University launches neighborhood mapping project

University of Chicago researchers and local residents have fanned out into six South Side neighborhoods to begin gathering information for the first detailed maps of all of the area's resources, businesses, public agencies, churches, social service organizations and health-related facilities.

As they are completed, the searchable maps will be posted on a Web site so that residents who want to learn about nearby services, such as grocery stores, child care centers or hospitals, can quickly and easily find out what is available in their communities.

The Resource Mapping Project is the first step of a larger effort to assess the current and future state of health of those who live on the South Side of Chicago. The larger project, known as the South Side Health and Vitality Studies, is coordinated by researchers at the University of Chicago working closely with South Side civic leaders and community residents.

"Creating accurate maps is the best way to start a long journey," said Resource Mapping Project co-director Colleen Grogan, Associate Professor in the School of Social Service Administration. "These maps will help us discover all the assets and barriers to good health in the community and to search for new ways to improve health and health care in the area. They will help community members determine which assets to build on to improve health and which barriers need to be addressed."

The project, led by Grogan and colleague Daniel Johnson, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, will focus first on six Chicago neighborhoods: East Side, Grand Boulevard, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Washington Park and Woodlawn. Later the survey will expand to cover all 32 neighborhoods on the South Side.

The two-person teams will walk each city block and record all the resources and services that could potentially have an impact on the health of area residents. Over time, the maps also will add an historical component, information on how long a business has been in place, what preceded it and the range of service it provides. The survey teams will talk with business owners and staff to gather this information.

The initial phase of the mapping project is expected to last about six months. The researchers will return to the field in December, March and July to update their results.

They will compare the information with existing data on health trends in the neighborhoods to measure the impact of local businesses, services and amenities. It will help researchers understand "how environmental and social factors impact people's health: both good health and illness," said Johnson.

Information from the Resource Mapping Project will highlight service strengths in the community and reveal where services are lacking. Community leaders and residents can use the data to push for better access to grocery stores or medical clinics and to bolster grant applications for community projects.

"We need reliable data to measure overall health status in each neighborhood and to see how health changes over time," said Stacy Lindau, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and of Medicine at the University and director of the larger South Side Health and Vitality Studies, which includes the map project.

For more than a year, Medical Center researchers have been meeting with community leaders and area residents to plan the project. Community members are participating in the design of the study and will help conduct the research. All results, ultimately designed to improve health and health care on the South Side, will be shared.

Although the University has long preformed groundbreaking social research focused on the surrounding communities, "we have not always been a trusted neighbor," Lindau said. "This time we are coming in, not just as scientific observers, but as community partners. The faculty and students involved in the studies work, live, learn and provide direct service in the community."

"By working together," she said, "the University and our neighbors on the South Side of Chicago are creating a new model for understanding and promoting healthy urban living." The information they collect will be of interest "not just to health researchers and students, but to all those who live or work in South Side neighborhoods." 

The South Side Health and Vitality Studies, including the Resource Mapping Project, are a project of the Medical Center's new Center for Community Health and Vitality and are supported by a grant to Lindau from the University of Chicago Medical Center's Urban Health Initiative.

Additional community input and involvement with the Resource Mapping project is welcome. For more information or to make suggestions, please contact Martha Van Haitsma, of the University's Survey Lab, at (773) 834-3674. For information about the South Side Health and Vitality Studies, contact Thuy Tran, project coordinator, at (773) 834-2356.