How Citizen Attachment to Neighborhoods Helps to Improve Municipal Services and Public Spaces

Paper by Daniel O’Brien, Dietmar Offenhuber, Jessica Baldwin-Philippi, Melissa Sands, and Eric Gordon: “What motivates people to contact their local governments with reports about street light outages, potholes, graffiti, and other deteriorations in public spaces? Current efforts to improve government interactions with constituents operate on the premise that citizens who make such reports are motivated by broad civic values. In contrast, our recent research demonstrates that such citizens are primarily motivated by territoriality – that is, attachments to the spaces where they live. Our research focuses on Boston’s “311 system,” which provides telephone hotlines and web channels through which constituents can request non-emergency government services.

Although our study focuses on 311 users in Boston, it holds broader implications for more than 400 U.S. municipalities that administer similar systems. And our results encourage a closer look at the drivers of citizen participation in many “coproduction programs” – programs that involve people in the design and implementation of government services. Currently, 311 is just one example of government efforts to use technology to involve constituents in joint efforts.

Territorial Ties and Civic Engagement

The concept of territoriality originated in studies of animal behavior – such as bears marking trees in the forest or lions and hyenas fighting over a kill. Human beings also need to manage the ownership of objects and spaces, but social psychologists have demonstrated that human territoriality, whether at home, the workplace, or a neighborhood, entails more than the defense of objects or spaces against others. It includes maintenance and caretaking, and even extends to items shared with others….(More)”