Date of Award

Spring 2013

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Urban Systems - (Ph.D.)

Department

Joint Program in Urban Systems

First Advisor

Karen A. Franck

Second Advisor

Alan R. Sadovnik

Third Advisor

Jeffrey Robert Backstrand

Fourth Advisor

Jody Miller

Abstract

Neighborhood composition, change, and disadvantage have been shown to influence crime and gang presence in communities. There is a dearth of research, however, that explores whether spatial proximity to disadvantaged areas affects crime and gang presence in nearby locations. Through maps and spatial analysis, this study investigates how neighborhood demographics may vary and may have changed by community type in New Jersey municipalities. Through quantitative analysis and interviews with school and law enforcement officials, the study then analyzes how such community-based phenomena, coupled with proximity to disadvantaged areas, may affect crime, violence, and gang presence in towns and schools.

Findings indicate that: (1) From 2000 to 2010, suburban and rural municipalities in New Jersey have experienced significant demographic changes, while urban areas remained relatively static; (2) neighborhood- and school-based characteristics are stronger predictors of crime, school violence, and gang presence than proximity to disadvantage; and (3) school administrators and law enforcement officials in four municipalities have noticed that community change and proximity to disadvantage tend to encourage the presence of gangs, gang wannabes, and urban culture there. The study points to the need for: (1) a clear set of strategies at federal, regional, and local levels to alleviate the deep concentration of poverty in urban neighborhoods; (2) the expansion of aid programs and specialized school services for increasing poor populations in suburban areas; (3) more extensive gang awareness training for educators and gang prevention programs for at-risk youth in suburban communities; and 4) the implementation of intensive, mixed-methods investigations into how demographic change, proximity to disadvantaged areas, school size, and transfer students affect gang-related behavior, urban culture, and violence among youth.

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