I’m just returning from a two-and-a-half day trip to Orlando, Florida, where I met with a group of academics and community members called the Promise Neighborhood Research Consortium (PNRC). The main focus of this organization is to partner with high-poverty communities in the effort to improve health and well-being in those neighborhoods. As you might be able to guess, the vast majority are, like myself, urban researchers and residents, though there are those who work in suburban and rural communities.
At the center of this mission statement is a sophisticated desire to change culture. Yes, many of the health disparities between the haves and have-nots are based in access to quality health care. There’s also an extent to which it is a consequence of the geographies to which underprivileged minorities are relegated. How many rich neighborhoods have you seen adjacent to factory districts and alongside highway overpasses? These issues do not explain everything, however. What about psychological well-being? What about positive social behavior? What about aggression? What about academic development?
These sorts of competencies, components of “health, broadly defined,” are an outcome of upbringing, of the numerous adult and peer interactions individuals have in their daily lives. Community plays an immensely important role in these processes, and the way that community operates helps to determine the outcomes. And the effect we all assume—income—is not at work. It is something more organic, resting in the social dynamics of neighbors and community members. Make no mistake, the nature of poverty stacks the deck against poor communities; they are plagued with high residential turnover, diversity and population density, all of which can weaken the ties between neighbors. Further, poverty itself encourages aggressive, non-cooperative strategies, as I’ll detail later this week.
Thus, the goal of the PNRC is to help communities to build a culture of success in the face of all of these challenges. How do they plan to do this? Opinions vary within the group, but because of the evolutionary nature of this blog, I’ll detail one model based on cultural evolutionary theory tomorrow.