Thursday, September 6, 2007

764 Racism, Fear, White Flight and the Decay of the Inner City

Message no. 746[Branch from no. 740] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Monday, April 2, 2007 4:47pm Subject: Re: Adrienne

Very well written and thought provoking relational summary Adrienne! I was particularly taken by the blog you cited:

I think the author's point was absolutely true: Racism is at the heart of most of the problems that plague the city/suburb disjuncture. At one time the inner city was the most vibrant part of human social life -- and it was dominated by the rich, who built those inner city neighborhoods. In Europe the rich still occupy the inner city (look at Paris, for example) so the city still retains its beauty and charm, while it is the banlieu (the suburb) where low cost housing was built to house immigrant laborers who were never fully integrated into racist European society. So crime and ugliness plague the suburbs, and in Europe it is considered dangerous to go outside of the city.

In America, because of all the space, "white flight" started occuring when people of color and immigrant ethnicity got civil rights and began to compete for space and jobs in the glorious inner city. Rather than share and build a great society (to paraphrase President Johnson), policy encouraged weathier people to move out of the city into apartheid controlled suburban enclaves -- walled or policed or gated fortresses for the wealthy. Usually this meant severe pressure and discrimination against people of color, which reinforced their poverty.

Crime -- i.e. the desperate and angry behavior of people trying to survive in an informal economy because they are denied access to the formal economy -- led to social decay. This led real estate prices to plummet in the inner city. Now wealthy people are buying up the inner city areas again and "gentrifying" them.

The color issue is fortunately fading away (far too slowly of course!) but the class issue is as bad as ever. The poor are literally being squeezed out from within and without, struggling to survive in "edge cities", usually on the most toxic soils next to factories and dumps.

I am not sure if I agree that people are more friendly in the suburbs. I think if you are part of the same social class or in-group people are friendly everywhere. My black and hispanic friends from South Central L.A. used to tell me that they felt very uncomfortable visiting me in Beverly Hills. They were always being hassled by the police and avoided by the pedestrians. But in the 'hood, when I visited, people always said hello, looked me in the eye, smiled and waved.

I don't think it is the city or the suburb, or population density, that makes one place or another friendly -- I think it is fear or a lack of fear. The most friendly part of Cairo I have found is the inner city. In America fear distorts our land-use patterns and our behaviors in them.

A good film to see that speaks to this issue is Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine" documentary. You should particularly watch the part where "South Park" creators made a cartoon about American racial history. It is funny yet poignantly sad. Then watch the section about why people in Detroit lock their doors, while Canadians across the river keep theirs unlocked.

Fear and the psychology of behavior.

I agree with the author of the blog you quoted -- the wealthy have a RESPONSIBILITY to bring investment, opportunity and beauty back into the city, without excluding anybody. Once that happens, and we stop looking at people with fear because they are different, I think we will all be able to keep our doors unlocked and look into each other's eyes and say hello.

Thanks for the opportunity to think about all this through your great post!

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