Civic Engagement Geography

Civic engagement refers to residents of a place–such as a neighborhood or even just a block–work together to improve the quality of life in a cooperative way. This is a fundamentally trust-driven process that is facilitated by face-to-face interactions between residents. While the internet does indeed facilitate many kinds of civic engagement, place-based civic activities remain a critical way that folks gather for the sake of bettering their lives and environment together. Civic engagement projects can take many forms, ranging from the more traditional voting and electoral to informal caretaking systems in which citizens provide emotional and material support to one another.

One common way that citizens engage with one another is by creating places to gather and conduct activities that benefit everybody involved. A typical example is a community garden on a vacant lot. Not only do folks learn gardening and grow fresh food to eat, but gardening together leads to countless “extras” that serve to enrich many other dimensions of life. When working and talking during garden work, participants learn about one another’s lives and can forge trust over time that can bind people together during trails of many other kinds. Beyond gardens, creative civici engagement can also involve planning youth programming, job training, elderly care, childcare, and crime reduction efforts.

Vacant lots are often convenient places in which to gather for the purposes of civic engagement. One of Hazelwood’s many assets is an ample supply of vacant lots, many of which are located in convenient locations and are graded and maintained in ways that can allow for relatively straightforward re-purposing. The following interactive map contains two types of data. The “base” layer is a map of vacant lots in Hazelwood (blue parcel boundaries). On top of the vacant lots, one can see contour lines as one might find on a hiking map. There are three contour layers, each of which depicts “hot spots” of high interest in a particular type of civic engagement:

  • General civic engagement
  • Community gardening creation
  • Youth programming

These contours were created by grouping answers to community census questions that relate to each of the three areas of engagement and using a computer to combine scores for each survey respondent concerning each form of community engagement in a given geographic area (say, three or so blocks). You can find detailed information about how each of the three engagement contour maps were created.

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