are able to fulfill these functions for various sectors of the population.Residential segregation is the result of a process by which individuals and families attempt to fulfill their needs and aspirations. Therefore, segregation of activities such as education or social interaction should not be considered as by products of residential segregation, but as independent processes, which may be influenced by norms, technology, and particularly, by political and administrative decisions. Thus the relaxation of constraints on the choice of schools, for example, may reduce tendencies towards segregation.With regard to distressed neighborhoods, we suggest that the accumulation of specific unfulfilled needs and aspirations produces the reality of distressed neighborhoods with trapped populations. "Neighborhood rehabilitation" projects are liable to reinforce the administrative demarcation of distressed neighbor hoods and to further stigmatize their populations. The article indicates alternativc policies for urban rehabilitation.In the sociological literature, the concepts of neighborhood and community are closely linked. Wellman and Leighton (1979) claim that in recent decades, the sociology of community has become the sociology of neighborhoods. To the same extent it can be argued that the sociological study of neighborhoods and residential areas has been dominated by the quest for community. Research in this area often reflects a romantic tendency, centered on the search for the features of a rural community in urban society (Gusfield, 1975; Dennis, 1955). Hence a long and Venerable tradition of community studies challenging the image of alienated and anonymous urban society, describing intensive social interactions and a sense of belonging and identity within the geographic limits of neighborhoods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-39
Number of pages11
JournalCommunity Development Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1989


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