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Beneficial or Disruptive Change? Perspectives of Neighborhood Change in Santa Ana, CA


This study investigates the perspectives of neighborhood change that exist among residents from varying backgrounds in neighborhood associations and community-based organizations in Santa Ana, California, a predominately low-income and Latinx community in central Orange County, California. The objective of this study is to acquire a greater understanding of why some individuals oppose some neighborhood changes, while others withdraw from changes, and others come to accept them. This study further seeks to investigate what has given rise to their distinct perspectives of neighborhood change. Results contribute to environmental psychology and neighborhood change literature by highlighting the social and psychological aspects of sustainable urban development and neighborhood change by understanding how residents from varying backgrounds feel about the change they are observing and experiencing.

Individuals from neighborhood associations (NA) and community-based organizations (CBO) in Santa Ana are the focus of this study given their active opposition to urban development since the 1970s. In this study, I detail how individuals embedded in NAs, individuals embedded in CBOs, and individuals with no group affiliation vary in their perspectives and responses to observed change in the context of sustainable urban development taking shape in Santa Ana. With qualitative research methods, I draw from environmental psychology, urban sociology, and planning literature to investigate how individuals perceive change and respond to disruptions to place. Data collected include 41 semi-structured interviews, field notes from participant observations of city council and neighborhood organization meetings, and archival documents including local newspaper articles and city government meeting minutes.

Findings demonstrate that perspectives and responses to change vary by race, class, generation, and proximity to change. Whereas individuals embedded in NAs (consisting of mostly middle-class homeowners in their 60s) are more open to changes occurring in Downtown Santa Ana, they are more resistant of changes in the form of high-density apartment units occurring in their own neighborhoods given the threat they impose to the character of their single-family neighborhoods. Individuals embedded in CBOs (consisting of mostly renters in their 20s-30s, Latinxs, and low-income residents) are more likely to resist projects that impose a threat to their place identity, especially many changes occurring in Downtown Santa Ana. Individuals from both groups provide a critical reevaluation of what change means in this era of increased sustainable development in the shape of policies, investments, and projects. Such matters highlight the opposing views and tensions related to class and race that exist among those influencing change in a city like Santa Ana and are bound to come forward in planning processes and outcomes.

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