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What's Your Neighborhood? Community Researcher Looking for Help Mapping Claremont

CSULB lecturer and longtime Claremont resident Andrew Lohmann is conducting a study on how people define their neighborhoods.

Andrew Lohmann wants to rewrite the map of Claremont, neighborhood by neighborhood, and he's looking to residents in the community for help.

Lohmann, a psychology professor at Cal State Long Beach and 16-year Claremont resident, has been studying neighborhoods in the city for more than a decade. He says the traditional ways academics and governments look at local communities, mostly through U.S. Census data or school districts, aren't very useful for depicting how residents actually live alongside each other.

"It just struck me as odd, because if I asked you, 'What is your census block?' you would have no idea," he said. 

"That's not what you think of when you're talking about neighborhoods. There seems to be a disconnect between what we study as neighborhoods and what neighborhoods actually are."

Lohmann thinks it's residents who should be defining where neighborhoods begin and end, and that maps like these can help governments serve their communities better. That's why he's started a Kickstarter campaign to help him fund a survey he began nearly 14 years ago.

This all started in 1998 when Lohmann, as a student at Claremont Graduate University, was researching how the 210 Freeway extension project had affected the neighborhoods around it.

To better understand this, Lohmann devised a survey that asked residents to draw the maps of their neighborhoods and to describe their relationship with their neighbors. He surveyed residents in the area before the project started and after it finished. 

The results, he says, were surprising: One neighborhood across from the former strawberry farm on Baseline Road and Towne Avenue went from being mostly disconnected to "one of the most tightly knit communities in the city," Lohmann said.

Three months before he released the survey, the city had proposed the Baseline Road Affordable Housing Project, and the residents in the neighborhood had banded together to oppose it. The survey Lohmann conducted had inadvertently, but accurately, shown this, he said.

"If you had used any other methodology to study that, you wouldn't have seen that [neighborhood banding together]," Lohman said. "There was a dynamic there that the regular literature isn't really discovering."

Lohmann believes that better understanding where residents in a community are most connected and what boundaries those residents have drawn for their neighborhoods could have good government benefits.

He gave examples of disaster preparedness and public safety: having records that show where residents are in frequent contact with their neighbors could help agencies like FEMA (whom Lohmann contacted specifically for his research) organize their disaster response and find which areas need more help than others.

He also said that local governments could use the information on neighborhoods to better plan their projects, like construction projects that might divide close-knit communities.

As for which neighborhoods in Claremont are more close-knit that others, Lohmann said he would still need to do another survey to accurately rank which communities in the city had the highest level of neighborhood togetherness.

"Neighborhoods are as diverse as people," Lohmann said, and he noted that it seemed that his survey reflected this diversity across the city. "One community that showed up on both surveys was Pilgrim Place, the senior community for former missionaries. There is a high level of activity there, a lot of involvement. So everything from formal communities like that are showing up on the surveys, as well as more informal neighborhoods, like where I live, in south Claremont, where it's just people pulling up chairs and hanging out together."

Because most residents' opinions and the maps they drew of their neighborhoods were usually too varied to offer anything truly definitive, Lohmann said cutting Claremont into distinct neighborhood districts probably wasn't much of a possibility. He noted that one resident even drew his neighborhood in the shape of a barbell, extending from the circle around his home in a skinny line up Indian Hill Boulevard and ending in another circle around the Wilderness Park. But, despite the variety, some neighborhoods clearly stood out. 

Unsurprisingly, the Village was one, though he noted that the fact that the area is clearly more commercial than the rest of the city helps it be more easily defined.

Areas with geographic boundaries tended to be better defined and more connected than others, Lohmann said. 

He's found that, for example, residents who lived in the area around Piedmont Mesa Road in northwest Claremont, which is bordered by the 210 Freeway to the north and by an aqueduct that runs southwest to northeast on its eastern side, reported more specific boundaries for their neighborhoods and higher levels of connectedness with their neighbors.

Lohmann admits that he still has lots of work to do in order to complete the survey and provide an accurate picture of Claremont's neighborhoods. That's why he's reaching out to his community in order to help finish it.

Using Kickstarter, a fundraising website where donors can pitch in to creative projects around the country, Lohmann has already raised $1,340 of the $3,000 he needs to produce the new surveys and distribute them around the city. That's in addition to all of the time and money of his own that he's already devoting to the project. But he says for a project like this that is focused on getting local people engaged with their communities, involving the people he's surveying was important to the process.

"It's important for the community to have some skin in the game," he said. "The Kickstarter approach is an experiment in itself. We can look at what motivates people to get involved in a community project like this."

There are 14 days left for donors to contribute to the Kickstarter campaign. So far, 47 people have donated money. Check out the campaign page at www.kickstarter.com.

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