Mapping Change in Your Neighborhood

During your lifetime, you have probably witnessed many changes in your neighborhood. New families arrive and old friends move away. Stores open for business or close up shop. Bicycle riders switch to skateboards and then graduate to driving cars. Over time, little changes like these alter the character of a neighborhood and even change the way it appears on a map. In this activity, you will trace the changes that have transformed your neighborhood over the past 25 years.


1. Begin by defining the area you will survey. Depending on where you live, your neighborhood might be as small as a city block or as large as the region surrounding a small town. Talk with members of your family about their perceptions of your neighborhood. A younger brother or sister, for example, might see it as the area immediately around your home, while older family members, with wider networks of friends and acquaintances, might see your neighborhood in much broader terms. Decide how you see it and draw an outline map showing the boundaries of your neighborhood. You can get some good ideas about making a neighborhood map on the Kennedy Center's ArtsEdge website.

2. Make two copies of your outline map. Save one to map your neighborhood as it appeared 25 years ago. Use the other one to show the main features of your neighborhood as it appears today.

  • Indicate where people live and the kinds of homes they live in—apartment buildings, multi-family housing, townhouses, single-family homes, etc.
  • Identify businesses and workplaces that may be in your neighborhood—supermarkets, convenience stores, banks, gas stations, restaurants, clothing stores, offices, factories, shopping malls, etc.
  • Mark the location of schools, churches, and public buildings such as a library, post office, police station, fire station, park, or community center.
  • Label the roads in your neighborhood and identify other modes of transportation, such as bus and subway lines.

3. Now research what your neighborhood was like 25 years ago. Check at the library for copies of your local newspaper from that period. Look for stories about your neighborhood, obituaries of people who lived in the neighborhood, pictures of the neighborhood, and advertisements for businesses located there. You might also find old maps and other records at the library, a local historical society, or your town hall.

4. The best source of information about how your neighborhood has changed will likely be your neighbors and the older members of your own family. Interview at least three neighbors or relatives who have lived in your neighborhood over the past 25 years, using your map to find out how things have changed. In your interviews, try to get a sense of what it was like to live in your neighborhood back then. For example, you might ask:

  • When were the homes on your map constructed? What did they look like 25 years ago? Who lived in the neighborhood back then—families like your neighbors today or families with different cultural backgrounds?
  • Which businesses in your neighborhood were already in operation 25 years ago? How have those businesses changed? What kinds of businesses did they replace? Were there chain stores and fast-food restaurants, video stores and automatic teller machines back then?
  • Have there been changes in the schools and churches in your neighborhood? What was school like 25 years ago? Are there any religious denominations that have left the neighborhood or moved into it over the years?
  • Where did kids go to play 25 years ago? What were summers and winters like back then? What languages did people speak? What holidays did they observe?
  • Be sure to ask if your interviewees have photographs of life in the neighborhood 25 years ago. With their permission, make photocopies of any photographs that seem especially revealing of what the neighborhood was like back then.

5. Use your interviews and research to create a map of your neighborhood as it appeared 25 years ago. Then organize the news clippings, pictures, and reminiscences you have collected to create a presentation about change in your neighborhood over the past 25 years. Your presentation might take the form of a scrapbook, a bulletin board display, or a webpage. Share your presentation with family members, classmates, and with the people you interviewed.

To learn more about how social change affects the character and culture of a place, visit the National Geographic Society's Virtual World, the New Suburb website.