Social and physical disorder. How community, business presence and entrepreneurs influence disorder in Dutch neighborhoods


From 2000 onwards Dutch governments have tried to improve the general ‘livability’ of neighborhoods, of which troublesome and potentially threatening social conditions (social disorder) and physical conditions (physical disorder) are one part. A major focus in these plans for improvement is the juxtaposition of ‘living’ and ‘working’ in the same neighborhood. The presence of firms and local business ownership is thought to improve the neighborhood. Evidence for this idea is, however, hard to find. Business presence may lead to a regular flow of people on the street, thereby stimulating normal use and providing ‘eyes on the street’. In contrast, empirical studies often find that business presence is related to more social and physical disorder rather than less disorder. Moreover, there is almost no research on individual actions by local entrepreneurs to make the neighborhood safer or cleaner. This dissertation, a collection of five research papers, addresses these issues. It investigates the effect of neighborhood community characteristics and the effect of businesses on a neighborhood’s social and physical disorder. Complementary arguments from social disorganization theory and routine activity theory are combined to derive hypotheses on the effect of business presence and the actions by local business owners on the level of social and physical disorder. A combination of datasets and different statistical analyses (structural equation modeling, hierarchical linear analyses) are used to answer the research questions. Most importantly, this study finds that (a) the presence of businesses is an important predictor of disorder, rivaling traditional explanations (e.g., population turnover); (b) disorder is not only caused by, but also drives population turnover and weakening of social control; © local entrepreneurs only differ from (unemployed) residents with regard to their willingness to intervene in disorderly situations.

Doctoral dissertation, Utrecht University, the Netherlands.