Panel Paper: Infrastructure and Fear of Neighborhood Change: A Survey Experiment

Saturday, November 9, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Ballroom D (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Adam Eckerd and Riley M. Sandel, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis

Cities have long relied on infrastructure improvement as economic development policy. This can be seen in a variety of different urban policies that are intended to improve economic conditions in neighborhoods, such as public transit, improvements to cycling and walkability, development of complete streets, storm water improvements, and brownfield redevelopment. A challenge in many modern cities is that there is a fine line between economic development, which is desirable, and gentrification, which may not be. The challenge is that the infrastructure improvements may be so appealing to new residents and/or developers that the improvements are not actually realized by the residents who live in a community, but are rather realized by much wealthier incoming residents. This is not to say that communities should avoid infrastructure improvement, but to note that improvement may have the unintended consequences of displacing people or tearing the social fabric of a community.

Because of fear of displacement, residents may be ambivalent about needed improvements or they may seek just enough improvement to alleviate a problem, but not enough to appeal to potential gentrifiers. In other words, residents may actually want less than they deserve because of their fears of being displaced or of their neighborhood changing.

In this research, we test this hypothesis with a survey-based experiment. The setting for our study is Indianapolis, Indiana. Indianapolis is an ideal city for such a study for several key reasons. First, the infrastructure in the city is in crisis owing to years of neglecting maintenance, making the issue of infrastructure salient to residents. Second, the city is large with a diverse range of community settings, including urban, suburban and even rural areas within the city limits. Third, the city is currently experiencing rapid gentrification surrounding the downtown core, making the issue relevant for many of the city’s residents. We draw our sample from the population of city residents to ensure that we include a broad mix of residents in different settings to assess a wide range of perceptions and fears about gentrification and displacement.

The survey-based experiment asks participants to make discrete choices about infrastructure preferences for their communities. We show them a series of pairs of images, relating to public transit, land use, and streetscapes, and ask them to select their preference for which image they would prefer to use as an example for improvement they would like in their community. Our hypothesis is that residents who fear gentrification more will opt for less infrastructural improvement than those who do not fear gentrification.

In addition to the policy and theoretical implications of this study, our survey experiment can serve as an example of how to develop a rigorously validated survey experiment that utilizes focus groups and meetings with community leaders to ensure that the survey tool will fit with the community’s understanding and reveal the concepts that we intend to study.