Neighbourhood : Spaces and boundaries of exclusion & inclusion

Sue Keller-Olaman (Sue.Keller-Olaman @, John Eyles, Kathi Wilson, Jennifer English, McMaster Institute of Environment and Health, McMaster University, Canada.

An individual or group is considered socially excluded if they are denied the ability to participate in the normal social functions experienced by the majority of citizens in their community (Burchardt et al., 2002 ; Raphael, 2002). Key concepts include ‘marginalisation’, ‘social isolation’, ‘participation’ and ‘rights’. Reducing social exclusion is an important priority for many governments because of its associated costs to individuals, society and the economy as well as social inequities (Social Exclusion Unit, 2001). The role of place is also important as there are boundaries of exclusion (Sibley, 1995), sometimes visible, often invisible. We will explore notions of social closure (Murphy, 1988), boundaries of inclusion and exclusion and local identities to understand these spaces. 

This paper thus examines factors that contribute to building and maintaining local identities in the context of neighbourhoods. While international research has documented social exclusion (see SEU, 1998) and the nature of identity at different scales (e.g., Therborn, 1980), very little research in Canada has addressed the links between these concepts with neighbourhood environments. As such, the present investigation included survey measures of collective activity, differences between self and others and other indicators of exclusion / inclusion at the neighbourhood level. Qualitative interview findings are also incorporated to demonstrate how links between exclusion, sense of belonging and health and well being are understood and whether boundaries are visible or invisible, rigid or permeable. 

Data and Methods 

Two surveys (n=1200 and n=665, respectively) were conducted in four purposively selected neighbourhoods in Hamilton, Ontario (Figure 1). A detailed description of the selection process is found in Luginaah et al. (2002). Each neighbourhood (Figure 2) displayed unique combinations of economic wealth and social diversity. The Downtown Core is characterised by low income, a high proportion of rental apartments, and high diversity (visible minorities and recent immigrants). The Northeast Industrial neighbourhood is represented by low income and low diversity. Chedoke-Kirkendall generally has high income and high diversity and the Southwest Mountain is a relatively new residential area and has low diversity and high income (see Table 1). In addition to the surveys, 40 in-depth interviews were conducted in the Downtown and Industrial neighbourhoods. Both areas are characterised by lower levels of education, income and higher levels of unemployment, and visible minority groups. The first survey revealed however, that the Downtown has a relatively high number of social concerns and lower levels of social support. We used the framework of social identity proposed by Therborn (1980) to explore boundaries and sources of exclusion and local identities between the study neighbourhoods. We also employed the ideas of Sibley (1995) and Murphy (1988) to explore perceptions of privacy, neighbourhood crime, safety, comparisons between self and others and closure. 

Survey findings 

The Downtown and Industrial neighbourhoods were associated with lower economic activity and reports of less neighbourhood involvement and fewer social interactions. In addition, these relatively excluded neighbourhoods more frequently reported negative differences between self and others, heightened concerns about privacy, safety and crime. Downtown residents were more likely to indicate a lack of belonging and low levels of pride and community spirit. In addition, increased barriers to inclusion were associated with poorer self-rated health and reduced well being. It is worth pointing out that relatively few residents from the Mountain neighbourhood knew about formal groups or clubs in their locale (see Table 1). 

Table 1Descriptive data from four Hamilton neighbourhoods (Survey 1 and 2)

Neighbourhood (%)ChedokeDowntownIndustrialMountainTotal
Did not complete High school*1426281621
Income < $30000*2044312026
Not in workforce*2947334138
Rent home*1759101122
Any community involvement*4329244033
Aware of informal social activities in neighbourhood*6234315046
Aware of formal clubs, groups, organisations in neighbourhood*6842443949
“I am similar to others in my neighbourhood”*7955738374
‘Yes’, more crime in my neighbourhood than the rest of Hamilton*5231329
Common, neighbours entering property without permission*2161148
Feels their neighbourhood is safe*9980909692
Yes - could ask neighbours for advice*8248707570
Seldom proud of their neighbourhood*1246441928
A great deal or fair amount of community spirit in my neighbourhood*8144466460
Feel that they do not belong*42514611
Fair or Poor self-rated health*923211115
motional distress (GHQ-20 score 4)*91513710

* Indicates significant variation between neighbourhoods, using the Chi-square test ( p <.01) 

Several logistic regression analyses were performed. We isolated the variables associated with : Sense of belonging, Pride, Perceived crime and Emotional distress. Only the significant variables are listed (Table 2). 

Table 2Logistic regression analyses

OutcomeAssociated Variables (listed in order of importance)
Feel I do not belongNot proud of neighbourhood, Attacks relatively common, Do not feel loyal to neighbours.
More crime in my neighbourhoodIndustrial neighbourhood, Downtown, Chedoke-Kirkendall neighbourhood, Neighbours not friendly, Graffiti, Roads & footpaths need repair, Not proud of neighbourhood.Those reporting no suggestions for improving social aspects of neighbourhood were less likely to report ‘more crime’ in their neighbourhood.
Not proud of my neighbourhoodFair / Poor health, Do not talk with neighbours, Did not complete high school, Lack of open public space, No hospital insurance, Roads & footpaths need repair, No regular health check-up, Money worries, Crowded home, No community spirit
Emotional distressPoor coping with daily demands, No regular health check-up, Dissatisfied with health.


The Downtown and Industrial neighbourhoods were selected for detailed investigation. Downtown residents felt relatively safe and knew their neighbours, compared to the Industrial : “I do feel safe. I haven’t had any problems with safety here. I feel it’s a lot safer than most neighbourhoods. People know who you are, know who your kids are. We have two old-age homes up there so lots of elderly. In general, we’re pretty healthy, compared to some parts.”(Downtown, Female, 30 years) 

In contrast, crime, rental properties and drugs were poignant realities of life in the Industrial neighbourhood. 
“I don’t (feel safe)…There’s been several incidences in this area of murders, shootings, stuff like that. High incidence of car break-ins, house break-ins and damage to vehicles. My wife doesn’t go out alone at night. There are a lot of bars and clubs in this neighbourhood. That brings a certain type of person to the area…It’s a low income area, so there’s more rental units for people that can’t afford anything else…The closer you get to the factories, the lower the prices of housing, higher the crime, more rental units, more drugs, more bad kids. And we’re right there, right close to it. There’s lots of social barriers.” (Industrial, male, 30 years) 
The Downtown residents were more likely to express the importance of involvement with their neighbours and the neighbourhood community for support : 
“If you’re downtown and you get into trouble, someone around will hear you yell.”(Downtown, Female, 70 years, lived Downtown 17 years) 
“If something was wrong, people would stop and help, for sure…We do talk. About a year ago there was a break-in, and we got together to talk. In order to make it a comfortable neighbourhood, you have to talk somewhat with your neighbours to come up with a solution. We do help others.”(Downtown, female, 29 years) 
In contrast, very few residents from the Industrial mentioned how their neighbourhood affects their health. Further, those that did discuss the link, generally had negative views : 
“Concern for my safety, and my property causes stress. Stress to the point that driving home, my stomach turns. I’m concerned about what is going to be there when I get home. My way of dealing with the stress is trying to get away from it for a few hours. I try to keep above it.” (Industrial, male, 73 yrs) 
The Industrial residents also felt neglected by the city services. No-one was interested in improving their neighbourhood or listening to them : 
“We called the city, my whole neighbourhood called the city about a hundred times. We contacted our city councillors directly to have houses stop being turned into apartments, and they were turned into four-plexes. They’re illegal, the city comes and says you can’t do this, but doesn’t evict the people. They don’t do anything” (Industrial male, 37 years) 


Our research confirms that local identity involves the interconnection between closure, economic activity, neighbourhood engagement and social interaction. Furthermore, negative comparisons of self versus others and negative perceptions of ones ‘space’ and neighbourhood (e.g., pride, sense of belonging, community spirit, safety) are evident in the most excluded neighbourhoods. The interviews also support the notion that physical and social neighbourhood environments play a role in shaping health. Individuals who are involved with their neighbours, feel safe and are involved with the broader neighbourhood community - perceive where they live to have a positive impact on their health and well-being. In contrast, those individuals who lack these forms of engagement and lack a ‘voice’ tend to perceive their neighbourhood to affect their health in a negative way. They also see their space as bounded and limited in what it provides for them. 


Neighbourhood is an important niche for identity and inclusion / exclusion. Because much of the research in the past has focused on exclusion and deprivation, our research begins to fill this gap by identifying some of the sources of identities and some of the visible and invisible boundaries for identities and health at the neighbourhood level. Treatment of space and its boundaries may be important for the potential of neighbourhood-based solutions to reduce exclusionary processes and enhance a sense of community. We are only beginning to apply existing knowledge about identities and boundaries at the neighbourhood level. Next steps include building indices of identities.

 Burchardt, T., Le Grand, J., Piachaud, D. (2002a). Degrees of social exclusion : Developing a dynamic, multidimensional measure, in Understanding Social Exclusion, eds. J. Hills, J. Le Grand, and D. Piachaud. Toronto : Oxford University Press, pp.30-43. 

Burchardt, T., Le Grand, J., Piachaud, D. (2002b). Introduction, in Understanding Social Exclusion, eds. J. Hills, J. Le Grand, and D. Piachaud. Toronto : Oxford University Press, pp.1-12. 
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McMaster Institute of Environment & Health. Neighbourhood and health study. 
Murphy, R. (1988). Social closure. London : Routledge. 
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Raphael, D. (2001). Inequality is Bad for Our Hearts : Why Low Income and Social Exclusion are Major Causes of Heart Disease in Canada. Toronto : North York Heart Health Network. 
Sibley, D. (1995). Geographies of exclusion : Society and difference in the West. London : Routledge. 
Social Exclusion Unit (SEU). (1998). Bringing Britain Together : A National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal. London : Cabinet Office. 
Social Exclusion Unit (SEU). (2001). Preventing Social Exclusion : Report by the Social Exclusion Unit. London : Cabinet Office. 
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