The Social Wellbeing of New York City's Neighborhoods: The Contribution of Culture and the Arts

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Culture and Social Wellbeing in New York City—2014-2017
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Arts and Humanities
Public Policy
Quantitative, Qualitative, Comparative, and Historical Methodologies
Urban Studies and Planning
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Stern, Mark J
Seifert, Susan C

This research report presents the conceptual framework, data and methodology, findings and implications of a three-year study of the relationship of cultural ecology to social wellbeing across New York City neighborhoods. The team gathered data from City agencies, borough arts councils, and cultural practitioners to develop a 10-dimension social wellbeing framework—beginning with construction of a cultural asset index—for every neighborhood in the City’s five boroughs. The social wellbeing tool enabled a variety of analyses: the distribution of opportunity across the City; identification of areas with concentrated advantage, concentrated disadvantage, and “diverse and struggling” neighborhoods with both strengths and challenges; and analysis of the relationship of “neighborhood cultural ecology” to other features of community wellbeing. Major findings include: 1) Cultural resources are unequally distributed across the city, with many neighborhoods having few resources. 2) At the same time, there are a significant number of civic clusters—that is, lower-income neighborhoods with more cultural resources than their economic standing would lead us to predict. 3) Although lower-income neighborhoods have relatively few resources, these neighborhoods demonstrate the strongest relationship between culture and social wellbeing. Notably, if we control for socio-economic status and ethnic composition, the presence of cultural resources is significantly associated with improved outcomes around health, schooling, and personal security. Qualitative study highlighted how neighborhood cultural ecology also contributes to other dimensions of wellbeing—in particular, social connection, political and cultural voice, and the public environment and public sphere.

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The Culture and Social Wellbeing in New York City project was undertaken in collaboration with Reinvestment Fund, a community development financial institution, with support by the Surdna Foundation, the NYC Cultural Agenda Fund in the New York Community Trust, and the University of Pennsylvania. The research was conducted between 2014 and 2017.
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