Exploring the Spatial and Ecological Dimensions of Social Capital: A Case Study of The Baltimore Urban Ecosystem
Dr. Matthew A. Wilson, Dr. Morgan Grove, Dr. Roelof Boumans, Dr. William Burch, Amanda Walker
When people seek to revitalize or restore urban ecosystems, they engage in collective action. In this paper, we study the concept of social capital by measuring the spatial distribution and the level of collective environmental action among stakeholder groups involved in revitalizing the Gwynns Falls Watershed of Baltimore, MD. We address the following research questions, “What role does social capital play in the ecological restoration of urban areas? Is there a commensurate change in the social capital within and among neighborhoods and the environmental quality of those neighborhoods and their watershed?” To answer these questions, our paper brings together survey data and GIS technology to measure the extent, strength, and distribution of social capital within the Gwynns Falls Watershed. By analyzing neighborhood survey data in a spatially explicit GIS environment, the results from this study provide important insights for social capital research in urban landscapes throughout the United States. Baltimore’s ongoing experience with urban revitalization and ecological restoration demonstrates the urgent need to refine and extend the social capital concept to the formation of interpersonal trust across neighborhood group boundaries. Given the spatial and social heterogeneity of the urban landscape, social capital within neighborhood groups can be a source of great social power but can simultaneously encourage norms of exclusion and inter-group conflict. Thus, watershed-wide collective action is sub-optimized (relative to its potential) when social capital is segregated and partitioned into separate domains controlled by competing stakeholder groups. We conclude that it is necessary to recognize that social capital forged between neighborhoods and urban communities may facilitate the collective actions needed to bring about significant improvements in the quality of lives for residents.
Keywords: Social Capital; Dem-Soc Team.

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