The Fair Park Neighborhood Study

The Fair Park Neighborhood Study

Field Research StudyThis project, funded by the National Science Foundation, studies how neighborhood structural and physical conditions impact the well-being of individual residents. The project was conducted by researchers (including Dr. Tammy Leonard) working in the Neighborhood Change Research Initiative at the University of Texas at Dallas. The results, relationships and learning facilitated by this project were the basis for the formation of CARe.  A list of publications from this project can be found here.

The project’s investigation focuses on the changes in the neighborhood surrounding Fair Park—the traditional site of the Texas State Fair and the Cotton Bowl, a 2000 acres area with approximately 26,000 residents located two miles southeast of downtown Dallas, over a period of four years; i.e. before and after public investment in light rail, housing, and infrastructure is implemented.

Why the Fair Park Neighborhood?

The neighborhood surrounding Fair Park was chosen as the focus of the study for several reasons:

  1. It has been one of the poorest areas in Dallas County for a long time. Even back in the 1960s, the annual median family income in this area ranged between $3,938 to $2,868, which was in stark contrast to $6,600 for Dallas County as a whole. Today, there are no block groups in the area that have a median income above $35,000, while the lowest is about $8,600.
  2. Fair Park with its rich cultural and historic endowments, holds the potential to become one of the most important tourist attractions in Dallas.
  3. The neighborhood surrounding Fair Park is an important ethnic minority locality, inhabited by African Americans and a smaller, but growing percentage of Hispanics.
  4. In 2001, the South Dallas/ Fair Park Economic Development Corridor Plan found that there was a need to change the land-use patterns in the neighborhood. Back then, alcohol-related uses accounted for the largest share of land usage (35.8 percent), and more than 50 percent of the existing uses had an adverse effect on the community. The plan also identified various obnoxious uses that needed to be remedied, contributing to noise, traffic or crime, junk in front yards and outdoor display of merchandise. If the public investment in area succeeds in bringing about a change in land-use patterns, then it would be expected that there will be a positive impact on the quality of life in the community.
  5. At the time of the project Fair Park received a significant injection of public investment. The Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) built a new light rail line into Fair Park.  The City passed a bond issue worth $40M directed for development around the second station, which is also close to the Tax Increment Financing District (TIF) that provided private investors with a mechanism to recover investments in infrastructure.  In 2003, the area around the third train station received a $20M HOPE VI award. This spurred several development initiatives (a Community Development Corporation, a Habitat for Humanity project and new Dallas Housing Authority public housing).


The aim of the project is fourfold:

  1. To measure changes in the environment of a low income, ethnic minority, urban neighborhood as a result of publicly-driven investment.
  2. To measure changes in the perceptions, preferences and behaviors of the neighborhood residents.
  3. To examine how changes in the neighborhood and resulting behaviors influence educational outcomes for children.
  4. To create a research framework, as well as corresponding institutions, such that the analysis of other outcomes (e.g. health-related, employment, etc) may benefit from the set of circumstances occurring in this neighborhood.


Publicly driven investment will impact endogenous neighborhood variables leading to positive changes in the study area.

To further illustrate, we take the example of the addition of a new light rail station. This could lead to increased mobility of neighborhood residents, which can change perceptions of safety, access to employment, and social capital, which in turn can generate new resources for households. The ways in which parents allocate their resources across different activities and their priorities could also change.  The end result could be a change in parental involvement in their child’s education, thus affecting the child’s adjustment in school.

Data Collection

In order to assess how built environment impacts educational attainment, a comprehensive panel data set is obtained from the following sources:

  1. Direct observation by trained coders, parents, researchers and teachers
  2. Administration of two household surveys- (the Brief Household Survey and the Detailed Household Survey), as well as through a series of economic field experiments
  3. Administrative data provided by the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) and the Dallas Central Appraisal District.

Neighborhood physical conditions are measured using a Neighborhood Observation Checklist. The checklist is used to create measures of physical incivilities (proportion of buildings that were boarded/abandoned/burned, the amount of graffiti, amount and type of litter present, and poor condition of public spaces), social incivilities (discarded drug paraphernalia/condoms, loitering adults, disruptive youth), and social interaction (children under adult supervision, people socializing, reactions of residents to observers).

Household-level measures of perceptions, preferences and social capital are measured with three instruments- economics experiments and two written household surveys(comprised of questions from well-known surveys such as the American Housing Survey, the General Social Survey, the U.S. Census Community Survey, and the Federal Reserve Bank’s Survey of Consumer Finance as well as original questions).

Economic conditions of the sub-sample panel are evaluated annually with the Detailed Household Survey, including employment status, household income, health insurance status, time and financial budgets.

Parental involvement in children’s education is evaluated using four previously established tools, including the Parent-Teacher Involvement Questionnaire; the Raising Children Checklist (a survey used to assess parenting styles); the Survey Measure of Mother-Child Relationship for Middle Childhood (a measure of frequency of display of parental affection, and child-monitoring); and an adapted version of Child Report of Parent Behavior for 3rd, 5th and 7th graders enrolled in neighborhood schools.

Measures of children’s academic achievement (grades and test scores) and behavioral adjustment involve a number of different instruments, among which are the Behavior Problems Index, the Teacher Checklist of Social Behavior, the Academic Behavior Skills Scale, DISD data on standardized tests, absences and grade retention, etc.

 (Project summary by Saheli Nath)