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Thread: Why no large urban prairie/slum removal in MPLS compared to other Midwestern cities?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    Why no large urban prairie/slum removal in MPLS compared to other Midwestern cities?

    I have been looking at midwestern cities for quite awhile and noticed that the minneapolis/saint paul area really does not show evidence of slum clearing or urban prairie. I'm not suggesting this didn't happen, but rather that it was filled in or hidden in some noticeable way. The peak population in the cities was about 850,000 combined (compared with today's 670,000) but the cities lack the prairis of detroit, north saint louis, cleveland, etc. Does anyone know why it (thankfully) didn't recieve the same treatment as similar midwestern cities?
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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Same thing in Denver. There's a few neighborhoods in the city that are rough around the edges (Five Points, Globeville, Villa Park), but nothing that comes close to resembling a Rust Belt slum.

    This is going to sound politically incorrect at first, but read on to the end.

    Denver and Minneapolis didn't experience a large influx of blacks from the South during the Great Northern Migration. While those cities had black neighborhoods, they didn't see the same explosion of the black population as in places like Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago and St. Louis.

    Because blacks tended to have lower incomes than whites, and the black population in so many America cities grew so quickly, the process of housing filtration over time was accelerated. See the research of W. Dennis Keating for more detail.

    Unrelated to the Great Northern Migration, worker's cottages and other types of low-end housing built to accommodate factory workers of the late 1800s and early 1900s also seem less prevalent in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area than in Rust Belt cites. Thus, there was a smaller supply of pre-War housing that became functionally obsolete as a result of post-War prosperity. There were fewer older houses that nobody wanted because they were seen as too small or awkward by increasingly affluent homebuyers and renters.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  3. #3
    The phenomena of cities emptying out is not all that widespread in the US. Rather, it is mostly in an arc from Washington DC up through the Midwest down to St. Louis (also maybe Atlanta and some other southern cities? - I am not sure about the South) Even cities outside this arc that had large African American migration didn't experience massive abandonment. See Los Angeles and Oakland, for example.

    So the real question is why did some cities experience this and others did not. It seems to be a combination of dramatic racial change AND dramatic economic decline. Something that only a subset of cities experienced.

    I'd love to hear other people's explanations.

  4. #4
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gotta Speakup View post
    Even cities outside this arc that had large African American migration didn't experience massive abandonment. See Los Angeles and Oakland, for example.
    A WAG: housing in Los Angeles and Oakland was newer than Rust Belt cities at the time there was an influx of African-Americans, and thus less likely to be considered obsolete as filtration took place. Blacks arriving in Buffalo settled into worker's cottages and two-flats built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Generally, small frame houses built for working-class immigrants from the start, which were 50 to 70 years old by the time blacks first arrived in large numbers. (Those living in the larger, newer houses of Hamlin Park or Masten Park were the exception, not the norm.) In LA, blacks congregated in what were then lower-middle to middle class neighborhoods south of downtown which were developed in the 1920s; larger detached houses that were only 20 to 30 years old in 1950. A Google Street View comparison:

    South Central LA: http://goo.gl/maps/2y2w
    Fruit Belt in Buffalo (the city's first neighborhood to experience racial transition after WWII): http://goo.gl/maps/98U7
    A street with similar housing in a gentrified neighborhood in Buffalo: http://goo.gl/maps/sBoF

    Also, during the Great Depression and WWII, many houses were subject to deferred maintenance. In sunny LA, 15 years of a poor economy and wartime material shortages didn't really have much of an impact on South Central's relatively new bungalows and Spanish-style houses. In snowy Buffalo, most cottages came out of the 1940s a lot worse for the wear.

    What about Detroit, and its extensive 1920s-era housing stock? It's an outlier. LA's not a one-industry, manufacturing-dependent town.

    So the real question is why did some cities experience this and others did not. It seems to be a combination of dramatic racial change AND dramatic economic decline. Something that only a subset of cities experienced..
    It might be interesting to see if there's a pattern of urban prairies or widespread neighborhood abandonment in Southern cities where there was both a large, established black population and historic housing discrimination.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Dan, the missing element in your analysis is white flight. I can still remember discussions in the 1970's about Chicago neighborhoods changing and long-time residents talking of moving out because there were getting to be so many blacks or Puerto Ricans. These were not necessarily racist people, although they did have predjudices. They simply percieved the arrival of other races as an indication that the neighborhood was less safe and less desirable. To be fair, remember that in the late 60's and early 70's there were massive race riots in most of these cities. Suburbs offered newer homes, better schools, and safer environments, so those with the economic means tended to migrate to them.

    A second factor that should be considered is the geographic shift in manufacturing and distribution jobs, later followed by office jobs. At a large scale, we lost a great number of major industries beginning as early as the 1960's and accelerating through the 1970's and 80's. Steel mills, assembly plants, and other giant factories covered hundreds of acres. When they closed there was often a drawn out period in which these assets were part of legal proceedings, and almost always there were issues of obsolete buildings, environmental contamination, and other problems that kept reinvestment from occuring. At a smaller scale, many pre-WWII industrial buildings were not well suited to new methods of manufacturing. Poor access, multiple levels, inadequate infrastructure, and other issues meant that the better firms would build new, while more marginal ones tended to rent the old space. It often meant lower levels of investment and even maintenance, resulting in a downward spiral, bringing poorer quality jobs and more frequent unemployment for people in the neighborhood.
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  6. #6
    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    Dan, the missing element in your analysis is white flight. I can still remember discussions in the 1970's about Chicago neighborhoods changing and long-time residents talking of moving out because there were getting to be so many blacks or Puerto Ricans. These were not necessarily racist people, although they did have predjudices. They simply percieved the arrival of other races as an indication that the neighborhood was less safe and less desirable. To be fair, remember that in the late 60's and early 70's there were massive race riots in most of these cities. Suburbs offered newer homes, better schools, and safer environments, so those with the economic means tended to migrate to them.
    White flight began well before the 1960s race riots, it was well under way in the 1950s. You are right, not everyone was racist, but there sure were a heck of a lot of them who were. And too many who were not went along with it. Read for example:

    As Long as They Don't Move Next Door by Stephen Grant Meyer
    The Origins of the Urban Crisis by Thomas Sugrue

    Those times, where even anti-black meetings were hosted in churches, were heartbreaking.

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