Demographic changes and migration patterns during the past hundred years have resulted in over half of the world's population becoming urbanized. While urban centers present economic opportunities, too many urban residents remain marginalized with sexual minorities, racial and ethnic groups overrepresented among the most socially, educationally, and economically disenfranchised groups. In this symposium we will describe results of four research projects in large urban centers, two in the U.S. and two in Chile, that have increased our understandings of neighborhood influences on youth and adult health, mental health, and substance use behaviors. We also describe how this information has been utilized by city and governmental officials to inform policies aimed at improving services.
Project #1 will provide a rich description of the experience of conducting a systematic assessment of the physical (i.e. abandoned homes) and social environment (i.e. social disorder, social trust) of Detroit neighborhoods using both Detroit residents and university students as ‘assessors'. Funded by NIDA and NIMH, this large population-based study examines the effect of ecological factors (i.e., neighborhood disadvantage) on adult post-traumatic stress disorder and concomitant substance use disorders.
Project # 2 will describe a mixed-method ethnographic project conducted in Detroit funded by the Ford Foundation (through the foundation's “Sexuality, Health and Rights among Youth in the US” initiative) which aims to examine the structural influences on youth sexual vulnerability. This project looks at how sexual spaces and geographies are constructed by and for youth within a complex matrix of political, economic, and social influences.
Project # 3 will present results of a systematic neighborhood assessment of over 1000 neighborhood blocks (over 4000 streets) in a large urban center of a developing country, Santiago, Chile. These neighborhood blocks correspond to the residences of families who are participating in a NIDA-funded longitudinal study of drug use. In addition to presenting results of this work we will also provide a rich description of the implementation of a systematic neighborhood assessment in a developing country, the adaptations undertaken to fit the cultural characteristics of the country, and the way by which these results are being utilized to inform research and policies by the Chilean government.
Project # 4 will describe the results of a qualitative study conducted in Santiago, Chile, to understand how adult Latinos living in high-poverty/high-drug use neighborhoods in Santiago, Chile, perceive and contend with their environment. Findings indicate that individuals respond to their environment by employing complex scripts based on the concept of “los delincuentes” or delinquent youths.
Conclusions and Implications
Each study's research questions and designs will be clearly explained, with particular attention to aspects of the projects that involve cultural considerations to recruit large population samples of racial and ethnic and sexual minorities (i.e., involving stakeholders) and innovative methodological aspects (e.g., spatial data generation and analysis). The potential and actual implications for social work practice and policy from each project will be outlined, including strengths and limitations, with an emphasis on the integration of qualitative and quantitative methodologies in different cultural and international contexts.