«AmericAn neighborhoods: inclusion And exclusion Volume 16, Number 3 • 2014 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development | Office of Policy ...»
In a case study of the diverse-by-circumstance Venice community in Los Angeles, California, ethnographer Andrew Deener (2012: 1) found that diversity and exclusivity existed in “constant tension” as “competing groups struggle to control distinct collective representations through architectural styles, commercial trends, use of public spaces, symbolic commemorations, and the formation of political, religious, social service, and other types of organizations.” Nyden et al. (1998) identified common features of communities that have remained stably racially diverse despite the challenge of fostering sustainable, inclusive social dynamics in diverse communities: they had (1) well-functioning community organizations and institutional structures (some actively promoted diversity, and others were not diverse but worked to improve general quality of life); (2) substantial political and financial resources; and (3) skilled and dedicated leadership that was sensitive to group difference and willing to work across those boundaries.
The Present Study The present study builds on prior research on neighborhood social seams, social networks, and social organization in several ways. First, it examines the dimensions of inclusion and exclusion that have emerged in the context of stable diversity. Although many communities remain diverse for relatively brief periods of time, the South End in Boston, Massachusetts, has remained economically diverse for several decades and racially diverse for even longer.
This study also takes a multilevel approach to community social dynamics, analyzing how both individual residents and neighborhood organizations produce patterns of inclusion and exclusion in the context of diversity. Finally, this study compares what residents say about diversity with their actions within the community and finds that values for diversity do not always translate into inclusive use of neighborhood space. Taken together, this analysis aims to add contextual and analytical nuance to the existing literature on neighborhood diversity.
Data and Method Racial and ethnic diversity in the South End dates back to the early 20th century, and the neighborhood has been economically diverse since the mid-20th century. I first provide a historical overview of the forces that fostered stable racial and economic diversity in the South End and then describe the data-collection procedures and characteristics of study participants.
Case Description: The South End Close to downtown Boston and the central business district (exhibit 1), the South End was built in the 19th century to attract upper class families, with large English-style townhomes surrounding oval parks.1 After the depression of 1873 and development of the nearby posh Back Bay neighborhood, the South End lost its appeal to the wealthy. Property values dropped, and speculators bought up the homes, turning many of them into rooming houses. The South End became a destination for new immigrants to the city. It was an economically poor but culturally vibrant community. For more than a century, it was the most diverse neighborhood in the city; in the 1940s, 36 racial and ethnic groups were represented in the area, and the neighborhood school was nicknamed the “little League of Nations,” and later the “little United Nations” (King, 1981). The area also gained a negative reputation as a skid row because of its dense concentrations of rooming houses, bars, gambling, and crime. The quality of the housing stock gradually declined, driven by absentee slumlords and impoverished tenants.
See Goodman (1994), Green (1975), Kennedy (1992), Keyes (1969), King (1981), Lukas (1985), Mollenkopf (1983), Small (2004), and Whitehill (1968) for additional historical accounts of the South End.
Exhibit 1 Contextual Map of the South End in Boston, Massachusetts Source: http://www.bostonredevelopmentauthority.org/getattachment/5ba2b90c-eaca-4c14-b44d-c9fd0ab489e4/ By the time urban renewal came to Boston in the 1950s, the South End was a prime target. In fact, it became the largest urban renewal project in the country. The renewal program aimed to redevelop the area so that it would attract higher income residents, widening the city’s tax base and promoting private investment in the neighboring business districts. When planning for renewal began, social service organizations, low-income residents, and housing advocates mobilized to demand that affordable housing be constructed in the South End. Many of these protests were ultimately successful, resulting in a range of affordable housing options, and some of the nonprofit organizations later became major housing developers in the area.
The struggle for affordable housing laid the foundation for the neighborhood’s present economic diversity. After urban renewal, the South End experienced large-scale gentrification and skyrocketing real estate prices. The area did not become solely high income, however, but maintained an economically diverse resident population because of the wide range of affordable housing options in the neighborhood—public housing projects, affordable developments, and mixed-income buildings. As exhibit 2 shows, the income distribution of the South End has remained quite diverse since 1990, with a stable and substantial presence of very lowincome households despite a growing share of affluent households. In 2010, 15 percent of households had incomes of less than $10,000, 33 percent had incomes of $10,000 to $50,000, and 20 percent of households had incomes of more than $150,000.
The highest rent category in the 1990 census was more than $1,000.
b Note: Values adjusted for inflation to 2012 dollars.
Sources: 1990, 2000, and 2010 decennial censuses; 2008–2012 American Community Survey 5-year data
The economic diversity of the neighborhood is reflected in its educational distribution, housing values, and rent prices. In 2010, one-fourth of the population had a high school degree or less education, one-fourth had a bachelor’s degree, and another one-fourth had a graduate or professional degree. In addition, about one-third of the housing units were owner occupied, with a median value of $808,791; property values were even higher in 2000, before the housing market collapsed. By contrast, 15 percent of renters paid less than $300 per month for their apartments, and another 30 percent paid less than $1,000; given the high market-rate rents in this area, it is clear that these low rents are because of the availability of subsidized rental housing.
The South End remains racially and ethnically diverse as well. Since 1990, the population has been about 50 percent non-Hispanic White, about 15 percent Asian, and about 15 percent Hispanic. The share of African-American residents has declined since 1990, from about 25 to about 14 percent, and the share of non-Hispanic White residents has grown slightly, from about 40 to about 50 percent. Despite this shift, all four racial-ethnic groups retain a substantial presence in the community. This diversity is also reflected in the fact that more than one-fourth (28 percent) of residents were foreign born and spoke a range of languages.
Despite the fact that the South End has been stably diverse along racial and economic lines for quite some time, continued gentrification has resulted in an increasingly bifurcated distribution of resident incomes in the neighborhood, with economic inequalities overlapping with racial differences. For example, among the White population, nearly three-fourths had at least a bachelor’s degree and more than one-third had a graduate or professional degree in 2010.
By contrast, more than one-half of the non-White residents in the neighborhood had a high school degree or less education. These differences are also reflected in the income distribution, with a $68,000 median household income among White residents compared with median household incomes of only $20,000 for African-American residents and $17,000 for Hispanic residents. White residents also constituted the vast majority of homeowners in the neighborhood, whereas non-White residents were nearly all renters.
Data Collection and Analysis To understand how racial and economic diversity influenced residents’ experiences in the community, I conducted indepth qualitative interviews with 30 residents, systematically observed public spaces, and interviewed key informants who held leadership positions in the community. Interview respondents were selected through a random sample of addresses. I used a proprietary marketing database to generate an address roster covering every street in the neighborhood. I randomly sampled 50 addresses from that roster, anticipating a 75-percent response rate. The sample was stratified by street to ensure that I interviewed residents living in every part of the neighborhood.2 Respondents were contacted first via a mailed letter that described the study and then, if they did not respond to the letter, by in-person recruitment.
The final sample of 30 contained residents in every section of the neighborhood that was in the original sampling frame of 50 addresses. Response rates were lower among sampled addresses in subsidized complexes than they were among addresses for nonsubsidized housing. Addresses in subsidized complexes were oversampled by a factor of two to one in the original sampling frame to account for the likely lower response rate among them.
This technique resulted in a sample that reflects the racial, economic, and spatial composition of the neighborhood. As exhibit 3 shows, respondents lived in every part of the neighborhood, including the major subsidized complexes of Castle Square, Cathedral, Methunion Manor, and Villa Victoria. Exhibit 4 shows the descriptive characteristics of the interview sample. About one-half of the respondents were non-Hispanic White, one-fourth were AfricanAmerican, and one-fourth were Hispanic. The sample was divided roughly evenly among respondents who lived in households with their families and respondents who lived alone;
the latter were typically elderly residents, students or young professionals, or those living in single-room occupancy buildings that offered supportive or transitional housing. The sample was also economically diverse, with household incomes spread evenly across the income distribution from very low to very high. Slightly more than one-half of the respondents owned their homes or condominiums, about one-fifth paid market-rate rents, and about one-fourth paid subsidized rents for their units.
Exhibit 3 Approximate Respondent Locations Within the South End Note: Locations are approximate to protect respondent confidentiality.
Note: N = 30.
Respondents participated in semistructured interviews that lasted about 1.5 hours. They
were asked a common set of open- and closed-ended questions about the following topics:
(1) residential history; (2) perceptions of the neighborhood; (3) experiences with organizations; (4) interactions, trust, informal engagement, and efficacy in the neighborhood;
(5) social ties inside and outside the neighborhood; (6) employment and background information; (7) delinquency, risky behavior, and victimization; and (8) comparisons with other communities. I also generated detailed maps of residents’ daily routines by having them walk through where they went in a typical week and plotting the locations and routes on a map.
I followed these questions with probes asking residents why they went where they did, why they did not go to other areas, and how they chose which route to take to get to a destination.
I supplemented the resident interviews with 10 additional interviews with key informants in the community, including leaders of neighborhood-based associations and local nonprofit organizations, business owners, and artists. Respondents were compensated for their participation; all names and potentially identifying details presented in the following sections have been modified to preserve confidentiality.
Interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed in full using an audio transcription service.
I then coded them using a set of deductively derived thematic codes based on the interview topics, which I subsequently refined inductively based on the open-ended responses provided by the respondents. I created summary matrices of responses to allow for systematic comparison of perspectives across racial and economic groups.
During my fieldwork, I also conducted a systematic observation of public neighborhood spaces, including four parks, two community centers, and a variety of neighborhood business
establishments in different parts of the neighborhood. During these observations, I noted the types of residents using the space, including their approximate age, gender, race-ethnicity, and likely social class based on visual cues such as clothing and accessories. I draw primarily on data from the qualitative resident interviews in this article, but I use data from the interviews with stakeholders and the systematic observations of public space to triangulate, supplement, and qualify the findings that emerged from resident interviews.
Results Drawing on indepth interviews with 30 residents and key stakeholders and on systematic observation of public neighborhood spaces, I examine what residents say about the diversity of their community. I then contrast what residents say about their neighborhood with what they do—their actions within the neighborhood. Residents say that they appreciate the South End’s diversity, but a closer examination of their daily routines and use of neighborhood organizations and public spaces revealed little cross-race or cross-class contact. Instead, residents engaged in microsegregation, or homogenous pockets of interaction and organization within the larger neighborhood.