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First published online August 25, 2020

The local structures of human mobility in Chicago


A large literature establishes the role of mobility in the maintenance of neighborhood social structures. Jane Jacobs famously argued that social capital is maintained through “cross-use of space,” and James Coleman formalized its dependence on the “closure” of human interactions. Since many of these interactions entail human movement, neighborhoods with higher social capital should be distinguishable by more cohesive mobility networks. I observe the mobility of Chicago residents through a large dataset of smartphone users. I construct a neighborhood-level mobility network for the city and characterize neighborhoods according to their local graph structure. Neighborhoods that are well integrated with their surroundings have higher income and educational attainment. Consistent with social capital theory and routine activity theory in criminology, higher local network integration independently predicts lower levels of violent and property crime. The methodologies presented provide a meaningful, replicable, and inexpensive approach to the structural measurement of neighborhood networks and social structure.

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James Saxon is a postdoctoral fellow with the economics group of the Harris School of Public Policy and the Center for Spatial Data Science at the University of Chicago. He studies the social and spatial networks of American neighborhoods. He derives theoretically grounded, high-level observables about mobility and accessibility in urban neighborhoods, from large data sources. He has also done computationally intensive work on gerrymandering and graph partitioning. He earned his PhD in experimental particle physics at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science

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Published In

Article first published online: August 25, 2020
Issue published: September 2021


  1. Networks
  2. neighborhoods
  3. social capital
  4. big data

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Published online: August 25, 2020
Issue published: September 2021




James Saxon, Harris School of Public Policy and Center for Spatial Data Science, The University of Chicago, 1155 E 60th Street, Chicago, IL 60637, USA. Email: [email protected]

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This article was published in Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science.


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