«AmericAn neighborhoods: inclusion And exclusion Volume 16, Number 3 • 2014 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development | Office of Policy ...»
Not all benefits of diversity are predicated on cross-group interaction, however. It may be enough for residents to have access to a similar set of amenities and resources (Joseph et al., 2007), which, in many ways, is true in the South End. Residents have access to a broader set of amenities than they might have in a more homogenous neighborhood. Access does not necessarily entail use, however. Lower income and minority residents were priced out of many amenities in the South End and did not feel welcome in places frequented by more advantaged residents. They felt a clear sense of not belonging and relative deprivation, which resulted in resentment of affluent residents in the neighborhood. On the other side, more affluent residents did not feel welcome in places frequented by less advantaged residents, which also led them to avoid those spaces: they did not send their children to local schools, go to certain parks, or walk down particular streets near low-income housing complexes or homeless shelters.
The South End has been economically diverse for nearly 30 years and has been racially diverse for even longer. Despite this stability, the dynamics observed in the South End are similar in many ways to the dynamics observed in gentrifying communities and in newer planned mixed-income developments that have much shorter histories of diversity. Lower income residents of the stably diverse South End perceived benefits in terms of safety but mixed benefits in terms of social control—personally feeling safer yet also feeling greater surveillance—and institutional investment—appreciating the density of retail investment but also feeling priced out (Chapple and Jacobus, 2009; Freeman, 2006; Tach, 2009)—and little benefit in terms of upward mobility (Ludwig et al., 2013). Unlike those studied in previous literature (Putman, 2007), however, higher income residents in the South End also perceived that proximity to diversity made them more tolerant. Despite these perceptions, residents reported little actual integration of institutions and organizations that might promote meaningful cross-group contact. Instead, the key difference between the South End and other newly diverse communities appears to be the extent of organizational differentiation and development, which serves diverse resident interests but also tends to reinforce the segmentation of neighborhood life.
Of course, the data in this study are limited in several ways that preclude strong statements about the consequences of diversity. First, the data are based on a small, albeit geographically and demographically diverse, sample, and it is likely that those who agreed to participate in
the study are more involved in the community than those who did not. The use of interview data and respondent self-reports also means that I may have a biased picture of residents’ actual behaviors, although triangulating results with data from stakeholders and from participant observation help to overcome this shortcoming. In addition, the role of organizations and associations emerged as an important finding, but this study was not a formal study of organizations, which would require a different study design. Finally, the South End is somewhat unusual in the coexistence of extreme affluence and extreme poverty and in its density of services and housing for poor residents, owing to its unique location and history. Thus, the dynamics that promoted stable racial and economic diversity in the South End may be difficult to apply to other locations.
In many ways, the South End embodies both the promises and the challenges of maintaining stable diversity. Even when residents appreciate diversity and recognize the organizational and cultural richness that it produces, diverse communities are also microcosms of broader social inequalities. Neighborhood integration may solve some problems associated with large-scale social exclusion while creating new problems associated with microsegregation. Microsegregation was easiest to overcome when neighbors had something in common interpersonally or when organizations designed low-cost events of interest to broad segments of the population.
When multiple forms of social difference overlapped, as was often the case, interactions were limited and exclusion was exacerbated. This exclusion makes it particularly challenging to maintain positive social dynamics in neighborhoods with multiple forms of diversity and suggests a key role for community organizations to serve as bridging organizations that facilitate such cross-group interaction.
Acknowledgments The author thanks Melissa Giangrande and Dwight Pope for superb research assistance and acknowledges financial support from a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant and a research grant from the Real Estate Academic Initiative at Harvard University.
Author Laura M. Tach is an assistant professor in the Department of Policy Analysis and Management at Cornell University.
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