This paper seeks to extend the literature on the neighborhood effect by examining the myriad ways through which surveillance of the past, present and future in the service of urban planning works to reproduce different types of inequality through cumulative disadvantage. We understand the “neighborhood effect” in terms of the association between poverty and disadvantage and spatially located and colloquially named places within cities. The tensions between socio-structural, cultural and individualistic explanations for the scope and stability of these correlations are described before an analytical approach that combines all three is presented.
A key focus in this analytical strategy is the role being played by geographic information systems (GIS) in the development of plans for the transformation of urban spaces. It begins by reviewing patterns of growth in the spread of GIS technology beyond its traditional borders, in part through the popularization of tourism and professional relocation services that make use of maps, labels and index numbers to facilitate the evaluation of cities and neighborhoods in terms of characteristics commonly understood as amenities, opportunities and risks. The assessment of educational systems at the level of schools, walkability within user-determined boundaries, and public safety or “dangerousness” on the basis of levels of exposure to crime, motor vehicle accidents or pollution are just a few of the indicators to be described.
On the basis of this background review, this paper will shift its focus to the consequences for inequality that are inherent in the uses of spatial analysis as aids to public participation in the planning of neighborhood and community change, especially as they relate to an emphasis on public transportation as a feature of so-called “smart growth” initiatives.