Disorder or Difference
To make sense of urban areas, we create mental maps. Our maps break down the city into simplified, manageable chunks that facilitate navigation and guide decisions about where to go, who belongs where, and what to do. Those who share a neighborhood context often share a way of seeing—of reading and responding their environment. This chapter examines the social bases for shared perceptions of specific features of the neighborhood: graffiti and groups of young black and brown men hanging out. Shared meanings of these environmental cues of “disorder” are contested in Riverwest. Local culture offers distinct approaches to social boundary-drawing. Repeated block-level interactions that contextualize neighbors’ behavior further complicate interpretations of the social surround. Through these conflicts over what constitutes a problem, broad social categorization schemes, white normativity, and racialized notions of criminality—though sometimes reinforced—are often challenged.
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