The Urban Ethnic Shuffle

12 thoughts on “The Urban Ethnic Shuffle”

  1. This blog post is somewhat abbreviated history. I’m not sure everyone views the disinvestment of urban areas as no problem. In addition to individual choices to flee racial integration of schools during the White Flight era, FHA systematically red-lined urban areas preventing them from accessing loans to develop their communities and build wealth, mainly because those areas were too “ethnic” to pass the criteria for loans. Meanwhile the suburbs were publicly subsidized with more highways and infrastructure and plenty of FHA loans for subdivisions. Those who stayed in urban areas were the ones without a choice, and those same folks are being priced out because they don’t have a choice in the new “revitalized” neighborhood. I’m not blaming poverty and gentrification on the government, but simplifying the debate to just a difference of perception and “pull your boot straps up” is a bit aloof and naive. Not to mention ignoring the public’s role in production of affordable housing in imperfect markets. There will always be income inequality, the question is do we create places for all or just let the market do its invisible hand magic and create another monolithic high income community and turn the suburbs to slums next?

    1. Yes, Yes. I’m well aware of red-lining, government subsidies, racial and religious covenants banning Negros and Jews, Irish Need Not Apply… I’m a WOP (With Out Papers) Sicilian. None of this is a secret. Why is health insurance tied to employment in America? We wouldn’t want lazy freeloaders getting anything at the public expense now would we? New England puritanism. Southern crackers. This is our centuries old national temperament. It’s what we’ve always done. It’s what I suspect we will always do – although the particulars will continue to shift over time. The current election circus doesn’t exactly indicate otherwise. So the real question is how do individuals respond under the circumstances? That’s a much more interesting question with a far more useful set of answers.

      1. Great commentary on key issues. Here’s what I wonder about: in cities/towns where “ethnics” are in the majority, like San Antonio, Tx where I live, we have the same experience, which means that “economic forces” determine what happens where & when, rather than being guided by “smart” urban planning & economic justice-oriented public officials.

        Why doesn’t anyone look at the city’s “public purpose” documents, the ones from which they are funded, which requires them to implement measures to improve standards of living & quality of life outcomes? Does anyone ever look at their million-dollar-funded proposals? How about their “comprehensive” or “economic development” plans? The answer is clearly “no”, because if this were the case, we would be talking about where & how the planning profession led by “urban” planners, rather than by community economic development (CED) planners, are falling short. Not so much to point the finger of blame, but to let them know that we are holding them accountable for the lack of greater accomplishment, given the large amounts of public dollars spent on an annual basis to address socioeconomic challenges.

        Let’s focus on actual plans already greatly financed, which are funded in the name of the community’s needs and where there is a legal & moral obligation to tackle these issues head-on. If & when public resources are misspent or abused, there are consequences, but not until & unless we are well informed regarding projects, plans, and policies being carried out. Economic public policy is what I focus on, but I know very, very few individuals interested in this line of work.

    2. For the record, yes, many not-so-great suburbs have already begun to devolve into the new slums. I see this trajectory as an absolute certainty. Many of them just aren’t worth saving so they’ll be left to fester and will be populated by whoever has no other alternative. You think Detroit was bad? Wait till you see how Country Club Court, Prestige Way, and Executive Lane hold up as the weather chips away at the aging T-111 and synthetic spray on stucco.

  2. Hey. As you know, much of my work is on this phenomenon and I’m honestly tired of blaming restaurants, bars and people who want to clean up houses as the problem. I do get upset when people mess with schools, social services and also the presence of people on the streets. But even though race and class have been conflated and closely linked in the past, what gives of those who are my age (younger Gen X, older millennial) who are the bulk of these folks who are moving into these areas. Why do we have a real estate market that rewards people gouging their house prices and also raising rents and in some cases using Ellis Act type measures to evict people.

    The pricing and valuing of homes, whether for rent or for sale, is very much a class thing. Someone who was limited to a certain house in the old days due to ethnicity, can now turn around in this new climate and be a slumlord or even a gentrifier, if they paid more for the house than it was originally worth.

    Good stuff these past couple of weeks!

    1. I defer to your wisdom on how black folks navigate these muddy economic and social waters. Back in school there was always a bit of white guilt pressure from teachers to write about how whites oppress people of color. I was poor white trash and tended to write about how poor whites are always suckered in to supported policies that kept themselves down just as much as so-called undeserving minorities.

      1. Which is why some assert that after (failed) Reconstruction, southern elites duped working class whites into accepting continued black subjugation, although that suppressed their income also, all of course to benefit the white upper crust. And partly what kept the South relatively underdeveloped economically.

  3. Marrrie, you have it right regarding social class. North Dallas (the wealthy half of the city) has a good bit of ethnic diversity, but its typically Asian, Indian, etc. Southern Dallas (the lower income half of the city) diversity is Latino and Black. I think one of the reasons that stereotype holds true is because its really economic differences, not race, that is the root problem. However, the unfortunate history of Dallas is that the lower economic class is mostly Latino and Black.

  4. I lived in an unusual room share in late 90s San Francisco. I (white guy) rented a room with a low income Native American family in the Mission. But it was the (Hispanic) property owner who rented me the room rather than the family. He just wanted to squeeze extra income out of the “den” which was really a piece of the master bedroom which was subdivided at one point out of the Victorian flat.

    In any case, he evicted all of us via Ellis Act about a year later. At the time, I was minimum wage and going to community college. It was one of those “I hope the check will clear in time” stressful situations because rents were going up and people were getting pickier about roommates. I ended up accepting the first room that came along, which was the worst roommate experience of my life.

    I ended up just fine but it took nearly ten years before I had a “real” job where I could actually plan more than 1 month ahead financially. Not sure about the family but I doubt they ended up working in tech. Moral of the story: there’s no clear cut ethnic heros and villians and life choices matter. But for sure, if you’re poor, there’s very little wiggle room and it’s a long way out of the hole. The tragedy is many people don’t understand where they are in the game. We’re all playing Monopoly whether we want to or not.

  5. “As a nation we’re fundamentally unable to have a meaningful conversation about why some people are persistently poor while others are free to choose where and how they live.”
    A very important statement which raises a whole bunch of physiological questions about human behavior(s). Just why does one person do nothing, when another will do whatever they need to do to pull/help themselves up and out of whatever situation(s) they find themselves in?
    There were/are five of us, two girls and three boys. We never had much and when our father was killed drunk driving, we even had less. Our mother did what she could but times were hard. Four of us, did what we had to do to work our way out of it. One still doesn’t want to work and or do what he needs to do.
    I’ve always wondered why.

    1. Some people focus on the individual who does or doesn’t bootstrap himself up out of poverty. Other people talk about institutional roadblocks that keep down even the most motivated and industrious person. I’ve known a lot of dead lazy folks who did just fine in life because their family had money to insulate them from their own poor choices. And I’ve known some very good people who were held back for no good reason. Life is complicated. My point here is that the conversation about gentrification is usually about the outward effect, but not the underlaying cause.

  6. It’s funny how basically the same situation can be interpreted differently. My neighborhood is undergoing the exact same changes, but has alway been white (and stayed that way when it became run down.) It’s in Canada and the black population is much smaller than in the states. Here, the same “violence” is percieved, but we talk about it in terms of social class instead. I’m under the impresion that the same lens could be used for Dallas even if “lower class” is mostly black there.

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