Monday, 8 April 2013

Suburbs: Inequality in the American Dream

The neighborhood I live in was built a century ago as a "garden suburb" on a street care line with housing for a mixture of incomes. 

Our block is made-up of attached, single-family houses designed, it seems, for families on the way up.  Our house, for example, has a tiny room of the kitchen that probably was one the hired girl slept in.  We know that a railway conductor and a glazier were among the first residents: lower middle class with aspirations, in other words. 

Across the back lane are triplexes with large apartments--six or seven rooms--where families the next notch down f lived.  In contrast, a block over are  semi-detached houses of the next notch up: they have much nicer rooms where their live-in helped slept.

The kids from these families would have gone to schools in the neighborhood, and their mothers--or the maids--would have shopped at the same stores.  While there were class distinctions, everyone rubbed up everyone else.  This inner suburban hodge-podge has continued, even though property prices have gone up.

But that is not the case for suburbs built later in the 20th century.  Neighborhoods were almost always stratified by income, as an interseting story in today's New York Times points out. "Suburban Disequilibrium" is the title, but it warns that inequality between nieghborhoods is likely to incnrease, not decrease: "The point is not simply that rich and poor people live in different places through a kind of class sorting in the marketplace. The places themselves help to create wealth and poverty. Because of this power of places to fix inequity over time, current patterns are likely to outlive their residents."

The article calls for property tax sharing and planning on a larger scale than is usually practiced, as well as more income equality.  Will this happen? 

Not likely unless we get some much better leadership on all levels of government.

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