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In this paper you will focus on an urban place in the Bay Area,which is West Oakland. You will draw on your own observations of the neighborhood, along with census and other data, information from class readings, lectures and films to write up a description, demographic profile and sociological analysis of the neighborhood. The overall paper will be about 8-10 pages.

You have a few options in terms of choosing the urban place you will focus on. The easiest and most common option will be to focus on west or east Oakland, Richmond, or the suburbs of San Leandro or Fremont because our readings and class discussions will focus on these areas. You may also choose another neighborhood/place with my approval. You may either come to office hours to discuss your proposal in person, or send it to me in writing. If you choose your own area, please be prepared to discuss sources you will use to document the history of the area, as you will need to incorporate some of this information into your paper.

The paper will have three parts: A description of the neighborhood based on your own field notes and research into neighborhood issues, a data table and discussion, and a neighborhood analysis where you will make connections between your neighborhood and class materials. More information on each section follows below.


First, you will visit a neighborhood within your urban place. Then you will write up a description of the neighborhood based on field notes from your visit and your own research into local news sources about current issues facing the neighborhood. In all, this section should be about four to five (double spaced) pages. Describe where you went and the details of what you observed, including the spatial organization of the area, condition of the buildings, the people and activities taking place. Strive to give the reader a feeling for what you saw by including details about your observations. Including an appendix of photos and maps is encouraged. Then, provide a discussion of any issues or controversies taking place in the neighborhood, based on your observations and research.

Visiting the neighborhood: While on your visit, make sure to note some major intersections and street addresses to use in looking up census data. Before visiting, consult a map to get a sense of the place and what the major streets are. Are there commercial areas? Schools? Parks? Cultural Centers? If possible, try to both walk around part of the neighborhood, and drive/ride around to get a sense of different parts of it. Biking or riding the bus is an excellent way to do this, but of course you can also drive. If you are visiting a neighborhood that is mostly residential, try to time your visit to when people are more likely to be around—when a local school gets out, a weekend day, or in the early evening, when people are returning home.

Researching neighborhood issues: Search local news sources for information about current issues and happenings in your neighborhood. Often, a simple internet search of the area by name along with key words like “news” will be a good place to start. You can then delve into more specific topics based on your initial findings and what seems relevant based on your visit.


The second part of the paper will be a demographic profile of the neighborhood, based on census and other data you look up. You will display this information in a table and then provide a short discussion of it. We will go over how to locate the data you need on the Social Explorer website (which you have access to as a student at UCB) in class. Social Explorer is easier to navigate than the official U.S. Census Bureau website called “factfinder”, but you are welcome to use that if you wish.

Look up the following information about at least one census tract in your area, and the larger city where the area is located. Please also look up the equivalent information for the state of California and include that in your table. For example, for west Oakland, you would look up information for the particular census tract you visited, as well as for the city as a whole. You may include data for more than one census tract if you wish to, although this is not required. Make sure you use the most recent data available from the American Community Survey (ACS) from the Census Bureau.

INCOME: Median household income and income distribution, residents living in poverty,

POPULATION DEMOGRAPHICS: race/ethnicity (including Hispanic/Latino ethnicity), percent foreign born, age

SOCIAL CLASS INDICATORS BEYOND INCOME: educational attainment, homeownership, median rent

TWO CHARACERTISTICS OF YOUR CHOICE: these can be from census or other data. For example, you might include median home value, percent renters, crime or health data.

Present the tract level, city and state data in a table side by side to facilitate comparisons. Make sure to note your data source (i.e. the ACS, 2017) and unit of analysis (census tract number). You will probably want to collapse and combine some of the information you get from Social Explorer to simplify your table. For example, you will see that the ACS gives you very detailed information on age distribution. If you choose age as a variable you should combine some of these categories into ones like “people under 18”, rather than age 1-5, age 6-10, etc.

Data Discussion: After highlighting what you think are the most interesting and illuminating pieces of demographic information about your neighborhood and why, discuss how it compares with what you know about the neighborhood’s past, and how it relates to your own field observations. For example, does the economic data you found square with what you thought you’d find, based on your observations? Why or why not? How does your tract compare with the rest of the city and state? Excluding the table, this section should be about one and a half to two pages.


In the third section of the paper, you will draw on at least three readings from the syllabus to discuss two of the following topics:

We have discussed how different structural forces such as economic changes, public policies, and migration, among others, shape neighborhoods. What do you think are some of the most notable forces shaping your neighborhood, past and present?

Gentrification, and changes in the demographic composition of neighborhoods more generally, are currently an important topic in the Bay Area. What is happening around this topic in your neighborhood? Draw on both your own observations and course materials to support your points.

The neighborhood environment people live in shapes many aspects of their lives. What sort of “geography of opportunity” is provided by the neighborhood you visited?

For each topic, be sure to support your arguments with material from course readings, making sure to define and explain any terms and concepts that you use.

Formatting and Handing in: The paper should be double spaced and written in 12 point font. The entire paper should be between 8-10 pages long, double-spaced and in 12 point font, excluding any photos or maps. Provide a reference list at the end of the paper, and use in-text citations when referring to class readings or other sources. Submit a copy on bCourses by the due date. Please separate the three paper sections by using subheadings. There is no need for a separate title page for the paper, but your paper does need a title. Please include page numbers, and respect the page limit.

Citations: Please provide a reference list of the materials you cite at the end of your paper, and make appropriate in-text citations when referring to them throughout the paper. You need to cite when you refer to an idea, concept, or fact from a reading or other source, quoted or not. This means that if I referred to an argument or information that I knew was from Elijah Anderson’s book, one of our assigned readings, I would put (Anderson, 2011) at the end of my sentence. If I quoted something directly from the book, I would put the page number also (Anderson, 2011: 58), along with quotation marks to indicate where the quotation begins and ends. If I referred to something from lecture, I would put (lecture, date) in my sentence. See the “ASA quick style guide” (in supplemental resources on bCourses) for more information on formatting citations.

Sociology Department’s Writing Guide for Students: The department has put together a resource for students called “Writing For Sociology”, to help you improve your writing and for advice on how to approach written assignments. The booklet addresses many questions students typically have about writing and includes examples. Please take a look! I have put the guide on bCourses and it is also available on-line through the department’s website—check the “undergraduate program” section under “resources”.


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