Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Time to brush up on Elijah Anderson

code of the streets
Rob Pitingolo, in "Liberal Places," blogs about a TBD article, "In gentrifying Logan Circle, affordable housing meets hate crimes," about anti-G (gay or gentrification) violence in the 14th and R Street area of northwest DC, by "long time" residents vs. new residents, including "new" gay residents.

While progressives and cultural studies types typically don't think of "spaces of resistance" as being places for non-progressives to resist, they can be (also see "Tea Party").

Elijah Anderson's Streetwise and Code of the Street are books that I joke should be required reading for people new to the city, especially new to areas with significant income disparities, and social, cultural, and racial differences.

Given the influx of people into the city over the past few years, I guess it's time to repeat this.

Anderson had a piece, The Code of the Streets, in Atlantic Magazine six years before he published the book. (There is also a review in Washington Monthly.)

This is an extract from a blog entry from 2006 on the topic of crime:

My hypotheses would be that intensity of street-culture conflict increases with the level of social and economic exclusion, and increased economic disparities within a community. And that the current burst of violent crime coincides with a recognition of greater economic disparity. In DC at least, while certain neighborhoods are experiencing great increases in income and wealth, other neighborhoods are experiencing persistent and greater levels of poverty.

As long as a community doesn't address the deeper programmatic issues involved in addressing the culture and social and economic exclusion issues (quality of schools, safety of the neighborhood, the redevelopment of the neighborhood economy (such as outlined in the textbook Community Economic Development Handbook by Temali) it's likely that crime rates while dropping will hit a ceiling, and of course, will oscillate according to the state of the economy in a particular community.

Click here for the first chapter of Code of the Streets and here for a video illustration of the same chapter, "Down Germantown Avenue," produced by a group of students at Rutgers Unviersity.

Anderson's work is essential reading for understanding the issues involved in public safety. Another interesting take is this article from Mother Jones, "Straight Outta Boston."

WRT the TBD article mentioning how one of the people arrested for assault doesn't live in the neighborhood, but has ties to the neighborhood, the discussion of the use value of place in the book Urban Fortunes: Toward a Political Economy of Place explains this, how people remain connected to the informal social networks in the old neighborhood because they haven't developed new informal social networks in their new neighborhood. But the use value discussion is important in understanding how change can be resisted in practice, and the neighborhood "defended."

Informal support networks (p. 104-105)
Place of residence is the potential source of an informal network of people who provide life-sustaining products and services... Sometimes gains are achieved thorguh an informal marketplace among proximate beneficiaries... Especially for the poor, this income 'in kind' represents a crucial resource and it is made possible only by a vaiable community. Since the community of poor people is less spatially 'liberated' than that of the well-to-do, poor people's use values are particularly damaged when their neighborhood is disrupted.

Security and Trust (p. 104-107)
A neighborhood also provides a sense of physical and psychic security that comes with a familiar and dependable environment. ... Gerald Suttles (1968), in his effort to construct a general theory of urban life, or at least 'the' social structure of the slum, portrays neighborhoods as bastions 'defended' against the perceived dangers of interlopers drifting in from adjacent areas. Signs of commonality (skin color, diction, gait in walking) serve as prima facie, if imperfect, basis for categorizing others as either members or nonmembers of the neighobrhood circle of mutual trust. This process of 'categoric knowing' is reinforced by various mechanisms in daily life that maintain the distinction between insiders and interlopers.

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