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Thread: Urban blight and social isolation

  1. #26
          bross's avatar
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    I recently accepted an internship in Washington DC this summer (I'll be housed in Arlington) and after reading up on the city, I was told that the NW quadrant is by far the most prosperous and to stay clear of the SE and parts of the NE. I read that at the beginning of the Iraq War, there were more murders in the inner-city of Washington than there were US casualties in Iraq in a certain time period. I believe I read that in the Washington Post.

    My questions is...with so many federal jobs in DC, why are there so many depressed, blighted areas of the city? Is the beltway totally to blame? Or is it the structure of the DC government?

  2. #27
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    You could ask the same question about Detroit. Answer: urban abandonment. Why was there urban abandonment in America? That's a huge question that would require a book-length answer.

  3. #28
    Cyburbian the north omaha star's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by bross
    I recently accepted an internship in Washington DC this summer (I'll be housed in Arlington) and after reading up on the city, I was told that the NW quadrant is by far the most prosperous and to stay clear of the SE and parts of the NE. I read that at the beginning of the Iraq War, there were more murders in the inner-city of Washington than there were US casualties in Iraq in a certain time period. I believe I read that in the Washington Post.

    My questions is...with so many federal jobs in DC, why are there so many depressed, blighted areas of the city? Is the beltway totally to blame? Or is it the structure of the DC government?
    I wish people wouldn't tell someone to stay clear of an area because of misconceptions, generalizations, assumptions. That kind of isht really gets under my skin. I'm not disagreeing that there are some areas of SE and NE that are not safe but to generalize an entire area of a city is ridiculous. That happened to me when I visited Penn's planning program and a school official said not to go west of campus into "West Philly". So after his meaningless presentation of things I already knew about Philly, I went to West Philly anyway and discovered a whole world I wouldn't have known if I had listened to that idiot. There are parts of NW that aren't exactly the cat's meow either.

    We're supposed to be planners right? Do we only plan areas that are 'convenient'? Or areas that are 'hot'? Every area has to start somewhere. Most of those areas were 'hot' at some point in time, fell into disarray then came back because some developer took a 'risk' when he couldn't afford to build elsewhere. (e.g. U Street, Columbia Heights in DC, the list goes on and on and on).

    I apologize for the rant, but it's something that I felt that I had to say.
    I am recognizing that the voice inside my head
    is urging me to be myself but never follow someone else
    Because opinions are like voices we all have a different kind". --Q-Tip

  4. #29
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    I hear that University of Chicago tells their students not to go into Washington Park. So there's this massive beautiful park right next door and most of the student population is too scared to visit it.

  5. #30
    Cyburbian Man With a Plan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jmello
    In Boston, the poor blighted neighborhoods are those without transit access. The vast band of African-American poverty lies between the southern Red and Orange rapid transit lines, connected to the subway only by bus. A 30-60 minute bus and train ride is required to reach the central city and its amenities. This amplifies the isolation of these communities and is one of the primary reasons Boston is so socially segregated.

    However, this is a chicken and egg phenomenon. Did the poor move there because the lack of transit access made it more affordable? Were they steered into less accessible and less desirable areas by banks and real estate agents? Or, was improved transit withheld from this area because it lacked the political and economic influence of other areas? In light of recent events and projects (i.e. Fairmount Line, Silver Line Washington), I tend to favor the latter thesis.

    To offer a more relevant opinion on your question: I think you should look at perceived or real racism in the central city, self-confidence levels of the poor and their comfort level when entering downtown and central city attractions.
    Great points and a great question. The most blighted parts of Boston were formally Jewish/African American/Irish working class neighborhoods (e.g. Mattapan, West Dorchester, and the Blue Hill Ave Corridor).

    Blockbusting, real estate industry induced panic selling, antisemitism, and redlining practices created a middle class exodus from these neighborhoods in 1968-70. The former residents of this area that I ve spoken with state that it happened so fast that residents were not sure what was going on. They just knew all of their neighbors have moved and a man came to the house to warn them that they had better move now before the value of their three decker falls even more!!! The man gladly handled the real estate transaction.
    Last edited by Man With a Plan; 06 May 2005 at 3:27 PM.

  6. #31
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    I hear that University of Chicago tells their students not to go into Washington Park. So there's this massive beautiful park right next door and most of the student population is too scared to visit it.
    I, along with others in attendance, was told at the orientation for Temple University to never, ever use the Susquehanna-Dauphin SEPTA station, even though it was closer to my dorm than Cecil B. Moore/Temple station. Of course, we used it all the time. We also patronized the packy next to the station with bullet proof glass across the entire counter (they didn't seem to realize or care that there were laws regulating underage drinking in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania).

    Of course, I was later mugged at gunpoint at the corner of Susquehanna and Carlisle by three teens (don't ask me what I was doing over there). The neighbors casually watched from inside their living rooms. No worries though, I only lost $0.60 and a pager.

  7. #32
    Cyburbian the north omaha star's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Man With a Plan
    Great points and a great question. The most blighted parts of Boston were formally Jewish/African American/Irish working class neighborhoods (e.g. Mattapan, West Dorchester, and the Blue Hill Ave Corridor).

    Blockbusting, real estate industry induced panic selling, antisemitism, and redlining practices created a middle class exodus from these neighborhoods in 1968-70. The former residents of this area that I ve spoken with state that it happened so fast that residents were not sure what was going on. They just knew all of their neighbors have moved and a man came to the house to warn them that they had better move now before the value of theit three decker falls even more!!! The man gladly handled the real estate transaction.

    You should read a book called Blockbusting in Baltimore by Edward Orser. The premise of the book is exactly what you're talking about. I used it alot for my grad. school thesis.
    I am recognizing that the voice inside my head
    is urging me to be myself but never follow someone else
    Because opinions are like voices we all have a different kind". --Q-Tip

  8. #33

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    I found this study from the Brookings Institution that offers one explanation for urban blight and social isolation -- the sprawling of jobs within metropolitan areas.

    I'll go back to my insulation argument. Not only do many communities put up barriers to participation in a middle class environment (as I mentioned earlier), but they often simply insulate themselves geographically -- making it extremely difficult for low-income people to get to the places that have the most jobs.

    These kinds of actions only reinforce the sense of isolation within innere-city communities.

  9. #34
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Loulou
    i'm interested in writing my thesis on the role urban blight and environmental eyesores play in reinforcing social isolation. why do people living in blighted neighborhoods, but with access to a subway leading them into core activity sectors, remain socially isolated? how does the built environment reinforce perceptions of isolation even when, in reality, residents are technically able to access goods and services outside their neighborhood?
    Quote Originally posted by jmello
    In Boston, the poor blighted neighborhoods are those without transit access. The vast band of African-American poverty lies between the southern Red and Orange rapid transit lines, connected to the subway only by bus. A 30-60 minute bus and train ride is required to reach the central city and its amenities. This amplifies the isolation of these communities and is one of the primary reasons Boston is so socially segregated.

    However, this is a chicken and egg phenomenon. Did the poor move there because the lack of transit access made it more affordable? Were they steered into less accessible and less desirable areas by banks and real estate agents? Or, was improved transit withheld from this area because it lacked the political and economic influence of other areas?
    When it comes to Boston's Roxbury, it wasn’t withheld; it was simply moved. And it was moved with the community’s collaboration.

    Along the route of the old Washington Street Elevated, Roxbury was a poor but vital community. It resembled a scene by an Ashcan School painter, like Harlem at its peak. Then it was decided to demolish the El on the theory that it was the cause of blight. It may have been continuously lined with shops (not boarded up!!) and the sidewalks teemed with humanity, but no question: it looked old and seedy. So the El was slated to come down. To isolate the Community?

    It's tempting to believe the usual discrimination conspiracy theory, but actually on this one the community helped screw itself. I have a crystal clear memory of the process on this; it involved the most intense and ongoing consultation with "community representatives" during the design process. They were consulted on everything: alignment, station location and design, etc. ad nauseam.

    They produced something that functions largely like a suburban commuter railway; you have to drive to the stations because they’re at the fringes of the community, nice and suburban-style. Park-n-Ride or Kiss-n-Ride. Can you see the little woman from the socially isolated, impoverished ghetto family: every morning with her trusty station wagon she plows intrepidly through the urban blight to drop off hubby for his commute to work? Can you see it?? Can you just see it???

    The community representatives evidently could, or maybe they didn’t know what they were creating. What they did know was that they were supposed to not want some noisy elevated train rumbling through the middle of their neighborhood. It might have spawned as much retail vitality beneath the tracks as any el in Queens or Chicago, but it…just…didn’t…look right.

    I remember thinking how bizarrely dysfunctional the design was that emerged from this process full of suburban yearnings, where everything was sorted out and in its place. Nobody involved understood that a city’s the place where you mix things together. And an essential (no, central) part of that mix was the heavy rail line.

    Compared with the perhaps ugly but highly functional el, the new Orange Line alignment experienced an immediate drop in ridership. If the line doesn't work properly for Roxbury, blame amateur design and the goal of creating Suburbia in Roxbury: no more nasty ol' train in the middle of things; banish it to the outskirts (where it turns out --unsurprisingly-- no one uses it).

    The same thing happened in yuppifying Charlestown, where they moved the Orange Line to the distant outskirts ("Community College"), and Charlestown then morphed into a gentrified bedroom suburb with urban characteristics, like Alexandria, Va. Only Charlestown’s disadvantaged attempt the hike to the banished Orange Line; those who can do so, drive.

    Somebody needs to invent a cheap way to bore a tunnel.
    Last edited by ablarc; 08 May 2005 at 3:33 PM.

  10. #35
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    No go areas...

    ...yes, what's teh deal with that? The first time I visited LA (we're talking the 1980s) the best clubs were all in the 'bad' part of town (south of dowtown). Friends/relatives of a friend I visited there thoguht we were taking our lives into our own hand but, you know, it was just a neighborhood, bit run down, but nothing to freak out about. Not exactly Beirut. It's the same here in London. There are some areas with mroe crime but it's still extremely unlikely you'll be hit unless you are very young or old/frail. even them all sorts of people lvie there, right? I drove my in-laws-once through Wllesden and they commenteed how lively it looked and then I deadpanned to them that it was the gun murder capital of London/the UK. They sorta stopped talking until we hit the highway entrance.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  11. #36
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    ^ Yeah I agree. Ther isn't hardly any place in this country where one would really be in any danger from crime just passing through. The irrational fear most people have is really obnoxious to me. The expressway was probably far more dangerous to them than that neighborhood.

  12. #37
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    Quote Originally posted by Luca
    ...yes, what's teh deal with that? The first time I visited LA (we're talking the 1980s) the best clubs were all in the 'bad' part of town (south of dowtown). Friends/relatives of a friend I visited there thoguht we were taking our lives into our own hand but, you know, it was just a neighborhood, bit run down, but nothing to freak out about. Not exactly Beirut. It's the same here in London. There are some areas with mroe crime but it's still extremely unlikely you'll be hit unless you are very young or old/frail. even them all sorts of people lvie there, right? I drove my in-laws-once through Wllesden and they commenteed how lively it looked and then I deadpanned to them that it was the gun murder capital of London/the UK. They sorta stopped talking until we hit the highway entrance.
    Just to be picky, I was in Beirut last summer and I couldn't have felt safer and more welcomed. The recent turmoil is being dealt with peacefully, and the city is on the mend. In fact, it's a wonderful example of how proper urban design and planning can really create livable and productive spaces.

  13. #38
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    Ok from now on everyone use Baghdad as the default hellhole city.

  14. #39

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    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    Ok from now on everyone use Baghdad as the default hellhole city.
    I still think that in many people's minds, Detroit is the default hellhole American city. Or more accurately, our nation's whipping boy -- "if we don't take some drastic measures, we could end up like Detroit!!!"

    I hate that my hometown is looked at that way.

  15. #40
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    My point is, is there any place in Detroit where you couldn't walk down the street without a reasonable fear of getting shot? I highly doubt there is (although I'm sure most of suburban Detroit thinks that the city is a shooting gallery).

  16. #41

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    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    My point is, is there any place in Detroit where you couldn't walk down the street without a reasonable fear of getting shot? I highly doubt there is (although I'm sure most of suburban Detroit thinks that the city is a shooting gallery).
    There are many places that I'm familiar with in Detroit where you can walk without a reasonable fear of getting shot. My old neighborhood on the northwest side, for example -- a large area well-tended Georgians and Cape Cods built in the late '40s and early '50s, maintained by older empty-nester homeowners. The area is very much like my current neighborhood on the southwest side of Chicago. Going further northwest, and on the northeast side, there are places where crime is not the issue it is in other areas.

    But Detroit has become the poster child for urban decline, and deviations from the stereotype are hard for people to fathom.

  17. #42
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    <<But Detroit has become the poster child for urban decline, and deviations from the stereotype are hard for people to fathom>>

    Might it be possible that the stereotypes are derived from different perspectives?

    How different do you thinkstereotypes are percieved if you are male, female, white, black, young or old?

    Perception is often in the mind of the beholder. If you are a big strapping 20 y/o something guy you can't possibly understand how a situation that means nothing to you can terrify a small woman, especially if she has young children in tow.

  18. #43
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    that..

    That is a fair point, brought home, in my case, by the rising tide of horrific violence takign palce in good old blighty (that's the UK).

    I am often surprised by the fact that city-center advocates in many cases skirt around the issue of law and order and perception. It seems obvious to the point of banality (and yet, and yet) that city centers with a bad rep need a couple of years of seriously zero-tolerance policing before people trust them again. I don't mean thuggish cops, I mena good, well trained cops not allowing ANY deviation from the norms of civilized life. Look at NYC's West Side between the 20s and 40s.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  19. #44
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by lwbaby
    Perception is often in the mind of the beholder. If you are a big strapping 20 y/o something guy you can't possibly understand how a situation that means nothing to you can terrify a small woman, especially if she has young children in tow.
    I completly agree. And in fact when I'm often asked about various neighborhoods by people (because I do a lot of urban exploring and have seen much more of this city by the average person) I often quantify them with "it depends on your own comfort level." I might tell them that I think the neighborhood in question is a fine neighborhood and they won't have any trouble there but if they've not been in the city long it might make them nervous.

    But my point is that even one may be a small woman, she's still likely got nothing rational to fear. If being small and female naturally imbues one with a hypersensitive fear gland, then of course I'd not be able to comment on that (although nobody would call me "strapping") but honestly, men are more likely to be victims of violent crime than women.

    There was an article in the economist a while back about crime in the UK. The UK government has a problem because, although crime rates are going down, people think that crime rates are going up. So they have this problem where people are getting more fearful of crime precisely when their chances of getting victimized are reaching all time lows. The challenge for the government, according to that rag, is to get a handle on something (fear of crime) that has so little basis in reality.

  20. #45

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    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    There was an article in the economist a while back about crime in the UK. The UK government has a problem because, although crime rates are going down, people think that crime rates are going up. So they have this problem where people are getting more fearful of crime precisely when their chances of getting victimized are reaching all time lows. The challenge for the government, according to that rag, is to get a handle on something (fear of crime) that has so little basis in reality.
    Very true jordanb. One of the biggest problems with working in planning is the fear of the unknown. This fear is precisely what makes makes NIMBY groups so strong, particularly against issues such as mobile telephone transmitter masts. There was a crunch case here a year or so ago where a Planning Inspector ruled that the 'fear' of something was a material planning consideration and could, in effect, be used justifiably as a reason for refusing planning permission.

  21. #46
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    I....There was an article in the economist a while back about crime in the UK. The UK government has a problem because, although crime rates are going down, people think that crime rates are going up. So they have this problem where people are getting more fearful of crime precisely when their chances of getting victimized are reaching all time lows. The challenge for the government, according to that rag, is to get a handle on something (fear of crime) that has so little basis in reality.

    ...What happened in the UK is that a lot of petty crime (mostly economic in nature) asa fallen as unempoloyment has been at all-time lows for years and years.

    On the other hand, murder, rape and assault has been stable or rising and some of it has been particularly horrific, leading to graphic stories in the papers. This impacts people's perceptions, especially as sentencing is still only semi-punitive.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  22. #47
          bross's avatar
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    I recommend you read Culture of Fear - Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things by Barry Glassner. It is a very good book that discusses this phenomenon of why American's are afraid of things that shouldn't frighten them, such as youth violence and other forms of crime. He concludes that the main reason why people are afraid is because of the media's coverage of the events. I believe he was in "Bowling for Columbine."

    I agree with everyone's conclusion that its all about perception. A few years ago, I was going to a Phish concert in Camden, NJ and got lost. When I asked for directions at a gas station on the highway, the gas station attendent wished us "good luck" when traveling in downtown Camden (the only way to get to the concert).

    My brother tried to comfort me when he said that crime is less often to occur when its raining out (which it was). Granted, Camden is a very, very, very poor and dangerous city, but its all about perception. My brother had no qualms about driving through one of the worst inner cities in the country. I did, because of all the things I hear about on the news.

  23. #48
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Luca
    That is a fair point, brought home, in my case, by the rising tide of horrific violence takign palce in good old blighty (that's the UK).

    I am often surprised by the fact that city-center advocates in many cases skirt around the issue of law and order and perception. It seems obvious to the point of banality (and yet, and yet) that city centers with a bad rep need a couple of years of seriously zero-tolerance policing before people trust them again. I don't mean thuggish cops, I mena good, well trained cops not allowing ANY deviation from the norms of civilized life. Look at NYC's West Side between the 20s and 40s.
    Not to change the subject, but my second time in London (c. 1999-2000) I was flabbergasted by the amount of street crime. In two days I witnessed a woman running screaming that her purse was stolen, a man being rolled by several men in the middle of the sidewalk while no one did a thing, and a merchandise-loaded man running from a shoe store in Camden with several security guards in hot pursuit.

  24. #49
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by bross
    My brother tried to comfort me when he said that crime is less often to occur when its raining out (which it was). Granted, Camden is a very, very, very poor and dangerous city, but its all about perception. My brother had no qualms about driving through one of the worst inner cities in the country. I did, because of all the things I hear about on the news.
    Follow the news more carefully and you will see that most inner-city violence is NOT random. The victims are usually drug dealers, felons or gang members, not innocent bystanders passing through to get to a concert.

    Even in the most depressed neighborhoods, people operate with some sense of rationale. Ghetto-dwellers are not rabid animals: shooting every which way all day every day.

  25. #50
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by pete-rock
    There are many places that I'm familiar with in Detroit where you can walk without a reasonable fear of getting shot. My old neighborhood on the northwest side, for example -- a large area well-tended Georgians and Cape Cods built in the late '40s and early '50s, maintained by older empty-nester homeowners.
    Ah Pete you from Grandmont? Rosedale Park? Franklin Park? I KNOW you're not talking about Brightmoor, maybe Old Redford or Warrendale?

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