American Sociological Association

Opportunity for Whom? The Diverse Definitions of Neighborhood Opportunity in Baltimore

Across the United States, communities are increasingly interested in the spatial structure of opportunity. Recently, several federal programs have promulgated opportunity mapping as a tool to help increase disadvantaged communities’ access to neighborhood opportunity. The increasing institutionalization of opportunity mapping raises questions about how opportunity is defined and by whom. This paper analyzes data from community engagement events held for a regional planning process throughout the Baltimore metropolitan area. During these events, over 100 residents were asked what it means to live in neighborhoods that provide opportunity. The results showed similarities as well as remarkable differences in residents’ definitions of opportunity across race, income, and geography. Racial and ethnic minorities, low‐income groups, and those living in distressed neighborhoods were more likely to identify job accessibility, employment, and job training as key components of and pathways to opportunity, whereas White, higher income groups, and wealthier neighborhoods placed a stronger emphasis on a sense of community, freedom of choice, education, and retirement savings. These differences challenge urban policymakers and planners to consider how greater flexibility in mapping tools, qualitative data, and community‐engaged processes might better reflect the diversity in the ways that residents view and experience opportunity in their everyday lives.


Willow S. Lung‐Amam, Elijah Knaap,, Casey Dawkins, and Gerrit‐Jan Knaap





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