Many years ago I attended a state university on scholarship in an east coast town that had been hit hard by deindustrialization, white flight to the suburbs, and some really tragic attempts at urban renewal. The school, a couple of medical centers, and a corporate campus were little islands amid the crusty remains of a once charming 19th century town that had been absolutely hammered.
The university dorms were remarkably similar in design, size, and materials to the public housing projects a few blocks away. They were built at roughly the same time by the same local companies and tradesmen and overseen by similar state agencies. My friends and I used to refer to these ugly concrete and brick towers as “Lenin, Marx, and Engels” since they were indistinguishable from communist apartment blocks in Eastern Europe.
But there was a serious difference in how the dorms were maintained compared to the public housing. The dorms were always scrubbed clean and freshly painted. The carpets, windows, and furniture were periodically replaced, and the mechanical systems were always in working order. The grounds were green and well landscaped. There was a full time staff that constantly looked after the buildings and campus. But over at the public housing projects the buildings were falling apart and every inch of the outdoor space had been paved. Many of the apartments were consistently without heat or running water. More than a few windows were covered in plywood.
The standard argument is that the people who live in public housing are simply bad. They have no morals and destroy everything around them. They commit crimes. They have no respect for the property they inhabit at taxpayer expense. But I can tell you from first hand experience that the middle class kids in the dorms were busy drinking, loafing, having sex, taking all manner of drugs, and being terribly and willfully destructive to the buildings they inhabited – also heavily subsidized by the taxpayer. The difference is that the authorities sent cops over to the projects while they sent maintenance crews over to the dorms.
The dorms and the projects were two completely different universes like twins that had been separated at birth in a bizarre social experiment. I often wondered what would happen if the dorms and the projects were merged so that equal numbers of each population lived in a completely mixed environment across all the buildings with the same management. I have to assume that the waters would be muddied quite a bit.
What if the university campus police and the public housing police were consolidated into the same agency? A lot more college kids would go to jail for petty drug offenses. (Or at least they would have to go through the motions of having their parents’ lawyers bail them out…) What if the maintenance crews from the university were merged with the public housing staff? A lot of poor folks would have heat, new windows, and some green grass.
Or… Realistically, middle class families would stop sending their kids to that school or would pay for private housing off campus. The dorms would become radically underfunded and poorly maintained. Look around. That’s the story of America. It is, in fact, one grand separated at birth social experiment. We just don’t think of it that way.