Our hope was to understand more about the neighborhoods students live in and the places that students valued in their neighborhoods, particularly parks or open green space, by asking them to map their neighborhoods or to draw what they would see if they were a bird flying over their neighborhoods. Only one student drew a park, however.

This failure to collect data that addressed our underlying research question can be explained in two ways. First, we approached the interviews with very open-ended questions about neighborhoods, not parks and green spaces, hoping to let students define their own interests and the neighborhood spaces that mattered to them. This meant that students were able to answer without talking about parks, and for the most part they did. Second, students were often engaged with the prompt in different ways, but neither those focused on a birds eye view or those focused on drawing pictures, produced images that revealed access or lack of access to green space. Some students were very focused on the “mappiness” of their drawings, while others drew pictures The former drew streets and railroad tracks and some buildings while the latter drew their own house and a few other places that matter to them. Neither approach really revealed what “neighborhood” meant to each student. 

What we did learn was that most students have very limited areas that they understand as part of their neighborhoods. This might reflect the degree to which young people have limited freedom to explore independently.

We got a variety of maps from the students. One student only drew their house and the trees outside, while other drew up to 7 or 8 blocks of their neighborhood. While most students only used one piece of paper to draw their neighborhood some used 2 or 3 and one used 9 pieces of paper. Some maps included pictures of people doing activities. Students labeled the parts of their neighborhood that stood out to them, for example a church or the dog park. Some of the mental maps had the birds eye view of their neighborhood which we asked for but some student’s maps were more artistic. There were also some very simple maps with only one or two building and there were other students that were extremely detailed who drew every building and house in their neighborhood.

“Imagine flying over your neighborhood and draw what you would see. You can tell me about it as you draw or you can draw first and then we can talk about it.”