At the meeting of Specialists in Spatial Demography held in December 2011 at UC-Santa Barbara, organized by Penn State with NIH funding, a key issue identified by participants was that of conceptualizing various aspects of “community.” Whether the terms were neighborhood, place, locality, or community, participants varied as to whether there should be a social network-focused derivation of measurements or a “top-down” ecological-derivation.
For instance, Rick Grannis’ book. From the Ground Up: Translating Geography into Community through Neighbor Networks (2009; Princeton Univ Press) was held up as an exemplar of the social network-centric approach. Another argument was for an ecological approach since certain units “act,” such as city governments, county governments, and NGOs.
Certainly, the gravity of prior literature has taken the ecological approach, if for no other reason than pragmatism of data sources (e.g., Census Bureau’s tracts, block-groups, blocks). With the advent of “crowd-sourced” data that Dan Sui and others have written about as shaping our social network behavior and their new-found behavior, the network approach has legs!
Even the work of Charles J. Galpin—largely unknown to urban demographers but second-nature to most rural demographers—used a crude type of travel network measured by wagon-wheel ruts in dirt roads as shaping his conception of the “natural community” in Walton County, WI. The Chicago School used Galpin’s Experiment Station Bulletin as an exemplar with which to establish their more famous work in Chicago, built on an ecological conceptualization of the community. So both elements are in the roots of social community concepts.
The recent work by a young scholar now at CUNY-Hunter College—Carson Farmer (http://www.geo.hunter.cuny.edu/cfarmer/)—shows promise in how to use multiple characterizations of locality to identify “communities” from the data.
It would benefit us all to have some discussion of ideas about conceiving and measuring “community” in spatial demography. It’s certainly a cornerstone concept for our work, isn’t it? I’ve laid out some aspects of the Santa Barbara debate so please add to the mix!