«AmericAn neighborhoods: inclusion And exclusion Volume 16, Number 3 • 2014 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development | Office of Policy ...»
Low-income residents used a different and much smaller set of neighborhood commercial establishments and complained of few affordable shopping and dining options in the neighborhood. Many lower income residents felt priced out of their own neighborhood and turned to more affordable options in other neighborhoods. As Jorge, a long-term Hispanic resident, put it, “The retail that is around here, they don’t attract diversity because it’s pretty much just upscale things—I mean, upscale home furnishing stores, boutiques, specialty gift shops. I mean, they’re geared to the influx of new money that’s come into the South End.” As a result, low-income residents of the South End did not perceive that the South End was welcoming and had everything they needed, as more affluent residents like Gloria did.
Beyond the neighborhood associations described previously, the South End has a dense concentration of nonprofit organizations offering a range of resources and services: food pantries, libraries, computer or language classes, arts and sports programs for youth, and a range of drug rehabilitation and transitional housing services. The neighborhood also has several activist nonprofit organizations with roots dating to the time of urban renewal that focus on affordable housing and has several garden, historic preservation, and ethnic cultural organizations. With a few exceptions, however, these organizations served the needs of particular interest and social groups within the neighborhood; their goal was not to promote diversity or to form coalitions across different social groups. As a result, these organizations rarely served as social seams that wove together different groups; rather, they tended to reinforce the social and geographic segmentation of interests within the neighborhood.
Even schools were segregated within the neighborhood. Few moderate- or high-income residents sent their children to the neighborhood public schools, opting instead for private, parochial, magnet, or charter schools or moving out of the neighborhood when their children reached school age. Sal, a moderate-income White father, commented— I’m already thinking about a new job to be able to afford to send my girls to private school.... From playing in that playground and living in the community, I’m not racist, but two things. A lot of those kids are rough, and I don’t want my little sweet girls to be subjected to trouble every day. Two, just the fact that my girls would be of the 5 percent who are White in the school.... So it’s not acceptable. I mean, it’s a different cultural experience.
Sal combined considerations about culture, school quality, and race in his decision to opt out of the neighborhood school when his girls reached school age, and he showed how the lack of diversity in the schools was perpetuated over time despite a diverse resident population.
Other residents described neighbors they knew who had left when their children reached school age. As Isaac, an affluent African-American father, remarked— A couple years ago I saw four White boys, and it made me want to talk about it with my wife because it shocked me... because most everybody leaves... you just don’t see any White people that are teenagers. And if they are, they’re going to a [magnet school]. You’ll never see ’em out on the streets, they’re protected. They’re not just hanging,... in fact, you could just take a walk through the South End on a nice sunny day in the summer, walk through the whole place, and you’re probably not gonna see any White teenagers anywhere.
Census data support Isaac’s observations: in 2010, many fewer White families in the South End had children (32 percent) than African-American (52 percent) or Hispanic (58 percent) families.
In many ways, the South End is organizationally vibrant, and the range of organizations reflects the diversity of its resident population. Residents can find many of the amenities and resources they need within their neighborhood, although this condition is truer for affluent residents than for poorer residents. At the same time, however, the differentiation of organizational life within the South End also means that meaningful cross-race and cross-class contact is minimal and dialogue and purposeful interaction rarely occur.
Inclusion and Exclusion The patterns of spatial and organizational differentiation described previously translated into race- and class-based experiences of inclusion and exclusion in the neighborhood. Sarah, a long-time, lower income resident who has observed the waves of gentrification, commented about affluent residents like Gloria: “There are the people who’ve been here a long time and then the new gentrified, the rich people, who are in their own world. They don’t relate to the neighborhood.... It’s just like two different worlds.” This separateness resulted in both material and psychological experiences of exclusion for low-income residents. Rosa, a young Hispanic resident who lived in an affordable unit in a market-rate building, moved to the South End in part because of its diversity, but she observed— The upper class are very snobby. I’m gonna be honest, [they] are very snobby, and I feel they kinda look down on anybody that they feel doesn’t have money. And they just, they’re not really friendly. You can tell what certain areas they live in. Like if I go to a nail salon, you can tell all the snobby women sitting, talking. I mean you know you say good morning, but you know you can just tell. It’s like they try to separate themselves but they forget the South End is a melting pot and that we’re all in this community, we’re all like together; they kinda seem to forget that. It’s a big mixture, and I think a lot of them move in, and they have a response that, we’re gonna take over and we’re living here now so all you people need to move out. I hate to use this, but a lot of them want minorities to move out. Sometimes that’s how I feel.
When I asked her what the higher income residents did to give her that sense, she said— Sometimes they’re like walking around with their stroller and you know it’s just like they feel well, I own this brownstone, it’s my property. You know if they see you in a certain area of the neighborhood, I’m like ‘why are you looking at me weird like that?’ Automatically, if they saw me, they would think that I lived in Villa Victoria because that’s a big population of Latinos and that’s where they all live. I feel like they do stare you down, like, ‘What are you doing in this neck of the woods?’ Keisha, a low-income African-American resident, said that it was not only the high prices that kept her out of the neighborhood retail shops— Even if I had the money, well, they’re not really friendly. You can tell they’re kind of snooty. You feel that vibe, that coldness permeating out of the windows, you know, so you look and you keep walking. You keep walking. So yeah, there’s definitely a class distinction, and many people are really upset about that, especially those who have less.
Who have less, you know, like, all these richy [sic] people moving in, taking over these brownstones, and I was born and raised here and now we can’t even afford them. Yeah, so there’s a lot of hostility between the two groups.
Thus, lower income and minority residents were materially excluded from commercial establishments in the neighborhood but also experienced a more subtle form of psychological exclusion, where they did not feel welcome in areas frequented by more advantaged residents.
For higher income residents, exclusion manifested itself in the form of self-segregation from lower income spaces and institutions. Many noted that they deliberately avoided the parks and streets near affordable housing complexes, which were perceived as unsafe (even if residents had no direct experiences that compromised their safety). Not all low-income residents live in these developments, but those places (along with homeless shelters and halfway houses) were particularly stigmatized. One moderate-income homeowner said, “There’s a playground there [near the projects], and sometimes teenagers hang out there.... So I’ve been told it’s not wise to walk down there at night. It’s just safer not to, so I don’t go on that street in general.” About one-half of the more affluent respondents in the sample said they actively determined their daily walking routes to avoid the streets and parks immediately surrounding the subsidized developments. The residents of the affordable complexes were well aware of the stigmatized status of their developments. One resident joked that, “Their [affluent residents’] biggest concern is when things are loud or groups of Blacks get together. I joke with my guys in the street like, ‘Oh, there’s no more than two young Black men allowed together on the street at any one time. You can’t do that.’” Although these patterns of microsegregation were quite common, in some exceptions crossgroup interaction did occur in meaningful ways. Respondents reported cursory but friendly interactions with those of different races or classes who lived in very close proximity to them—in the same building or on the same street. Such interactions were sometimes deeper and more meaningful—such as exchanges of information or children playing together—when respondents had a social identity in common with the neighbor. For example, one lower
income African-American woman reported speaking regularly with a higher income AfricanAmerican neighbor, who had shared information about scholarships for summer programs for her son. A White mother reported that her children spent time in integrated playgroups at her building’s playground. Such interactions were considerably less common, however, when multiple forms of social difference overlapped, as they often did, given the confluence of race, income, tenure, and family type.
Conclusions In many ways, the South End is the model of a successful, stably diverse community. It has maintained a diverse population for many decades, in part because of organized efforts during urban renewal to create affordable housing that preserved a mixed-income population in the face of gentrification. The South End benefits from close proximity to the central business district and Boston’s many cultural attractions, resulting in a tight real estate market that continues to attract affluent residents. The mixed-use design of the community provides access to plentiful neighborhood resources and amenities within walking distance. These features yield a vibrant and varied street life, rich cultural organizations, and a thriving artistic community.
Diversity is a prominent part of the neighborhood’s identity, and the neighborhood therefore attracts residents who say they value that diversity.
Lower income residents of the South End experience little of the large-scale social and spatial isolation that characterizes other segregated, concentrated-poverty communities in the city (Harding, 2010), and theories of diversity posit that their proximity to higher income residents may result in upward mobility, enhanced safety, and higher quality goods and services (Joseph et al., 2007). Lower income residents in the South End believed that proximity to higher income residents resulted in greater informal social control and increased institutional responsiveness from city services and police, which made them feel safer. Few believed that living there offered them material benefits in terms of upward economic mobility, however.
Many affluent and White respondents also believed that proximity to diversity made them more understanding and tolerant of others.
Despite these perceived benefits, the South End also reveals the challenges involved with creating a truly integrated community. First, like many other racially and economically diverse neighborhoods, the South End is spatially, socially, and organizationally differentiated (Chaskin et al., 2012, 2010; Suttles, 1968; Tach, 2009). The South End as a whole is quite diverse but features a great deal of homogeneity within smaller pockets of the neighborhood.
Residents are aware of this spatial differentiation, and they reinforce it in their daily routines via the places they frequent and the places they avoid within the neighborhood. In exceptions to this microsegregation—where mixed-income buildings have been constructed, for example—racial and income integration occurs on a much smaller scale. Thus, the type and location of affordable housing is crucially important for structuring the spatial organization of diversity within the neighborhood.
Residential differentiation has resulted in organizational differentiation as well. The South End has a rich set of neighborhood associations that give residents power and control over their
surroundings and contribute to neighborhood quality of life. Representation in associations, however, skews toward the more advantaged. The fact that these associations have small, relatively homogenous resident constituencies, rather than a broad coalition that represents the interests of the South End as a whole, means that associational and organizational life for most residents remains largely segmented by race and class, similar to diverse-by-circumstance communities but different than diverse-by-design communities (Maly, 2008; Nyden et al., 1998). This organizational segmentation does offer some advantages: it minimizes conflict, gives residents a place to feel comfortable and build social ties, and enacts their needs and preferences. On the other hand, however, it does little to foster cross-group interaction or dialogue. As a result, some of the benefits associated with integration—diverse social networks, role models or exposure to alternative lifestyles, greater understanding of group difference—are likely muted.