Pearl Clutching and Urban Planning


Walk in My Shoes: Surviving the walk to school. You know I understand the whole “If it bleeds it leads” concept of journalism. Really I do. But, we live on the South Side of Chicago too. I grew up here and all those sunny park pictures that I post of my family on my journal? They’re taken on the same South Side mentioned in this article. There’s more to this city than the blighted areas, and while we’re talking blight and violence let’s talk about how these neighborhoods (which used to be thriving healthy communities) fall apart.

Our society likes to wring its hands and bleat about the poor pitiful children once the shooting starts, but we don’t tend to pay attention to the roots of the problems before everything goes wrong. This latest spate of failed gentrification efforts are going to have brand new bad areas springing up as the residents struggle to make it with no tax base, poor infrastructure, and the same old issues of race and class. It’s ridiculous to paint these pictures of scary bad areas that are the result of some foreign event horizon that no one can understand when we know how places get this way.

For starters you get rid of the grocery stores, instead allowing liquor stores that sell food or whatever little corner stores spring up to be the only place within walking distance to get groceries. Then you take away (or never start) bus routes, and the ones that are in the area have shortened hours and limited routes so it’s difficult for the remaining population to get to work. Oh, let’s not forget schools that lack necessary equipment so the students are ill-equipped to succeed academically in a society where education is key. And of course there’s the added impact of poverty and institutional racism. Why the mention of racism? Well, how do you think we get to the place where only certain neighborhoods are allowed to turn into war zones? It’s no accident that I can get cops in my neighborhood to respond a lot faster than people living in Englewood.

Those conditions form the underpinnings of gangs and their powerful hold in these areas. As the money and the opportunity and the access fade away? People still have to eat, and despite the hype I have yet to meet a gangbanger or a street level dealer that wasn’t hungry, as in literally going to bed without enough food on a regular basis hungry when they decided to get in on the game. Drugs, crime, and poverty go hand in hand, but not for the reasons you’d think they do. It’s survival living and people do a lot of things to make it when the wolf is at the door. Generational poverty plays a huge role because these blighted neighborhoods don’t get that way in a week or a month. It takes time, and the people with resources move out relatively early in the process but there are always people left behind with no way out.

And without a proper foundation at an elementary school level, few or no role models, and of course the stress and trauma of living in an area that’s dangerous all the time the kids in these places don’t have boots, never mind bootstraps to pull themselves out. Or to pull their own kids out once they’re adults. Oh sure there’s always a success story that gets lauded, but the reality is that the combination of luck, support, and intelligence required for those stories to happen isn’t a recipe that’s accessible for every child. And to paint the South Side with such a broad brush instead of talking about the actual issues that lead to these conditions is just further exacerbating the problems. Less pearl clutching and more urban planning is the key here.

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Pearl Clutching and Urban Planning

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3 Responses to Pearl Clutching and Urban Planning

  1. 1
    RonF says:

    When you talk about things like what kind of stores are in an area remember that stores come into an area and sell certain things because they can make a profit doing so. That means they need customers with enough money that the store can stock and sell them merchandise and make their payroll, pay the utilities and taxes and make a profit for the owner. Stores follow improvements in a neighborhood, they don’t lead it.

    Same for bus routes – if nobody in a neighborhood has a job then they won’t be frequenting the buses as much and the bus line won’t be profitable. Now, in the case of buses they’re public these days and you expect that the lines will be subsidized – the lines don’t have to make a profit. But still there’s limited resources and the least busy lines tend to get dropped. It’s a fight of “we have to make service cuts to match our budget cuts” vs. “this neighborhood has fewer private resources for travel alternatives than some others”. That’s a political fight.

    Now education – that’s different. I see that as key. I’m not much of one for government involvement or subsidies, normally. But nothing enables people to get and use resources better than education. Nothing gives people more hope for the future than getting – or seeing their children get – a good education. I pay thousands of dollars a year on property taxes that go towards my local elementary/middle and high school districts and I don’t complain about a dollar of it, even though my kids graduated from them years ago. But then, my local school districts can point to results in test scores well above state and national averages, etc. And when people look at a real-estate listing and see what school district my house is in, my house will sell for more money than a house elsewhere.

    My districts can do that with lots of good teachers and first-rate facilities because a) schools in Illinois are mostly funded from local property taxes and b) there’s lots of people in those districts who, like me, can pay thousands of dollars in property taxes. That means that areas of low-income people can’t keep their schools up and pay staffs as well and high-income people won’t move into there. It’s a negative feedback loop. So one thing that needs to happen is that a certain minimal level of school funding (well higher than it is now) needs to be sourced from state-wide funding instead of from property taxes. That’s essentially resource redistribution by government. Something I’m generally opposed to, but in this case I’ll make an exception. Education is the great leveler. It’s the key to upward mobility in the United States. A good education will enable it’s possessor to overcome any disadvantage, real or perceived, of race or ethnicity or economic status.

    The flip side of this is that kids have to be prepared to learn when they get to matter how good the school is, kids won’t learn well in it if they show up ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-equipped (e.g., glasses, pens and notebooks, etc.) and unprepared because they spent last night playing ball, smoking dope, watching TV or playing video games instead of doing their homework. This is the responsibility of the parents. And these responsibilities have to be faced before you even have the kids. It is the responsibility of parents to not have kids until they can provide these things for them and to be ready to apply the kinds of discipline that ensure the kids do what they’re supposed to be doing. What makes that tough is when the parent(s) themselves have had no such example when they grew up.

    Finally, the point of this article has to be faced. Schools have to be safe, as does transport between them and home. Me, I’d also gladly pay for a security guard or even a sworn Chicago cop on each school bus and in every classroom. I know that sounds drastic, and I’ve been told that kids have bad viewpoints regarding cops. Fair enough – but then, when do kids in these neighborhoods run into cops? When something’s wrong. When do cops in these neighborhoods interact with kids? When they’re doing something wrong. Maybe if kids had daily contact with cops who were there specifically to guard them as opposed to busting them and cops had daily contact with kids who were mostly trying to go to school and make something of themselves they’d each develop a different kind of relationship with each other.

    And maybe people with a little more money would say “Hey, those schools are safe now” and not move out of the city or the contiguous suburbs when their kids get old enough to go to school, and build up the tax base a bit. That could turn into a positive feedback loop.

  2. 2
    Simple Truth says:

    The View from the Ground

    I promise I’m not trying to thread-jack. I just wanted to share a series that has given me most of my perspective on politics in Chicago’s South Side. The Kicking the Pigeon set is a tough read if you care about urban issues.
    With the perspective coming from that set of articles by Jamie Kalven, I’m not sure that there could be a change in the cop/resident situation like RonF mentions until the courts stop protecting the corruption in the ranks.
    That being said, I agree with you Karnythia about how it starts with access. San Bernardino, CA has a lot of the things you mentioned – lack of good schools, safe access to them, walking two blocks can get you into a different gang territory, etc. I would like to keep reading all the Alas bloggers’ opinions on this topic.

  3. 3
    JoKeR says:

    This goes hand in hand with this quote from Dom Helder Camara:

    When I feed the poor, they call me a saint, but when I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist.