Systematic Social Observation


Systematic Social Observation


One component of the PHDCN was the Systematic Social Observation (SSO) (PDF 2.9MB). The SSO was a standardized approach for directly observing the physical, social, and economic characteristics of neighborhoods, one block at a time. In 1995, the PHDCN initiated a combined person-based and videotaped approach to collecting systematic observations of neighborhoods. Eighty of the Neighborhood Clusters were used in this study. Once the sampling was complete, the block face (the block segment on one side of the street) became the unit of observation. Using videotape and observer logs, data were collected in the 80 sampled Chicago neighborhoods. Only a sample of block faces were selected for coding due to budget expenses. The National Opinion Research Center (NORC) collected the data for the SSO. Between June and October of 1995, trained observers from NORC drove a sports utility vehicle down every block within the 80 sampled neighborhoods. A videographer videotaped both sides of each block, while two observers recorded characteristics of each block face on observer logs. Further coding of the videotapes and observer logs was conducted by NORC staff.

The researchers collected data on the following areas of interest: land use, residential housing, commercial industrial buildings, drinking establishments, recreational facilities, street conditions, the number of security persons, children, and teenagers visible, traffic, the physical condition of buildings, cigarette and cigars on the street or in the gutter, garbage, litter on the street or sidewalk, empty beer bottles visible on the street, tagging graffiti, graffiti painted over, gang graffiti, abandoned cars, condoms on the sidewalk, needles and syringes on the sidewalk, and political message graffiti. Information was also gathered on adults loitering or congregating, people drinking alcohol, peer groups, gang indicators present, intoxicated people, adults fighting or hostilely arguing, prostitution on the street, and people selling drugs.


Sampson, Robert J. and Stephen W. Raudenbush. Systematic Social Observation of Public Spaces: A New Look at Disorder in Urban Neighborhoods (PDF). American Journal of Sociology. 105(3), 603-651.

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