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Are diverse, friendly neighborhoods possible? MSU research suggests the answer is "No"


New research from Michigan State University suggests the less diverse a  neighborhood is, the more likely it will be neighborly.

Researchers looked at the relationship between neighborhood segregation, and the strength of social networks in a community.

They found that the more segregated a community, the more likely it is to be tight-knit.

MSU Assistant Professor of Sociology Zachary Neal says the researchers used some baseline assumptions about how people form relationships.

For example, people prefer to form relationships with others who are near rather than far away; and to form friendships with people who are similar (by race, social class, or education level), rather than different.

Neal says they used those assumptions to run computer simulations of imaginary neighborhoods.

“The advantage of this approach is that it allows us to look at a whole range of different sorts of neighborhoods,” he says. “Different kinds of segregation, different levels of segregation, and different forces that would cause people to become friends or not become friends.”

The results of repeated trials were clear: segregation strengthens neighborhood social networks—and the findings were so strong it’s doubtful government policy could change it.

“What this research suggests is that it’s going to be very difficult to create neighborhoods that are both not segregated, and also socially cohesive,” Neal says.

Neal says this research indicates that policies meant to create both diverse and socially-cohesive communities have, at best, a very limited impact.

He suggests policymakers strive, instead, to strike a balance between integration and cohesion—a balance that might be different for each community.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.