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Mapping the racial inequality in place: Using youth perceptions to identify unequal exposure to neighborhood environmental hazards

Summary


Urban African American youth cite factors in their immediate physical environment rather than pollution and exposure to toxins as threats to their health and well-being

A goal of this study was to identify youth perceptions of neighborhood environmental health hazards that might be addressed as a way to improve the health and well-being of youth living in highly distressed neighborhoods. This study also mapped youth-identified health hazards to examine how they are distributed across the city. The maps supported the youths’ assertions that the environments of African American and white individuals across the city of Pittsburgh differ in noteworthy ways. Although this study does not explicitly address greenspace as an ammenity, or lack thereof as an environmental hazard, some data collected has implications for safe outdoor activity.

Qualitative data for this study was drawn from a sample of youth (age 14-19) living in Homewood, a low-income African American community in Pittsburgh. The youth were asked to identify aspects of their neighborhood’s built and social environment they considered important to their well-being. Youth responses focused on the immediate physical environment (such as housing conditions, land vacancy, and community violence) rather than on such distal factors as pollution and exposure to toxins.

Data sources included participatory photo mapping (combining photography and youth-led neighborhood tours)(N=10), in-depth interviews (N=21), and spatial analysis. The majority of the participants were in an environmentally-focused summer program that included activities related to environmental issues and instruction on environmental sustainability. Data was also obtained from the American Community Survey (2005-09) to gather information about the disparity in exposure to neighborhood poverty among Pittsburgh’s African American and white urban youth. This data indicated that African American youth (both poor and non-poor) are more likely than white youth to live in high-poverty neighborhoods. This data also indicated that a larger percentage of non-poor African American youth (42%) live in these high-poverty neighborhoods than poor white youth (25%). While only 3% of poor white children live in Pittsburgh’s highest poverty neighborhoods, nearly 40% of poor African American children do.

Qualitative data products of this research included more than 15 hours of transcribed interviews, over 100 youth-authored photos of neighborhood strengths and weaknesses, youth-generated community maps, and presentations the youth created to highlight their research findings. The youth noted that people living in Homewood and other predominantly African American neighborhoods in Pittsburgh are considered by outsiders to be poor and disorderly. They believed this stigma and attitudes towards poor African Americans to be one of the reasons for disparities in the amenities and services in their community.

The youth also noted safety issues as barriers to spending time outdoors. They expressed fear and anxiety about being outside and described feelings of helplessness in face of the crime they witnessed in their neighborhoods. One of the youth described how he and his friends fear riding their bikes because of the potential to be victimized.

Discussed at the end of this report are some research and policy implications, including the need to promote community-driven interventions that address environmental issues relating to young people’s well-being.

Citation

Teixeira, S., Zuberi, A., (2016). Mapping the racial inequality in place: Using youth perceptions to identify unequal exposure to neighborhood environmental hazards. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

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