Chapter 21: Geographic Region

Learning Objectives

  • Give a brief history of urbanization and industrialization in the United States.
  • Discuss the impact that fast population growth had on existing systems and policies.
  • Describe the costs and benefits of living in an urban environment.
  • Describe the costs and benefits of living in a rural environment.
  • Discuss the treatment considerations for social workers who are working in both urban and rural environments.

21.1 Communities Based Upon Geographical Region

The place people live or occupy renders a lifestyle and cultural identity. People identify with the geographic location they live in as a part of who they are and what they believe (Kottak and Kozaitis 2012). Places have subcultures specific to their geographic location, environmental surroundings, and population.

As one of the largest cities in the United States, New York City is home to 21 million together speaking over 200 languages (U.S. News and World Report 2017). The city itself is fast-paced and its large population supports the need for around the clock services as the “city that never sleeps.” With so many people living in the metropolis, it is a diverse melting pot of racial, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds through each neighborhood is its own enclave with its own identity. This large, heterogeneous population effects the impersonal, sometimes characterized as “dismissive and arrogant” attitudes of its residents. By the very nature and size of the city, people are able to maintain anonymity but cannot develop or sustain intimacy with the entire community or its residents. With millions of diverse people living, working, and playing in 304 square miles, it is understandable why tourists or newcomers feel that residents are in a rush, rude, and unfriendly.

On the opposite side of the nation in the Central Valley of California, many residents live in rural communities. The Central Valley is home to 6.5 million people across 18,000 square miles (American Museum of Natural History 2018). Though there is a large, metropolitan hub of Fresno, surrounding communities identify themselves as small, agricultural with a country lifestyle. Here residents seek face-to-face interactions and communities operate as kin or families. Like other social categories or labels, people use location to denote status or lifestyle. Consider people in the U.S. who “live in Beverly Hills” or “work on Wall Street.” These locations imply socio-economic status and privilege. Values of a dominant regional culture marginalize those who do not possess or have the cultural characteristics of that geographic location (Kottak and Kozaitis 2012). People who do not culturally fit in a place face social stigma and rejection. People move to explore new areas, experience new cultures, or change status. Changing where
we live means changing our social and cultural surroundings including family, friends, acquaintances, etc. The most desirable spaces are distributed inequitably (Kottak and Kozaitis 2012). Wealth and privilege provide access to desirable locations and living conditions. The poor, immigrants and ethnic minorities are most likely to be concentrated in poor communities with less than optimal living standards (Kottak and Kozaitis 2012). Impoverished groups are the most likely to be exposed to environmental hazards and dangerous living conditions. The disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color has led to the development of the environmental justice movement to abolish environmental racism and harm (Energy Justice Network 2018).

Geographic places also convey and signify stereotypes. People living in or being from an area inherent the region’s stereotypes whether they are accurate or not. Think about the previous U.S. examples of “living in Beverly Hills” or “working on Wall Street.” Stereotypes associated with these labels imply wealth and status. However, approximately 10% of people living in Beverly Hills are living below the poverty rate and most people employed on Wall Street do not work for financial institutions instead are police, sanitation workers, street vendors, and public employees to name a few (Data USA 2018).

YOUR REGIONAL CULTURE

The place someone lives influences his or her value system and life. Describe the geographic location you live and the culture of your community. What values and beliefs do the social norms and practices of your neighborhood instill or project among residents? What type of artifacts or possessions (i.e., truck, luxury car, recreational vehicle, fenced yard, swimming pool, etc.) do people living in your community seek out, dismiss, or condone? Do you conform to the cultural standards where you live or deviate from them? Explain how the place you live influences your perceptions, choices, and life.

References

American Museum of Natural History. 2018. GRACE California Central Valley. American
Museum of Natural History Curriculum Collections. Retrieved June 14, 2018

(https://www.amnh.org/explore/curriculum-collections/grace/grace-tracking-water-
from-space/california-central-valley).

Data USA. 2018. Beverly Hills, CA. Deloitte, Datawheel, and Collective Learning. Retrieved June
14, 2018 (https://datausa.io/profile/geo/beverly-hills-ca/).

Energy Justice Network. 2018. Environmental Justice/Environmental Racism. Retrieved June 14,
2018 (https://www.ejnet.org/ej/).

Kottak, Conrad Phillip and Kathryn A. Kozaitis. 2012. On Being Different: Diversity and
Multiculturalism in the North American Mainstream. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill
Companies, Inc.

U.S. News and World Report. 2017. Best Places to Live: New York City, NY. U.S. News Services.

Retrieved June 14, 2018 (https://realestate.usnews.com/places/new-york/new-york-
city).

Attribution

Adapted from pages 43 through 44 from “Beyond Race: Cultural Influences on Human Social Life” by Vera Kennedy under the license CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

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