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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Metropolitan Segregation

This is an article that first appeared fifty years ago in Scientific American (the actual article is quite a bit longer):

Metropolitan Segregation, by Morton GrodzinsScientific American, October, 1957: As Negroes move in from the South and whites move out to the suburbs, a new pattern of segregation emerges in the big cities of the U.S., bringing with it significant economic, social and political problems ... In each of the major urban centers the story is the same: the better-off white families are moving out of the central cities into the suburbs; the ranks of the poor who remain are being swelled by Negroes from the South. This trend threatens to transform the cities into slums, largely inhabited by Negroes, ringed about with predominantly white suburbs. The racial problem of the U.S., still festering in the rural South, will become equally, perhaps most acutely, a problem of the urban North. ...

The sheer cost of suburban housing excludes Negroes from many suburban areas. Furthermore, the social satisfactions of slum or near-slum existence for a homogeneous population have been insufficiently studied, and it may very well be true that many Negro urban dwellers would not easily exchange current big-city life for even reasonably priced suburban homes. The crucial fact, however, is that Negroes presently do not have any free choice in the matter. They are excluded from suburbia by a wide variety of devices.

Social antagonism alone has been highly effective. In addition, the suburban towns have employed restrictive zoning, subdivision and building regulations to keep Negroes out. Some, for example, have set a minimum of two or more acres for a house site, or required expensive street improvements, and have enforced these regulations against undesirable developments but waived them for desirable ones. A builder in a Philadelphia suburb recently told an interviewer that he would like to sell houses to Negroes, but the town officials would ruin him. He explained: "The building inspectors would have me moving pipes three eighths of an inch every afternoon in every one of the places I was building, and moving a pipe three eighths of an inch is mighty expensive if you have to do it in concrete!"

When barriers of this sort fail, suburban whites have been known to resort to violence against Negro property and persons. As this is written, 350 residents of Levittown, Pa., are demonstrating in the street before a home acquired by a Negro family. Within the central cities, to which Negroes are thus consigned, they are further confined to virtual ghettos. Every city has its black belt or series of black areas. ...

Once a neighborhood begins to swing from white to colored occupancy, the change is rarely arrested or reversed. ... This process of tipping proceeds more rapidly in some neighborhoods than in others. White residents ... begin to move out when the proportion of Negroes in the neighborhood or apartment building passes a certain critical point. This tip point varies from ... neighborhood to neighborhood. But for the vast majority of white Americans a tip point exists. Once it is exceeded, they will no longer stay among Negro neighbors. ...

Negroes do not necessarily downgrade a neighborhood, or push whites out. When vacancies in a white neighborhood become available, the first Negroes to take advantage of them are usually similar to their white neighbors in income, employment, educational attainment, habits and manners. Yet whatever the social qualifications of the new Negro neighbors, when their numbers increase, whites leave. ... If Negroes were permitted to distribute themselves throughout the city on the basis of income, fewer areas would be tipped, but the restriction process confines them to particular areas.

The general picture for the future is thus clear enough: large segregated minorities, even majorities, of Negroes in the central cities; large majorities of whites, with scattered Negro enclaves, in their suburbs. ...

Within the black belts hundreds of thousands of Negroes live, eat, shop, work, play and die in a completely Negro world with little or no contact with other people. For large numbers of them, segregation is more complete than it ever was for Negro rural residents in the South. This is true even in the city school systems. ...

The larger evidence is ... in the direction of more uncompromising segregation and larger Negro slums. These population shifts bring with them profound economic consequences. Of first importance is a decline of parts of the central cities' business activity and associated property values. ...

A further, though more problematic development, is the movement to the suburbs of banks, corporation offices, law firms and the businesses that service them. ... On the other hand, the cities have maintained their preponderance in manufacturing. The relative immobility of heavy industry has the result of fixing the laboring and semiskilled groups, including large numbers of Negroes, within the central cities. To rebuild the loss of tax revenues..., some cities are engaged in campaigns to attract new manufacturing enterprises. The success of such efforts will, of course, accentuate the evolution of the central cities into lower-class ethnic islands.

Whatever the melancholy resemblance between the older segregation patterns of the rural South and the newer ones of the urban North, there is one important difference: the Negroes of the North can vote. What will happen when the councils of some cities, and their representations in state legislatures, become predominantly Negro? The most likely political development is the organization of Negroes for ends conceived narrowly to the advantage of the Negro community. Such political effort might aim to destroy zoning and building restrictions for the immediate purpose of enlarging opportunities for desperately needed Negro housing against stubborn social pressures. ...

Similar effects will follow in the national Congress, once a number of large cities are largely represented by Negro congressmen. The pitting of whites against Negroes, of white policies against Negro policies, does not await actual Negro urban domination. The cry has already been raised in state legislatures. The conflict can only grow more acute as race and class become increasingly coterminous with local government boundaries.

In the long run it is highly unlikely that the white population will, without resistance, allow Negroes to become dominant in the cities. The cultural and economic stakes are too high. One countermeasure will surely present itself to the suburbanites: to annex the suburbs, with their predominantly white populations, to the cities. This will be a historic reversal of the traditional suburban antipathy to annexation. But from the point of view of the suburbanite he will be annexing the city to the suburbs.

The use of annexation to curb Negro political power is already under way. It was an explicit argument used in the large-scale suburban annexation to Nashville in 1951. And other recent annexations, largely confined to the South, have been designed for the same end. The more familiar practice of gerrymandering is also already widely employed to reduce Negro representation in legislative bodies of city, state and nation.

The political forecast is a new round of repression aimed at Negroes. For this one, they will be better armed - in effective numbers, economic strength, political sophistication, and with allies in the white population.

    Posted by on Tuesday, September 18, 2007 at 03:06 PM in Economics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (18)


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