I teach in the department of sociology at American University, where I joined the faculty in 2011. I study how U.S. neighborhoods have evolved in the Civil Rights era, and how that evolution helps to explain social inequality. I have approached this issue from the level of interpersonal interaction up to a national study of changes that occurred in more than 10,000 neighborhoods over 40 years. My work shows that gradual segregation has or is occurring in about a third of neighborhoods because whites are unfamiliar with and averse to moving into neighborhoods where more than a token percentage of their neighbors would not be white. I have argued that this inaction by whites represents a negative space that perpetuates segregation and inequality.
My work shows that racial and economic segregation leads to inequality in public health exposures of residents. Working as an investigator on the Built Environment and Health Project, I have documented higher exposure to food deserts by race; the consequences are, however, sometimes counterintuitive. For example, we showed that adolescent obesity was lower in neighborhoods with more fast food restaurants and then showed that this was due to higher levels of overall commercial investment in neighborhoods rather than exposure to fast food restaurants.
I traverse geographic scales and have adapted or developed methods at different levels to answer those questions at each scale. With colleagues from the BEH project, I developed the Computer Assisted Neighborhood Visual Assessment System, or CANVAS, that allows raters to rate streets using Google Street View (see a news story about it here). We have combined this tool with advanced geostatistical methods to measure disorder and walkability of neighborhoods in cities across the country.
Joining the faculty at American brought me back home to the DC area where I grew up. I plan to spend several years studying the metro area that I have called home for most of my life, in part through the DC Area Survey that I launched in 2016. I am a Fellow of the Metropolitan Policy Center and on the Executive Board of the Center on Health, Risk, and Society. Before returning to the DC area, I was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. I received my Ph.D. from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) and my B.A. in Architecture and Art History from Rice University.
I live in Silver Spring, Maryland with my wife and two daughters. When I’m not working, I enjoy cooking, baking, and teaching Sunday School.