May 21, 2001

A tradition of "neighborhood storytelling" and the sense of belonging that it fosters are critical to the success of Los Angeles urban residential communities, according to a major new study just released by the Metamorphosis Project. Metamorphosis is a project of the Communication Technology and Community Program at USC's Annenberg School for Communication.

The first phase of the Metamorphosis project has taken a radical new approach to studying community. Instead of looking at economic and political infrastructures, the project examines the communication infrastructures of seven distinctive L.A. urban neighborhoods -- all within ten miles of the Civic Center.

"Our single most important discovery is the value of good old-fashioned storytelling within the community," said Sandra J. Ball-Rokeach, Ph.D., director of the Annenberg School's ongoing urban communications research endeavor, "Metamorphosis: Transforming the Ties That Bind".

"A storytelling system -- consisting of community organizations, local media and residents -- engages people in their community and generates a healthy sense of belonging, or a feeling of attachment to a residential area that motivates everyday acts of neighborliness. If the stories we tell create the sense that we are home when we enter our neighborhood, then we have much more than just a shared physical space."

Under study were: East Los Angeles (Mexican origin); Greater Crenshaw (African-American); Greater Monterey Park (Chinese origins); Koreatown (Korean origin); Pico Union (Central American origins); South Pasadena (Caucasian/Protestant); and the Westside (Caucasian/Jewish). Each was viewed from the perspective of the ethnicity that has shaped the character of the area.

To ensure inclusion of new as well as established immigrant groups, researchers used multiple languages to gather data. They surveyed randomly selected households by telephone, staged focus groups comprised of area residents, and interviewed local news media representatives and grassroots community leaders.

The first result is a "belonging" index that ranks the seven communities under study. Following are the rankings from the most to the least successful in creating belonging: Greater Crenshaw, South Pasadena, East Los Angeles, the Westside, Pico Union, Koreatown and Greater Monterey Park. "These results suggest that it is more than the wealth or the ethnic composition of an area that creates belonging," Dr. Ball-Rokeach said.

The strong sense of belonging that characterizes the Greater Crenshaw area, for example, arises from the vitality of long-standing community organizations that serve as "conversation starters" -- places where neighborhood storytelling thrives. Old-timers, residents whose families are rooted in the area, also are prevalent.

Local news media outlets, functioning as facilitators of belonging, play an important role as well, particularly if they encourage residents to connect with community organizations and talk to each other about their neighborhoods.

In contrast, first or second generation immigrants dominate the Greater Monterey Park area. Many are homeowners rather than apartment dwellers, a fact that doesn't appear to boost residents' feelings of attachment to their community. Additionally, involvement with local civic organizations does not appear to encourage them to "storytell" in their neighborhoods.

About the Metamorphosis Project

The Metamorphosis Project is an in-depth examination of the transformations of urban community under the forces of globalization, new communication technologies and population diversity. It operates as part of the Annenberg School for Communication's Communication Technology and Community Program, and is currently funded by the Annenberg School.

The project examines the social and cultural impact of communications in urban areas, in an effort to find ways to strengthen the ties that bind residents into more effective communities. Greater Los Angeles, a diverse area with an array of urban challenges, serves as the Metamorphosis case study. Project researchers work to make the communication infrastructure within a community visible, so that it can become an effective tool for policymakers, activists and residents who hope to revitalize urban areas. Research team members include a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual staff of doctoral and master's degree students, plus affiliated faculty, all from the Annenberg School.

About the USC Annenberg School for Communication

The USC Annenberg School for Communication is the nation's leading institution devoted to the study of communication and journalism and their impact on politics, culture, and society. In addition to the leading research conducted by its distinguished faculty, USC Annenberg is committed to the preparation of both undergraduate and graduate students for professional success in all fields of communication and journalism.

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