How important are long-time residents to a neighborhood or a community?

A profile of a New York City woman who has lived 100 years in the same neighborhood (along a 1,200 foot stretch) raises an interesting question: how much do long-time residents contribute to a community?

Ms. Jacobs is already a demographic rarity: she was one of 2,126 city residents 100 and over recorded in the 2010 census. But even though very few New Yorkers can claim a century spent in essentially one place, the notion of maintaining roots on a street is not entirely uncommon, said Andrew A. Beveridge, a Queens College sociologist.

A decade ago, Professor Beveridge recalled, one of his students interviewed a man of about 100 who had lived his entire life in the same house in Richmond Hill, Queens.

Bruce D. Haynes, a sociologist at the University of California, Davis, who grew up in Harlem, said that his own father spent the better part of 65 years in a house on Convent Avenue in its Sugar Hill section, until his death in 1995.

“I’d argue that these are the people who make the city what it is,” said Professor Haynes, whose grandfather, George Edmund Haynes, was a co-founder of the National Urban League. “They are the character of the city.”

At first glance, it seems hard to argue with this: people who live in a community for decades are anchors and connect newer generations to what has happened in the past. However, doesn’t this presuppose that these long-term residents are active in their community, meaning that other people know who they are? Just because one lives long in a community does not necessarily mean one is active in it. Additionally, don’t the younger people have to want this connection? Bruce Haynes comments are a great example: his grandfather was involved in an important civic group. Particularly in their older years, might not some long-time residents end up isolated (an issue sociologist Eric Klinenberg discusses in Heat Wave)? Are there studies that have actually measured what the positive effects of having long-time residents in the community?

More broadly, this article celebrates Ms. Jacob’s rootedness. This is a common tension in American life: should people be rooted in their communities or should they be mobile, responding to changing circumstances? On the whole, we tend to be a mobile nation where on average people move at least once every ten years. Yet, we also like the idea that some people care about their community so much (or can’t afford to move?) that they stay put in one place.

 

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