Upon evaluation of urban trends and social infrastructure, the reality of becoming neighbors is much more difficult than just moving in next door. Of course, the simplicity of the concept seems easy, but in reality is far from it. As a child, it was fun to watch “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” after school and learn about things that made people good citizens. “Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood” was a children's show that aired from 1968-2001 on PBS (Public Broadcasting Station). The opening theme song ended with the phrase “Won't you be my neighbor?” and really tried to instill that neighborly behavior into the minds of those who watched it. However, in today's modern urban society being neighborly is far more complicated than just waving and shaking hands.
Everything from demographics, political interests, ethnic diversity and social economic differences from who moved in first to the last person to on the block, play a key part in how urban developments and acceptable social standards are made. Simply put, demographics dictate everything from how a neighborhood starts, its social trends are maintained, and what it will allow for possible growth by way of effectively and peacefully introducing new things. Beginning with the most obvious, ethnic diversity is one of the biggest urban social dictations in any neighborhood. Since the beginning of time, people have usually stayed within their own kind and because of this it is very difficult for social acceptance of new or different people to occur (those who are NOT of the same ethnic group). If an Irish family moves into a primarily African American part of town for example, this family will be in for quite the shock as will the current dwellers in this location. On top of the color differences, there are fashion changes, traditions like holidays and music, dating rules, manners and acceptable behavior that will clash throughout the area. On the brightside however, both groups tend to be liberal in politics so while they may not throw many dual cultural parties they will at least seem to get along at the polls.
On the other hand, if you take a look at a city like Laredo, Texas the diversity is also very different. (see Figure 1 chart on Federal Census demographics) The ironic issue though is while demographically speaking, Laredo is the same, social economics plays a much larger role in how the city has developed. It doesn't take long to notice this either. If a survey team were to take McPherson from Loop 20 all the way down to Saunders, they could easily see where the north side of town starts off very upper middle class, turns to middle class by Hillside, and as one gets closer to Saunders one sees the beginning of lower middle class to low class housing and businesses. Observing these trends in housing development as well along with where certain groups of people live proves just how urban social trends are dictated by the demographic development of a region. Further investigation would also show that in farther south Laredo HUD housing is more prevalent.
Returning to the Irish Americans and the African Americans, neighborhoods, they either living in a mix or ethnically segregated neighborhoods and tend to have lower to extremely low housing standards. Housing standards like “The Projects” or for the Irish groups and Jewish groups in the “ghettos” are typically very poor and lack a lot of basic infrastructure like proper sanitation systems. After a neighborhood has begun development, the next necessity is maintaining its development. The basic sanitation, city services, maintenance and upkeep of the area and how quickly the city handles emergency based and health related situations is greatly influenced by the demographics of the neighborhood.
An article published in 2009 discusses some of the reasons why city planning and development for a diversified neighborhood can not only pose a significant problem in bringing urban diversity together, but also in how the real estate market handles it. “Real estate agents and lenders discriminate against minority home seekers and steer home seekers where their own race predominates. Real estate marketing practices and families' search strategies may limit information about availability of diverse neighborhoods.” (Benefits, Barriers, and Strategies, Margery Austin Turner and Lynette Rawlings pg. 6) As aforementioned, most ethnic groups tend to stay within their own kind, however, because of the housing developers' and real estate marketers' hunger for greed and their biased beliefs, it is not entirely a collective plan to do so by the ethnic group itself. Blatant acts of trying to force diversity as opposed to trying to create more inclusive residences, actually do more to cause difficulties than to solve them.
The article continues this discussion with the following: “Minority neighborhoods are deprived of needed public services and private sector investments and are therefore unattractive to home seekers who have an abundance of choices.” Further emphasizing the fact that ethnic groups, who don't have a lot of options in most cases, not only get forced into this situation but have little return on their investment with possible buyers and marketers being detoured should the minority homeowners choose to sell and leave. To combat this injustice, the article suggests things that could be done to fix this problem: “1) Vigorously enforce fair housing laws, including subtle practices like neighborhood steering. 2) Provide information and incentives to encourage white and minority households to broaden their horizons and consider living in diverse neighborhoods.” The irony of the methods mentioned is that both of these, except the incentives, are laws. HUD, Housing Urban Development, enforces a lot of these ideas. When taking these ideas into consideration regarding how the housing investors and real estate marketers view diverse and mixed neighborhoods, one can only assume city services like police, fire fighters, and ambulatory or medical services might be an issue worth prioritizing. What does this mean for people in specific ethnic neighborhoods?
With the housing market being manipulated by ethnic grouping, emergency response times and the priorities of handling the situations greatly depend on how the city plans to help those minorities. A great example do discuss this would be to take a look at how FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) handled Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The demographics of New Orleans, Louisiana were, and still are, mostly minorities and mostly minorities of low economic status. While the situation itself was catastrophic and crippled much of the city's infrastructure, the response time to help those in need is greatly criticized because of FEMA'S lack of effort to do what it was created for. One quote goes on to discuss “The obvious fact is that Hurricane Katrina was an enormously powerful and destructive act of nature. It certainly wasn't caused by any government”. by Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. “But government preparing for and responding to Hurricane Katrina allowed much more human suffering and destruction to occur than should have. That is a sad fact.” (FEMA FACES INTENSE SCRUTINY (https//pbs.org/newshour/politics/government_programs-july-dec05-fema_09-09)
While the argument doesn't imply that the agency directly or intentionally let many of the people in New Orleans suffer and die, it does demonstrate how demographics play a massive part in how a city manages its urban development within itself. Not covered in this article but also widely discussed was the difference in what was considered “looting” and what was considered “foraging for supplies to survive”. Guess what? The looters were almost always a minority and from a lower socio-economic status.
Finally, we come to probably the most difficult part of urban social growth, promoting and initiating diverse development. Getting people to want to be in a diverse living condition is fairly difficult because, as mentioned, most ethnic groups tend to congregate and associate with their own. Even though statistics can prove that diverse neighborhoods and urban development's produce fairly decent economic growth, one study points out “The interplay between cultural assimilation and cultural diffusion have played a significant role in giving rise to differential patterns of economic growth across the globe. To put in plain English, diversity spurs economic development and homogeneity slows it down.” ( How Diversity Leads To Economic Growth, Richard Florida, paragraph 4.) and he's not wrong.
Earlier this paper discussed how marketers and real estate groups intentionally try to sway minorities to live with minorities only, it slows economic growth. Florida adds ”Skeptics counter that diversity is an artifact of economic development rather than a contributor. They argue that diverse populations flock to certain locations because they are rich already or are fast becoming that way.” (Richard Florida paragraph 2) However, the evidence suggests otherwise which is why minorities get stuck in their ethnic neighborhoods, yet there is still hope for urban diversity.
There are incentives in place to promote and improve these neighborhoods by introducing diversity to make it better. Professor George Galster, a professor in urban affairs at Wayne State University, discovered a program that was initiated in Denver, Colorado to specifically target helping the low income and economically deprived youth by assigning some of the families to wealthy areas within suburbs. The theory states “It's clear that low income Latino and African American kids do better on a variety of outcomes when they have folks of higher occupational status surrounding them.” (Economically Diverse Neighborhoods Give Poor Black and Latino youth a Leg Up, Citylab.com quotation paragraph 8) To a degree this isn't far o from the inclusionary approach the education system uses in most American schools. While it is not mentioned as an idea to do the opposite, it does give motivation to those of low economic status to move out of the stagnant, ethnic centered neighborhood and to move into more economically diverse neighborhoods. One of the other reasons why people might stay in these ethnic centered neighborhoods, Galster continues, “ People stay close to their original neighborhoods because of their social networks, which often provide childcare, or because they'll need a car to another area which they can't afford. We can relieve those burdens by adding incentives like a used car or vouchers for professional childcare.” (Paragraph 11) So there are efforts being made to bring the expand the already diverse urban demographics.
Another suggestion to bring minorities and whites together is by expanding the affordable housing options to exclusive neighborhoods, or to deregulate the exclusive neighborhoods so that more affordable options are available to all. One article states, “Historically, affluent white jurisdictions used their regulatory powers to limit the production of rental housing as well as modestly priced for sale housing, thereby excluding both lower income and minority residents. Whether or not these exclusionary practices are intentionally race based, they must be addressed as part of a serious strategy to reverse long standing patterns of racial and ethnic segregation.” (Benefits, Barriers, and Strategies , Margery Austin Turner and Lynette Rawlings page 11 Expanding Affordable Housing.) The sad fact of this quote is despite the progressive increases in diversity, this still slows down the movement and continues to cause ethnic groups to remain stagnant. To be fair though, in various places where minority groups are the majority they do fairly well and the door then does swing the other way.
One can see these actions in Laredo. The housing regulations and how people react to each other is very prevalent. On the north side of town, many speak very poorly of the people living on the south side of town and the people on the north side of town are upper middle class to high class. Because of this polarization of the social economic groups, the city is very segregated and it creates problems when trying to get both sides to work and live together. Ultimately, the important thing to try to get diversity to function better in the future and to make better incentives to push for more equality. While there are still communities trying to do so, there will always be some kind of counter-productive movement simply because of the differences that are and have always been there. The resistance and reluctance of all groups to cut aside their petty squabbling and just do it is the both the same thing that unites and destroys them.
In conclusion, urban social development is dictated by demographics and you simply cannot just force people to get along. Whether it be ethnic stagnation, social economic struggles, racial tensions, or just simply “old world mentality” versus “new age” mentality, demographics will always dictate how communities start and maintain their urban developments, and push for more equality in diversified living. Situations like what happened in New Orleans during Katrina and how real estate companies manipulate the market to control minorities are grim reminders of how much work we as a society have to do towards moving into an era of making equality happen on all levels.
In Robert Frost's poem “Mending Wall” he states that “Good fences make good neighbors” and while that might be true sometimes, a group of fences does not make a neighborhood. A neighborhood is not just a bunch of houses, but rather a bunch of lives that are interconnected. A neighborhood is a geographically localized community within a larger city, town, suburb or rural area and are often social communities with considerable face-to-face interaction among members.
The world that Mr. Rogers spoke in his theme song is not too far off, but with less greed and attention to the color of our skin or what side of town we live in, neighbors can put unity into their community. Incentives to deregulate the price tag on life can help erase the barriers to success, but as long as the demographics remain compartmentalized so will the livelihood of that community. Places like Laredo, which are segregated because of social economic differences will have the hardest time delineating because of the ethnocentricity that exists. Ultimately, urban social prejudices will always exist until everyone sees that diversity is just another word for unity. So, won't you be my neighbor?
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