The Social Science of Cities

Cities account for an ever greater share of the world’s population.  In the U.S., urban areas now comprise more than 80 percent of the population and many cities are magnets for innovation and growth. We have come a long way since the urban changes documented in the classic text of Park and Burgess, The City  (1925).

Income inequality also continues to grow, sharpening the divergent pathways of cities and their neighborhoods.  What are the effects of this kind of urban inequality on the social cohesion of communities, cities, and the life chances of their inhabitants?  Are there long-term consequences for economic mobility, crime, and the development of human capital?  With projects in Boston, Los Angeles, and Chicago, I am studying these and other questions.

I am also engaged in a project on everday mobility, neighborhood networks, and the social integration of American cities.  The results of offer a new way of thinking about neighborhood effects, spatial inequality, and structural theories of crime. 

For more on the urban mobility project and recent articles, click here.


Boston Area Research Initiative


Professor Sampson is the founding director of the Boston Area Research Initiative (BARI), another project which seeks to spur original urban research on the cutting edge of social science and public policy. In conducting and interpreting this research, BARI forges mutually beneficial relationships among the region's scholars, policymakers, practitioners and civic leaders.  Today, BARI is directed by Daniel O'Brien at Northeastern University.

Over the years, BARI's organizers have focused on four primary strategies for achieving its goals: 

  • Providing opportunities for scholars and students to work with public officials on a variety of concrete projects, including support through internships and fellowships;
  • Creating two-way “data pipelines” and mapping tools that give researchers easier access to public data in ways not heretofore possible, and to give public officials easier access to academic analyses of the data;
  • Identifying core questions that concern both policymakers and scholars with the goal of facilitating original research that has both practical relevance and also addresses scholarly questions; and
  • Developing mechanisms that bring together officials and researchers in ways that ensure officials are aware of research findings and researchers are aware of policymakers’ knowledge and can learn from policymakers’ experiences in working on these topics. The  symposium that launched the initial effort of BARI in this area was held in the fall of 2011 at the Radcliffe Institute:

For more articles on the early years of BARI, see:

"Boston Neighborhoods Talk: Academics, City Government Officials Listen." Harvard Crimson. Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"Think Local: Why don’t Boston’s great professors study Boston? Top academics and city officials dig into a mystery."  Boston Globe, "Ideas" Section, October 9, 2011.

"When Town Meets Gown."  Harvard Gazette, October 27, 2011.

"Harvard and Boston" and "High-Tech Intersections."  Harvard Magazine, October 27, 2011.

"The City-University Connection."  NPR, November 14, 2011.

For BARI's current work, click here.