Neighbourhood-level responses to safety concerns in four Winnipeg inner-city neighbourhoods: reflections on collective efficacy.
Subject: Canadian native peoples (Surveys)
Urban poor (Surveys)
Indigenous peoples (Surveys)
Restaurant industry
Crack (Drug)
Child welfare
Police administration
Custody of children
Nonprofit organizations
Authors: Dobchuk-Land, Bronwyn
Toews, Owen
Silver, Jim
Pub Date: 06/22/2010
Publication: Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774
Issue: Date: Summer, 2010 Source Volume: 19 Source Issue: 1
Product: Product Code: 5800000 Restaurants & Food Service; 8648100 Police Organizations; 9101221 Custody (Juvenile Law); 8380000 Nonprofit Institutions; 8300000 Social Services & Nonprofit Institutns NAICS Code: 722 Food Services and Drinking Places; 81341 Civic and Social Organizations; 92219 Other Justice, Public Order, and Safety Activities; 813 Religious, Grantmaking, Civic, Professional, and Similar Organizations; 624 Social Assistance SIC Code: 3589 Service industry machinery, not elsewhere classified; 5812 Eating places; 8641 Civic and social associations
Organization: Company Name: Zinnies Enterprises Inc.
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States
Accession Number: 243797910
Full Text: Abstract

We use interview data from four Winnipeg inner-city neighbourhoods to illustrate the strengths and limits of neighbourhood-level responses to safety concerns. We view these local responses through the lens of collective efficacy. We find that in most cases, inner-city community-based organizations (CBOs) do not see safety and security problems simply through a "crime" lens, but rather acknowledge the complexity of issues called "crime" and respond to them as complex problems. They do so creatively and effectively, in ways that we identify. We find, however, that community-based responses to what are primarily poverty-related problems are limited. Neighbourhood-level responses to safety problems, even when they fit the definition of collective efficacy, are in some cases counterproductive and at best only mildly ameliorative. In the absence of outside intervention in support of neighbourhood-level efforts, in the form of public investment that addresses the roots of safety problems, collective efficacy is likely to be a sometimes significant but largely Sisyphean effort.

Keywords: street gangs, inner city, safety and security, collective efficacy, community-based organizations, poverty


Nous utilisons les donnees d'entrevue de quatre quartiers du centre-ville de Winnipeg pour illustrer les forces et les limites des reponses au niveau du quartier aux problemes de securite Nous considerons ces reponses locales a travers le prisme de l'efficacite collective. Nous trouvons que dans la plupart des cas, 'innercity community-based organizations' et les residents ne voient pas la securite et les problemes de seurite simplement par un lentille de << crime >>, mais plutot reconnaitre la complexite des questions appele << crime >> et y repondre comme des problemes complexes. Ils le font de facon creative et efficace, de facon que nous identifions. Nous constatons, cependant, que des reponses 'community-based' aux problemes de securite, meme quand ils correspondent a la definition de l'efficacite collective, sont, dans certains cas contre-productif et, au mieux, que legerement ameliorateur. En l'absence d'intervention exterieure a l'appui des efforts deployes au niveau du quartier, sous la forme de l'investissement public qui aborde les racines des problemes de seurite, l'efficacite collective est susceptible d'etre parfois un effort important, mais largement de Sisypheean.

Mots cles: les gangs de rue, le centre de ville, la surete et la seurite, l'efficacite collective, les organisations a base communautaire, la pauvrete


In the outcast spaces of inner-city neighbourhoods plagued by poverty, racism, labour market exclusion and the abandonment of the state, residents experience a great many safety concerns. The incidence of crime and various forms of violence is higher in Winnipeg's low-income inner city, for example, than in Winnipeg as a whole (Fitzgerald & Savoie 2004). We use interview data from four Winnipeg inner-city neighbourhoods where rates of poverty and unemployment are more than double those of Winnipeg (Census of Canada 2006) to illustrate the strengths and limits of neighbourhood-level responses to safety concerns, through the lens of collective efficacy.

Collective efficacy is described as "social cohesion among neighbours combined with their willingness to intervene on behalf of the common good" (Sampson et al. 1997, 918). It measures the extent to which neighbours are likely to intervene if, for example, youth are skipping school and hanging out on the streets, spray-painting a local building, or disrespecting an adult, or if fighting occurs in public spaces or if a local fire station faces budget cuts. Collective efficacy has been found to mediate the relationship between concentrated disadvantage and residential instability on one hand, and violence on the other. Its presence has been used to explain lower levels of crime in otherwise similar low-income neighbourhoods (Sampson et al. 1997, 919-20). It follows, then, that collective efficacy exists in a neighbourhood when two conditions prevail: the neighbourhood is characterized by social cohesion, or "mutual trust and solidarity among neighbours" (Sampson et al 1997, 919); and the mutual trust and solidarity prompt a willingness among neighbours to intervene in pursuit of what they take to be "the common good."

We examine four Winnipeg inner-city neighbourhoods to identify instances of neighbourhood-level responses to safety concerns, and to determine if these constitute forms of collective efficacy. Is there mutual trust and solidarity in these neighbourhoods? Does it prompt collective forms of intervention? Is there a collective sense of the "common good"? We find instances of collective efficacy, but using the elements of that concept as a lens through which to view these efforts reveals a knot of problems and limitations to neighbourhood-level responses to safety concerns. We add to collective efficacy theory by showing that there is a range of neighbourhood-level responses that can be characterized as collective efficacy, and that some may do more to aggravate than to resolve safety concerns. We conclude that achieving collective efficacy cannot be a goal in itself, and that further, a focus on collective efficacy may obscure the fact that the real solutions to inner-city safety, like the real causes, lie beyond inner-city neighbourhoods.

We situate this study in the context of some 30 years of movement toward neoliberal governance in advanced capitalist societies, during which time governments of all stripes have eroded the welfare state and reduced their commitments to the most disadvantaged (Teeple 2000), while appealing simultaneously to the "community" to take responsibility for its own welfare. We find that in the four low-income, inner-city neighbourhoods that we examine, the community, complex and non-homogenous though it is, has responded valiantly to the challenge, developing creative and effective responses to the many safety concerns that global and local changes have created. Yet, we are also able to identify the complexities and limitations of community-based responses to poverty-related problems whose origins lie well beyond the boundaries of inner-city neighbourhoods.


We conducted 48 in-depth, open-ended interviews in four inner-city neighbourhoods--William Whyte, North Point Douglas, Centennial, and Spence--between September 2008 and May 2009. We began by interviewing several people known to be involved in safety efforts in each neighbourhood, and then asked them for the names of others that they believed would be useful informants. In some cases we directly approached representatives of community-based organizations (CBOs) that play a role in safety issues. Those interviewed were a mix of resident members of neighbourhood Residents' Committees (7), representatives of CBOs working in the neighbourhood (40), and one school administrator. Of the 48 respondents, 35 (77.1 percent) were female, and 18 (37.5 percent) were Aboriginal. Interviews lasted between 45 and 75 minutes, and were loosely structured around a set of questions that asked both about the major safety and security concerns in the neighbourhood, and about all neighbourhood-level actions being taken in response to those concerns. All of the interviews were conducted by Dobchuk-Land and Toews, in some cases as a team and in others individually. Interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed. The entire project was approved by the University of Winnipeg Senate Ethics Committee.

Community-Based Organizations and Safety in Inner-City Neighbourhoods

Our interviews confirmed the presence in Winnipeg's inner city of a rich array of CBOs (Silver 2006), many involved in work that affects inner-city safety. By CBOs we mean relatively small, non-profit, non-governmental organizations typically delivering and/or coordinating services of some kind, located in inner-city neighbourhoods, staffed largely by inner-city residents, and funded primarily by government, United Way of Winnipeg, various foundations and occasionally private funders. Examples include women's resource centres and family and youth centres of various kinds, neighbourhood renewal corporations, a wide variety of Aboriginal and newcomer organizations, among many others. We categorized the work of these CBOs as follows: as first responders to safety concerns; as mediators between residents and government institutions; and as builders of networks and community bonds.

We found that the inner-city CBOs are effective in performing these roles, mainly because they do not see safety and security problems simply through a "crime" lens. Rather, they acknowledge the complexity of issues called "crime," and respond to them as complex problems. For example, selling sex can be a crime. However, community members are often more concerned with the safety of sex workers and of neighbourhood children exposed to johns than they are with the illegality of the sex trade. This understanding leads to support of sex workers and action taken against johns--not the criminalization of sex work. Similarly, we found that the primary reason people are concerned about street gangs is the fear that their children will be lured into gangs. In order to address this concern it is necessary to treat young people involved in petty crime with support and opportunities rather than punishment through the criminal justice system, because the latter simply deepens their alienation and exposes them to a whole new level of gang activity in prison (Comack et al. 2009; Wacquant 2009). When this "crime as a complex problem" lens is replaced by a "get tough on crime" approach--as was done in some cases by one of the CBOs considered in this paper--problems are created that aggravate the challenges of promoting neighbourhood safety. It is the sophisticated understanding of the complex problems more typically called "crime" that enables CBOs to do the work that they do in inner-city neighbourhoods, and that we have categorized in three parts.

Community-Based Organizations as First Responders to Safety Concerns

CBOs are frequent first responders to residents' safety concerns. Domestic violence is one example. Many women who experience domestic abuse do not go to a hospital or to the police, but rather to a neighbourhood women's or family centre. They see these spaces as safe. They are friendly and familiar, staffed by people who are in important respects their peers, have experiential knowledge, and relate to them in non-threatening and non-judgmental ways. The organizational structure is supportive rather than punitive, and not bound by strict procedural codes that can produce unwanted results (for example, a mother losing custody of her children as a result of a domestic abuse problem). Just as significant, these centres run a variety of programs aimed at supporting and empowering women and families. For example, several run "community cupboards" that make food and household supplies available in small amounts and at a reasonable cost. This is a first response to serious economic vulnerability and insecurity that places parents and children at risk of victimization or involvement in criminal activities.

In their evaluation of the work of several such organizations, MacKinnon and Stevens (2010) found that their front-line work produces significant benefits of a kind rarely identified through the use of conventional indicators, such as numbers of people who have found employment or completed grade 12. Inner-city residents with whom these organizations work report, for example, that: they are more involved in the community, often as volunteers, thus breaking down social isolation and building skills and self-confidence; they have learned ways to deal better with abuse in the home; they have become better parents; and they have made the changes necessary to get their children back from Child and Family Services (CFS). These outcomes produce improved safety and security in inner-city households and neighbourhoods.

Community-Based Organizations as Mediators between Inner-City Residents and Public Services and Institutions

Public institutions and services of various kinds are seen by many inner-city residents to be alien and remote, or worse, to be agents of control and punishment. Many use the term "systems" to describe institutions--the police, the judiciary, welfare, for example--that they see as oppressive. Many inner-city residents are hesitant to engage directly with these state institutions. "Poor people don't trust the system, they are afraid of the system, so they've had to have an intermediary group that they trusted," explained one respondent. Another was more blunt, saying that most people in her neighbourhood are "people that the systems just don't give a shit about!" CBOs play a role in mediating residents' relationships with these systems, and often this has an important safety component.

For example, the police are the primary responders to many neighbourhood safety concerns. Yet, many inner-city residents have told us and have reported in other contexts (RCAPS 2007; Comack and Silver 2006) that they do not trust, and often fear, the police. CBOs often act as mediators. In Spence, residents can anonymously report safety concerns to the Spence Neighbourhood Association (SNA) Safety Coordinator, who then relays the calls to police. For residents, the fear of dealing directly with police or of suffering retaliation in the community for their intervention, is alleviated. Similarly, the North Point Douglas Residents' Committee developed an initiative called "Powerline," which enables residents to lodge anonymous complaints about issues of concern in the neighbourhood. A major impetus behind the Powerline was the observation that many neighbourhood residents had stopped calling police for non-emergency concerns. The phone lines are well used, and police appear to respond well to the relayed requests. In this way, an adapted form of collective efficacy--adapted to local fears of police and of street gang retaliation, for example--is facilitated.

Community-Based Organizations as Builders of Networks and Social Bonds

CBOs build the sense of community--the "mutual trust and solidarity"--that can foster greater collective efficacy. For example, in William Whyte the issue of street sex workers is of concern to many residents who feel frustrated with the amount of visible activity in the neighbourhood and the amount of traffic it attracts from johns. "I'm scared stiff", one resident told us, referring to the various effects of sex workers on the streets. Some residents wanted these activities driven from the neighbourhood.

Sage House, a CBO that offers health, outreach, and resource services to street-involved women, developed a partnership with the William Whyte Residents' Committee and with North End schools to bridge the gap between residents and street sex workers. Sage House was able to identify that the main concern of residents was the safety of children in close proximity to women on the streets, particularly because of the threat that johns, more than the street sex workers, posed to kids. As a result, the Residents' Committee conceived the idea of "safe corridors" for children. Residents volunteered to act as safety monitors to stand near schools and ensure that during those times when children were walking to and from school, street activities were moved elsewhere. Generally, street workers have responded positively. In those cases where problems arise, safety monitors call Sage House rather than the police--an example of building collective efficacy in response to lack of efficacy on the part of the police.

Sage House also conducted "perspective building" sessions that described to residents the tumultuous personal histories of many of those involved in street sex work, and the dangers they face daily (see Seshia this volume). These sessions also raised the question of whether the women were really the ones causing the problem (as opposed to the johns) and explored what would be needed to get women off the streets. The sessions reportedly changed residents' perspectives significantly, and developed a deeper sense of empathy and compassion in the community. This is an example of neighbourhood-level work that changes the character of an intervention that can be defined as collective efficacy, from punitive/exclusive to supportive/inclusive.

The North Point Douglas Residents' Committee Approach to Neighbourhood Safety

The North Point Douglas Residents' Committee (NPDRC) has adopted an approach to neighbourhood safety that has produced some significant successes and is lauded in some quarters (Winnipeg Police Advisory Board 2009), but is nonetheless, as we were told in numerous interviews, controversial in the inner city. The tactics and strategy of the NPDRC cast light on both the strengths and the limits of neighbourhood-based responses to safety concerns, and thus the work of the NPDRC will be examined more closely.

The NPDRC adopts, for the most part, an immediate action and sometimes confrontational approach to neighbourhood safety. The other neighbourhoods-and many residents in North Point Douglas who are not part of the NPDRC--use a slower, more deliberate community-building and conciliatory approach. Both produce positive results in a manner consistent with collective efficacy; both exhibit the limits of neighbourhood-level approaches.

The NPDRC initially organized around derelict buildings. Finding that City inspectors deemed a certain level of dereliction "acceptable for the neighbourhood," implying lower standards for inner-city neighbourhoods, the NPDRC brought photographs of houses deemed "acceptable for the neighbourhood" to a City Council meeting. The City responded, and within weeks most neighbourhood problem houses were boarded up. This exemplifies a high level of collective efficacy.

Energized by this success, the committee tackled the issue of crack cocaine. Interviewees reported that there were as many as thirty "crack houses" in the neighbourhood, and that the neighbourhood was "ruled by fear," with gangs controlling entire streets and residents feeling unsafe. The NPDRC declared North Point Douglas a "crack-free zone," and posted the names and faces of known crack dealers around the neighbourhood in a sort of public shaming ritual. One interviewee told us that before the public campaign, drug dealers would "strut around" the neighbourhood "as if they owned it." Since the work of the committee, they have to "walk with their tails between their legs," and many were pushed out of the neighbourhood.

Simultaneously, the Residents' Committee used the Public Safety Branch Investigative Unit (PSBIU), which enforces the Safer Communities Act, to shut down crack houses and evict their tenants. The PSBIU has the authority to put houses reported by residents under surveillance and force eviction upon evidence of illegal activity. The NPDRC secured evictions from the first five houses they targeted. Their success prompted more residents to call in with information, and five more crack houses were closed.

Another example of collective efficacy involves a grocery store at which people were afraid to shop because gang members hung out in front. "A bunch of people went down and took their lawn chairs and sat out there and chatted to these kids, and eventually they went away." When drug dealers were conducting business in a neighbourhood park, some of the women in the neighbourhood got together and one said: "well, we all have dogs, why don't we go dog-walking at 4:30, 5:00 o'clock every night? We had 10, 11 people going walking their dogs. The drug dealers all left." These are examples of collective efficacy, and represent symbolic victories around control of public spaces.

One long-serving community activist described the neighbourhood as being vulnerable to whichever force is strongest in the neighbourhood. She feels that her experience over thirty years indicates that if there is a strong negative force, it will take over the neighbourhood unless there is a counteracting positive force, and that the NPDRC has played this counteracting role. Another member of the committee concurred, saying that "being silent will destroy a community."

The sense of improved safety in the neighbourhood was confirmed by the results of a community survey ( analysis.htm) conducted by the NPDRC. A large proportion of respondents indicated that they felt the community was getting safer.

Nevertheless, there are limits and contradictions associated with this approach. A closer analysis of these interventions reveals that while there is a range of neighbourhood-level responses that fit the description of collective efficacy, some may be counterproductive. For example, interviews with residents in nearby William Whyte suggest that crack houses closed in North Point Douglas immediately reopened in their neighbourhood. As one resident put it: "If you squeeze them out of your neighbourhood, they're moving into my neighbourhood." Many (although not all, a point to which we will return) North Point Douglas residents say they feel safer; William Whyte residents do not. For the inner city, there is no net gain.

Further, some aspects of the NPDRC approach verge on the "revanchism"-revenge directed against the "other"--described by American geographer Nell Smith (1996) as an increasingly common response by white homeowners to lower-income African Americans in pursuit of safer inner-city neighbourhoods. Similar problems white middle-class homeowners seeking to drive out non-white, lower-income residents--have been reported in Toronto (Slater 2004, 321). It is perhaps revealing that the Winnipeg Police Advisory Board (2009, 15) were told by a member of the public who participated in their community consultations in June, 2009, that "vigilantism may have a place" in combating neighbourhood crime. Comack and Bowness in this volume find many examples of such attitudes in Winnipeg.

The NPDRC is comprised disproportionately of white homeowners; Aboriginal people, mostly renters, are less involved. While this composition has been acknowledged by members of the NPDRC, it has not been deliberate. The NPDRC has focused its energy on immediate action to achieve results in the community, rather than on the slower process of mobilizing the involvement of more marginalized residents. One result has been that Aboriginal residents have been less inclined to get involved.

The lower level of involvement by Aboriginal people in the NPDRC reflects the racialized character of inner-city social exclusion--a phenomenon common beyond Winnipeg's inner city (Galabuzi 2010). One Aboriginal interviewee, a renter, said that when she first heard about the NPDRC she thought it was just for homeowners. Another added that people without jobs often feel they have no right to speak in community forums. Still another woman claimed that no Aboriginal person would go to an all-white board and share a concern with them--"you know, if my friend is afraid and uncomfortable at Residents' Committee meetings unless she has a white ally there, like, that's crazy."

This situation is a consequence of Aboriginal peoples' social exclusion generally--the product of colonization and racism, and higher rates of poverty and joblessness. It is also a product of their greater reliance, for economic survival and cultural safety, upon an extended family network. The gang member or tenant in a crack house being driven from the neighbourhood is often a cousin, uncle, brother, or son. To an inner-city Aboriginal family, he is not the "other" and his public shaming may only serve to further marginalize extended Aboriginal families who already see the NPDRC as the preserve of homeowners and job-holders.

Thus, the concept of collective efficacy, expressed so well by most of the actions of the NPDRC, may not extend fully to Aboriginal members of the neighbourhood. The 'collective' in collective efficacy may not include them. On the contrary, it may look to some Aboriginal people more like "revanchism." Indeed, their common bonds and mutual trust may be manifested in not taking action to promote safety in their neighbourhood, if that action aggressively targets other Aboriginal people. In these terms, the more aggressive actions of the NPDRC may serve to further exclude the already more marginalized members of the neighbourhood. "It tells people that they don't belong," as one resident put it.

The solution to this problem, some respondents told us, would require taking the time to get to know and to win the trust of Aboriginal members of the neighbourhood by listening to them, treating their concerns with respect, and incorporating their ideas for promoting the improved safety that they seek as much as do their non-Aboriginal neighbours. But this strategy is inconsistent with the more immediate action and often confrontational approach of the NPDRC. It was agreed by many interviewees that the best way to ensure more participation from Aboriginal people in the community is to go door-to-door and talk directly with them about their concerns. The hiring by the NPDRC of an Aboriginal outreach worker to do just that is a positive step in bringing the Aboriginal part of the community into a more broadly-based sense of collective efficacy.

There is evidence that better, more nuanced safety outcomes may result. For example, it was discovered that many of the crack houses from which drugs are being sold are legally occupied by single women, while the drug dealing is being carried out by boyfriends, uncles, cousins, or sons who move in with them. These women may not want the men there in the first place. When the NPDRC first started, evictions would be delivered indiscriminately to everyone in a house or apartment. Women tenants were therefore doubly victimized. More recently, however, because they are reaching out more to the community, the NPDRC is able to inform the landlord that there are people dealing drugs who are not on the lease. Wholesale evictions are replaced by more targeted, and fairer, evictions.

This strategy has more in common with the "crime as a complex problem" approach used by the other three neighbourhoods we studied, as exemplified by the way the Safety Coordinator in Spence dealt with a problem house. Tenants in the house had been especially disruptive, and neighbours were afraid. The SNA Safety Coordinator facilitated a meeting of concerned residents at which phone numbers were exchanged. No direct confrontation with those in the house in question was made, but residents in attendance were comforted in knowing that others on the block were similarly concerned, and that they could all now be in contact in the event of future problems. This was not seen as a solution. It did, however, contribute to building a greater sense of community and trust in the neighbourhood, and represents a form of collective efficacy.

Observations on Neighbourhood-Level Responses to Crime

Residents and CBOs in the four inner-city neighbourhoods examined in this study are actively engaged in improving safety and security. They work in a myriad of ways what we have broadly categorized as first responders, mediators between residents and public services, and builders of community. They are creative and effective in doing this work; at least some residents of inner-city neighbourhoods say that they feel safer as a result. One reason for their effectiveness is that--with the exception of some "get tough on crime" initiatives taken by the NPDRC--they do not see inner-city safety problems simply through a "crime" lens. Rather, they understand the complexity of these problems, and respond in ways consistent with such an understanding.

However, our interviews also produced evidence that a concept like collective efficacy is limited and contradictory: neighbourhood-level responses carry the potential not only to be productive and effective, but also to be divisive and damaging. Even where instances of collective efficacy can be linked to reduced rates of crime, upon closer examination their effects may be more complex. For example, a defining element of collective efficacy is "mutual trust and solidarity" sufficient to trigger the intervention of neighbours in pursuit of the "common good" (Sampson et al. 1997, 919). But the existence of such in inner-city neighbourhoods is not a given. Inner-city "communities" are not at all homogenous and socially cohesive entities (Ghorayshi et al. 2007). Real as opposed to idealized communities are complex, hierarchical, and conflicted sites of power differentials, and inner-city neighbourhoods in particular are rife with disagreement, mistrust, and fear. Our evidence suggests that this is particularly the case in William Whyte neighbourhood, where an attempt to set up a "Powerline" similar to that in North Point Douglas failed. Our respondents attributed the failure to the higher level of fear in that neighbourhood, including the fear of retaliation should someone's intervention become known. This is consistent with the observation by Sampson and his colleagues (1997, 919) that "one is unlikely to intervene in a neighbourhood context in which the rules are unclear and people mistrust or fear one another."

This is especially the case in those inner-city neighbourhoods where a significant part of the population is Aboriginal. Deane and his colleagues (2004; see also Silver 2006, 40-69) have shown that many Aboriginal people in Winnipeg innercity neighbourhoods feel excluded from and are hesitant to become engaged in the dominant culture, including the neighbourhood institutions and activities that embody that culture. Our interviews lead us to believe that this is the case in North Point Douglas. Aboriginal people have been less likely to become engaged with the NPDRC than non-Aboriginal people, a divide reinforced by their relatively lower levels of homeownership and employment.

Thus, in low-income inner-city neighbourhoods plagued by safety concerns, a belief in the existence of an idealized "community" is almost certainly mistaken. The "mutual trust and solidarity," the "social cohesion," that constitutes one of the defining elements of collective efficacy has to be built. How can this best be done? The case of North Point Douglas suggests that doing so by organizing around "crime" in pursuit of quick solutions can produce gains, but can also create the unintended consequence of reinforcing pre-existing lines of division, and entrenching an outcast category of "others" who are further excluded from the "community."

Jock Young (2001, 26) observes that "community" is sometimes thought of as "a wholesome, homogeneous entity waiting to be mobilized," while "crime" and "anti-social behaviour" are "readily recognized by any decent citizen." Yet, what is considered to be "anti-social behaviour," and how best to respond to it, can depend upon one's relationship to the lines of division that prevail in a neighbourhood. For example, our interview data suggest that the desire to live in relative peace is a common value that cuts across Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal divisions in North Point Douglas. But declaring the neighbourhood a "crack-free zone" and the public shaming of drug dealers produced a response from some Aboriginal residents different from that of the NPDRC, because Aboriginal residents are more likely to be members of large extended families, and more likely to experience higher levels of poverty and unemployment, and thus are more likely to be related to a drug dealer who is being publicly shamed.

In other neighbourhoods, such matters were approached not so much as instances of "crime" but rather as complex problems that commonly emerge in low-income inner-city neighbourhoods, and the strategy was less confrontational and more conversational. This was the case, for example, in both William Whyte and Spence as regards sex trade workers. People on both sides of the conflict were given voice and listened to and creative solutions to what became defined as practical problems were found. The same happened with the NPDRC when they began to talk with those defined as "criminals" and, as a consequence, found practical solutions: gang members were asked to, and did, stop loitering in front of a neighbourhood grocery store; evictions from crack houses became less indiscriminate and more targeted, preventing the double victimization of women. This approach is consistent with Sampson's (2004) observations about the importance in promoting collective efficacy of giving voice to those most marginalized in a neighbourhood.

We conclude that the concept of collective efficacy needs to be carefully interrogated, because as defined by Sampson and colleagues (1997) it can include a wide range of neighbourhood-level interventions, not all of which are desirable, even when they produce immediate outcomes that appear to be effective. The concept of collective efficacy is as complex and contradictory as are the inner-city neighbourhoods in which we investigated its use.

As important as these nuances and subtleties of building community in low-income inner-city neighbourhoods are, and as much as there is good reason for debate about the relative merits of the more confrontational, "just-do-it" approach sometimes adopted by the NPDRC, too much focus on neighbourhood-level strategies can have the perverse effect of making it appear that safety in such neighbourhoods is the responsibility of the residents themselves. The result can be that too "little consideration [is] given to the place that a community occupies within a wider political economy and the way in which this may sustain crime or undermine efforts at community crime prevention" (Crawford 1999, 517).

Such observations are made particularly clear when one considers that higher-income suburban areas with low rates of crime aren't necessarily intimate, connected, and mutually supportive environments, characterized by "mutual trust and solidarity" or "social cohesion." It is not so much their neighbourhood-promoted collective efficacy that makes them safer than low-income inner-city neighbourhoods, as it is that in times of crisis they "are more likely [and able] to call upon the intervention of formal control mechanisms and to access institutional resources" (Crawford 1999, 514). This is consistent with Sampson et al.'s (1997, 918) observation that collective efficacy is mediated by "the differential ability of communities to extract resources and respond to cuts in public services." More important than the "horizontal" dimensions of power--the complex ways in which people in a neighbourhood relate to one another--is the "vertical" dimension of power, the "relations that connect local institutions to sources of power and resources in the wider civil society" (Hope 1995, 24). Where lack of collective efficacy is identified as a problem, the solution therefore does not necessarily lie in neighbourhood-level action. The structural context of neighbourhood collective efficacy (access to resources; vertical dimensions of power) is often more important.


Collective efficacy is being built in Winnipeg's inner city, in some neighbourhoods more than others, and in some cases in ways that produce unintended consequences, highlighting the need to differentiate between different types of neighbourhood-level action which fall within the definition of 'collective efficacy.' Considerable energy and creativity is being expended, at least some residents say that they feel safer as a result, while others--especially those already most marginalized--can be further excluded by particular forms of collective efficacy.

In addition to these complexities and limitations, neighbourhood-level responses to safety concerns are unable by themselves to solve the problems. This is an observation routinely made in our interviews by people working at the neighbourhood level. The roots of these problems lie outside these neighbourhoods. Broad socio-economic forces have created urban spaces of poverty and exclusion, and safety concerns in cities throughout North America and Europe (Wacquant 2009; 2008). This is not a problem confined to Winnipeg's inner city. Street gangs and illegal drug activity and violence are now a global phenomenon (Hagedorn 2008; 2007). Residents and CBOs in the inner city are exerting Herculean efforts--many of which take the form of collective efficacy--to combat crime. The crime, and especially the high levels of violence, persists. As effective as these CBOs are, they are unable to deal with the root causes of the problems.

In their initial investigations into the existence of collective efficacy, Sampson et al. (1997, 923) warned that "the image of local residents working collectively to solve their own problems is not the whole picture." Indeed, too much emphasis on neighbourhood-level strategies to combat crime may serve to obscure the whole picture, including the real solutions that, like the real causes, lie beyond inner-city neighbourhoods.

Our study has made clear to us that the problem identified by almost all respondents, and identified in earlier studies (Comack & Silver 2006; CCPA-Mb 2005) as the most important safety and security issue in inner-city neighbourhoods--gangs/drugs/violence--is not one that inner-city residents and CBOs can address on their own. "Ibis is a problem that requires a major, co-ordinated effort and considerable public investment. It is a global problem, its particular character being a consequence of dramatic, world-wide socio-economic changes over the past 30 years.

Neighbourhood-level responses to such problems can be counterproductive in some cases, even when they fit the definition of collective efficacy, and at best can only be mildly ameliorative, no matter how creative and effective the CBOs promoting such responses may be. In the absence of outside intervention in support of neighbourhood-level efforts, collective efficacy is likely to be a sometimes significant but largely Sisyphean effort.


We are happy to acknowledge the generous financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Community-University Research Alliance (CURA), held by the Manitoba Research Alliance on Transforming Inner-City and Aboriginal Communities. Thanks also to Elizabeth Comack and two anonymous CJUR reviewers for useful comments on earlier versions of this paper, and to the many people in four Winnipeg inner-city neighbourhoods who agreed to talk with us about safety and security in their neighbourhoods.


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Bronwyn Dobchuk-Land

Department of Sociology

University of Toronto

Owen Toews

Earth and Environmental Studies

City University of New York Graduate Centre

Jim Silver

Urban & Inner-City Studies

University of Winnipeg
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