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CSDE Seminar Series

Population Research Discovery Seminars

Constructing Segregation: Examining Social and Spatial Division in Road Networks

Elizabeth Roberto, Department of Sociology, Rice University

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12:30-1:30 PM PT

101 Hans Rosling Center

101 Hans Rosling Center


Population Health Initiative

Racism, discriminatory practices, institutional bias, and systematic exclusion can take lasting physical form in the built environment. There has been growing attention to the long-term consequences of housing policies and practices on social and economic outcomes, including racial segregation, but comparatively less attention to other aspects of the built environment, such as road networks and spatial connectivity. In this paper, we develop a novel approach that identifies missing road segments that we would expect to exist in a city’s road network given the surrounding infrastructure. We find that unexpected disconnectivity in a city’s road network is associated with racial differences in nearby areas and contributes to higher levels of segregation at the local and city level. Our findings emphasize the power of the built environment and suggest that road networks warrant more attention as a factor that may contribute to the persistence of segregation.

Elizabeth Roberto is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Rice University. She has research interests in social and spatial inequality, a substantive focus on residential segregation, and methodological expertise in computational social science and quantitative methods. Her research uses innovative methods to examine the complex relationship between the social and built environment of cities. In particular, she studies how physical barriers and road network (dis)connectivity spatially structure segregation patterns and contribute to their persistence. Dr. Roberto received a Ph.D. in sociology from Yale University and a M.P.A. and B.A. from George Washington University. After completing her Ph.D., she was a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Sociology at Princeton University. Her research has been supported by the James S. McDonnell Foundation, American Sociological Association, and the National Academies, among others. Her work has appeared in Sociological Methodology, Spatial Demography, Social Science & Medicine, and other academic journals. She previously held positions as a Presidential Management Fellow and Research Analyst at the U.S. Department of Transportation, Brookings Institution, and Government Accountability Office.