Although cities are constantly changing, the persistence of inequality both within and between cities has a long history that has motivated the research of Professor Robert J. Sampson.  Why are some cities characterized by deep social divisions and violence while other cities thrive?  Why do most cities exhibit sharp internal differences in wealth and poverty, often cheek by jowl as captured in Henry Zorbaugh's classic study from the 1920s, The Gold Coast and the Slum?  What are the causes and consequences of today’s “Division Street, U.S.A.”? 

These questions are increasingly important as cities account for an ever greater share of the world’s population.  In the U.S., urban areas now comprise more than 80 percent of the population and there is a return migration to many of the nation's urban centers.  But income inequality also continues to grow, sharpening the divergent pathways of cities and their neighborhoods.  What are the effects of this kind of urban inequality on the social cohesion of communities and the life chances of individuals?  Are there long-term consequences for economic mobility, crime, and the development of human capital of growing up in a neighborhood of severe disadvantage?  

This site, “Context and the City,” is designed to present an ongoing account of three projects directed by Professor Sampson that address these and related questions:

With an initial focus on Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles but expanding to include many other cities, these projects draw on a mix of strategies including original interviews and long-term observations.  They also take advantage of new forms of data from the digital revolution to advance an “ecometric” science and contextual theory of the contemporary city. 

We encourage you to visit the projects and send us feedback