Presentation at the 2007 Active Living Research Annual Conference
Much of the research on active communities has taken place in predominantly upper-income and predominantly Caucasian communities. The concerns of urban, low-income, and minority populations may be different from those in communities that have been studied.
The city of New Orleans is a predominantly low-income African-American community that was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina. While the city had a moderately high population density and a good land use mix before the hurricane, its transportation infrastructure was deteriorated and it had a high crime rate. In the rebuilding of flooded neighborhoods lies the opportunity to create environments that promote physical activity. In 2006 residents are working with urban planners and architects to design how their neighborhoods should be rebuilt. To inform this planning, we conducted a survey of returned and displaced New Orleans residents regarding their priorities for neighborhood features and characteristics.
To assess the features and characteristics of neighborhoods viewed as most important by residents of New Orleans.
Data was collected via three modes: over the telephone (using random-digit dialing), over the Internet and by face-to-face interviews in trailer parks. Respondents included were those who: 1) lived in New Orleans two weeks prior to Hurricane Katrina, and 2) had decided to return, planned to return or were uncertain about returning to New Orleans at the time of the survey. The questionnaire asked residents to rate the importance of 24 neighborhood features and characteristics on a five point scale where 1=not at all important and 5=extremely important. The mean ratings for each item were calculated and demographic groups were compared. Independent sample t-tests were used to assess differences between African Americans and Caucasians. One-way ANOVA was used to assess differences between household income groups (<$25K, $25K but under $50K, >$50K).
The final sample for the survey was 1073, including 442 from the telephone calling, 430 from the Internet, and 201 from the face-to-face interviews. Sixty percent of respondents described themselves as Caucasian and 29% as African-American.
In the entire sample, the three most highly ranked features/characteristics were a low crime rate (mean importance score 4.77), good street lighting (4.64), and a lack of litter in the neighborhood (4.62). Other highly-rated features were trees and greenery (4.32), little noise (4.25), good schools (4.22), sidewalks and crosswalks (4.20), neighborhood grocery stores (4.04), and parks and playgrounds (4.03). Residents gave among the lowest rankings to houses with big lawns (3.07) and “corner stores” (stores that sell mainly tobacco, alcohol, and snack food, 3.05).
There were statistically significant differences between African Americans and Caucasians in mean importance ratings of nearly all neighborhood features, but the ranking of items was similar between races. In both groups the three most highly rated items were low crime rate, good street lighting, and a lack of litter, and eight of the ten features rated highest by African-Americans were also rated in the top ten by whites. Features that appeared among the top ten items for one group but not the other were affordable housing and neighborhood health clinics (rated highly by African-Americans) and trees/greenery and houses with porches (rated highly by whites).
All income groups also rated low crime, good street lighting, and lack of litter as their most important features. There were gradients by income in rated importance of affordable housing, bus/streetcar lines, good schools, and neighborhood grocery stores (rated more highly by low-income persons) and for trees/greenery (rated more highly by high-income persons).
The most important neighborhood features and characteristics for New Orleans residents relate to crime. In particular, residents support better street lighting, which can reduce crime in hot spots, and removal of litter, which may reduce the fear of crime by providing a sense that a neighborhood is well patrolled. Other features seen as important tend to support active living, such as sidewalks/crosswalks, parks/playgrounds, neighborhood grocery stores, and good neighborhood schools. The low rating of houses with big lawns suggests more support for traditional neighborhood designs than in suburban, low-density designs. While there were some differences in priorities by race and income, the overall patterns of priorities were similar across racial and income groups.
Crime, land use, and transportation infrastructure are all important influences on walking in neighborhoods. This survey suggests that in New Orleans and probably in other urban settings, neighborhood designs that tend to reduce crime and that support active living will be viewed favorably by all demographic groups.