Your Neighborhood Matters

Daniel Tiger is a familiar face for the families of preschool-age children. Created by The Fred Rogers’ Foundation, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood follows a researched-based curriculum, teaching emotional intelligence and respect to children. And the show has one focus: characters learn about life through daily experiences and interactions in their neighborhood (honoring Mister Rogers’ legacy).

But aptly named, the community is called “The Neighborhood of Make Believe.” It’s fitting because, although children can experience the neighborhood of Daniel Tiger on PBS, many do not experience the advantages of such a neighborhood in reality. Researchers have deemed this phenomenon the crumbling American Dream - the idea that your neighborhood determines your future.

Daniel tiger neighborhood

For example, in Daniel Tiger’s neighborhood school, his classmates have parents with a variety of occupations, incomes, and education levels. Characters include a government employee (a librarian), a technician (clockmaker), a small business owner (music shop owner), a government official (King Friday), and a museum curator. And these adults make up only a small collection of the role models the neighborhood children interact with.

So, what does the “neighborhood of reality” look like? Many neighborhoods across the United States are heavily racially and financially segregated, meaning children are not surrounded by adults and families with a variety of occupations and aspirations. In fact, when a child’s family is very poor, it’s likely they live in a place where their neighbors are also very, very poor, lacking any social capital or mobility.



And recent research is telling an important story: the outcomes for children in our country would change if neighborhoods were more diverse. George Galster, a professor of urban affairs at Wayne State University, studied the way that Denver, CO. assigns low-income families to low-income housing in a variety of neighborhoods, including wealthier neighborhoods. He compared students’ educational outcomes in Denver with other communities where families are assigned to large-scale apartment buildings in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Young people in general, but particularly African-American and Latino kids, gain from living in economically diverse neighborhoods. Galster studied outcomes like grade point average and graduation rates, and the results were clear. Financial diversity in communities can change the opportunities American children have.

So, how do we make the “neighborhood of make believe” a reality for more children in the U.S.? We think educational options could make a big difference in targeted neighborhoods. Learn more about it here.