This case study revives the “collective action” explanations of the “Chicago School” by showing how urban social ecology was transformed in the late twentieth century as people of different generations and in different geographic areas interacted indirectly, creating durable neighborhood patterns without centralized, top-down leadership from business or government, in response to locally recognized affordances of anarchy.
In each of four nearby city areas, residents orient to local centers of collective activity in different geographic patterns. In a “perimeter” neighborhood, residents and outsiders are drawn to religious and retail organizations located on streets that form a rectangle. In an “intersection” neighborhood, residents are most visible to each other at an agglomeration of stores and services located where two high traffic streets cross. Residents of an “in-between” area travel to socio-economically and culturally different neighborhoods centered in all directions elsewhere. In a “contested” geography, rival organizations disagree over who, living where, for what purposes, has the right to define the neighborhood’s boundaries and social identity. These different social ecologies took shape without coordination yet became an interdependent, quadriplex set. After 1965, a series of retreats in government control of local social life created unprecedented opportunities for intermediaries who reshaped the social landscape with new businesses, cultural institutions, and interpretations of neighborhood identity. (Publisher Abstract)