Michael Smart: Gay Neighborhoods and Travel
Michael Smart is an assistant professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers. His research interests include the influence of social and spatial phenomena on individual's transportation decisions, with a particular interest in built-environment effects on alternative modes of travel, such as biking and walking. Smart's current research explores the ways in which social networks embedded in particular neighborhoods of affinity — such as immigrant neighborhoods and gay and lesbian neighborhoods — influence the activity patterns of those who live in those neighborhoods. His work has examined the extent to which immigrant neighborhoods across the country function as "cities-within-cities," and developed novel techniques for describing the inward- or outward-focus of neighborhoods. He received his Ph.D. from the Department of Urban Planning at UCLA in 2011, as well as a master's degree in planning from the University of Pennsylvania in 2006 and a bachelor's degree in German from Yale in 2000.
Lesbians and gay men have travel patterns that are, on average, considerably "greener" than those of straight individuals. Why might this be? Geography plays a clear role; gay men in particular are more likely to live in dense, urban neighborhoods than are other couples. Yet, the role of the neighborhood goes beyond the built environment. Our analysis suggests that social connections embedded in gay neighborhoods shape gay individual's activity and travel patterns. We use national data and find that gay couples in gay neighborhoods make shorter trips, and are more likely to walk, bike, and use transit, than are their straight next-door neighbors. This is likely because gay couples in these neighborhoods have stronger connections to local institutions, shops, and places of employment than do their straight neighbors. We build on similar research on immigrants living in immigrant neighborhoods. Neighborhoods are not just containers for infrastructure and buildings; when considering how neighborhoods influence travel patterns, planners should recognize that social connections matter.