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NSF Award from the Division of Social and Economic Sciences

Doctoral Dissertation Research in Political Science: Rethinking the Institutional Basis of Urban Development - Hurricane Katrina and Neighborhood Recovery Efforts in New Orleans

  • Principal Investigator: Eric Oliver, PhD, Professor of Political Science
  • Start Date: September 1, 2009
  • Total Award Amount: $12,000

Project Description

In the urban development literature social capital is considered essential to community development, and yet empirical evidence that supports this claim has been mixed. In light of the gap between theoretical justifications and empirical findings, this project will examine the following questions: Are poor neighborhoods any different from their richer counterparts in terms of their organizational pattern and density, and how is it associated with community development? To what extent is social capital effective in promoting urban development, and which aspect of social capital is associated with the processes of urban development? Ultimately, what are the political and social forces that shape the topography of social capital in urban areas?

The proposed research will answer these questions by looking at the effects of New Orleans's preexisting neighborhood institutions on the pace and scope of recovery after Hurricane Katrina. Using GIS, the investigator reconstructs the topography of local institutions that existed before Hurricane Katrina and statistically analyzes whether there is an association among poverty, local institutional arrangements and post-Katrina resettlement. Also, interviews with public housing residents and authorities will shed light on the extent to which political forces shape the characteristics of social capital at the local level.

Theoretically, this project can refine the running conceptualization of social capital by juxtaposing formal and institutional dimensions of social relations with informal, horizontal networks. Furthermore, the results will help us better understand empirically the mechanisms through which social capital is formed and contributes to the development of urban areas. This, in turn, will encourage the design and implementation of urban policies that correctly reflect the needs and interests of residents and allocate resources accordingly.

The results of the project will be disseminated to the residents of New Orleans via newsletter and media coverage. The investigator also plans to discuss the results of the proposed study to a group of urban planners, community leaders, and government officials who are engaged in the reconstruction of New Orleans as well as other disaster-stricken areas in the United States. The complete dataset of New Orleans's pre-Katrina organizations will be shared with the scholars of urban studies who are interested in empirically understanding the sources of development in American cities. This will potentially promote research activities that utilize the model of the proposed study in those cities that are experiencing decline and need strategies for redevelopment.

This award is funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, NSF Award number: 0921058