For a portion of the social impact study, I wanted to think about how location impacts the network of relationships we have with one another, also known as social capital (see lengthier description below). I created maps of the potential school sites and showed the areas around them that are within 10 or 20 minutes walking distance (a maximum of one mile driving, if you’d rather think about it that way). Then I tried to think of things that are within those areas that could be of benefit to students, staff, or parents.
My opinion/perspective can only go so far, however. I haven’t yet thought of a good way to account for potential future social capital, so if you have one, please share. What do you think of the maps? Did I leave anything out? Please leave your comments!
“Social capital” is a term used to describe the value of social networks. It refers to the formal and informal linkages that people make with one another for both private and public benefit. We increase our connectedness with one another by joining organizations such as the Parent Teacher Student Association or the high school soccer team, or informally in the random daily interactions we have with people on the bus, in the park, or at the grocery store.
In the consideration of the future of the high schools in Champaign, many of the formal structures within the school that help people to build their networks will be the same regardless of the school’s location. A high school will likely have a marching band, a theater program, a softball team, and a math club no matter where it is located. Depending on the type of facilities that the District chooses to construct, there could be modest additions to current programming, such as the addition of a lacrosse team or a technology club.
Outside the walls and grounds of the high school, opportunities for social interaction may vary significantly based on its location. Although it is extremely difficult to measure social capital, an assessment of formal and informal spaces for interaction in a given area is one way to make a comparison between different parts of the community. Amenities in the area serve as resources not only for the high school students, but also for parents and staff who may be able to combine trips to the school site with other errands.
The areas shown in the “walkingshed” maps below are the neighborhoods within a ten or twenty minute walk from each proposed school location. Many high school students do not drive either for economic or age reasons, thus the ability to walk to other places is an important consideration. Students are able to be more independent when they can take care of their own transportation. Some of the sites may not be of interest to students, but do bring together adults who may or may not have any connection to the school but nonetheless participate in the structure of the neighborhood.
An additional point of reference is the measurement of total number of people living near the school. Neighbors of the school have the chance to interact with students as they pass by (either positively or negatively). Parents of students living near to the school may find it easy to drop in for a conference with a teacher or to attend a performance. Some other adults such as retirees or alumni enjoy the opportunity to visit the school for special events. Furthermore, property values near to schools tend to be higher because of their value as community resources.
While these measures of social capital are imperfect, they do help to illustrate the very real differences in the feel and function of each potential neighborhood and the chances for interaction among community members. As community members weigh options for the future of the high schools, walkingshed maps can be used as discussion starters.
 Putnam, Robert D. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Simon and Schuster, 2000.
 Amenities in the area were located using walkscore.com, which measures the walkability of a neighborhood based on the assets located within one mile of a given intersection. The site returns a limited number of assets in each category, thus some sites have “more than 15 restaurants” to indicate the limitation of the website. Additional sites were located using Google Maps and the author’s knowledge of the area as a lifelong resident.