16.1.08

GRAFFITI AND SANITATION.

The presence of the first, and the absence of the second, are clear indicators of a blighted neighborhood, and that pattern influences migration patterns among the near-poor. Although the observation is staggeringly obvious, works such as There Goes The Neighborhood, the effort of William Julius Wilson and Richard P. Taub with able assistance by numerous University of Chicago graduate students are useful in understanding the dynamics at work by which some neighborhoods may have a change in ethnic composition with no change in quality of life, while others either change little or become blighted. The organizing framework for the research is Albert Hirschman's "exit" and "voice" options: in some neighborhoods, people simply leave, while in others they get organized. That organization can be a force for good (keeping up appearances) or ill (keeping out those who don't fit). The research focuses on four Chicago neighborhoods.

This Book Review No. 2 provides a bit of background for readers who aren't as familiar with Chicago as I. Many observers refer to Chicago as a "city of neighborhoods." That's probably true of all cities (one can go from a well-to-do neighborhood to a blighted one simply by crossing a street) although the Chicago locution includes references to "Pilsen" and various "Parks" and various "villages" and often the character of a neighborhood is an artifact of when the houses were built. The cover of the book provides some clues as to the identities of the neighborhoods studied (which the authors masked in order to allow the individuals they interviewed freedom to speak more freely). The commercial district illustrated in the upper-left corner is likely in "Archer Park", a formerly Bohemian neighborhood that now serves as a port of entry, if not necessarily a home, for people migrating from Latin America. The tract houses in upper right probably characterize "Beltway," which the book describes as isolated from most of the city by Midway Airport and popular with city workers of European extraction (Chicago, in common with many cities, conditions employment on residency) who are relatively successful at maintaining the existing economic and ethnic composition of their neighborhood. It's not as obvious that the brick triple-deckers at right center or the row of bungalows at bottom represent either of the remaining neighborhoods, all of which are on the southwest side (the direction "east" taking on meaning once one gets south of 63rd Street). "Groveland" is also a popular neighborhood for city workers, these of African extraction, and like their "Beltway" counterparts, keen to maintain or improve the economic condition. The fourth neighborhood, "Dover," has remained Catholic in religious outlook while evolving ethnically from Eastern European to Latin American, with the migrants keen to upgrade their economic condition.

The book notes multiple sources of ethnic tension, which cannot easily be fitted into the hierarchy of oppression framework popular with culture-studies types. One common theme in all neighborhoods, including the least-established "Archer Park," is Don't send our kids to a bad school. A bad school is one where the bad habits of the poor and ineffective aren't corrected. To a large extent, that correlates with "underclass blacks" and in some ways the upwardly mobile residents of "Groveland" are the most aggressive in keeping that element out. (It brings to mind a quip about Hyde Park - a real Chicago neighborhood, containing the University of Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry - being the neighborhood where black and white stand shoulder to shoulder against the poor). Parents were able to put aside other differences or other fears in order to protect their children from being sent to the worst schools.

The book works better as analysis than as policy framework. The authors are of the view that urban poverty can be solved by throwing more federal money at it. More money, however, cannot inculcate the Habits of Highly Effective People, and it is the absence of those habits that the research suggests is behind much of the urban migration. What is more disturbing is that the allegedly better common schools are becoming less effective at inculcating those habits. I noted numerous complaints, particularly among adult residents of "Beltway" and "Groveland", about the bad behavior of the youngsters. Those are your own children, people. Yes, a more middle-class milieu in the schools will help, but the schools have to be reinforced at home. Many of the parents appear to be struggling with how best to do that. It's tougher in "Groveland," where ethnic "authenticity" has a lot of street baggage in it. An academic study has to contemplate directions for future research, perhaps that is one direction that research will take.

(Cross-posted, pending moderation, at the Fifty Book Challenge)

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