By Colby King
When I talk about segregation in the classroom, the main thing I try to discuss with students is the idea that the segregation we see today is the result of politics, preferences, and other essentials. choices made by humans. This is a consensus among sociologists in the city, and I and my co-authors explain it in the latest edition The new sociology of the city. Segregation not only happens, it is also the result of the individual and institutional choices that have led to the inequality of place we live in.
2020 in June, sociologist Patrick Sharkey published this essay Atlantic Ocean entitled “Americans have built barricades in urban space to avoid integration.” In the work, Sharkey illuminates this critical idea in detail, explaining how racial segregation has been exacerbated by the construction of direct barricades in urban space. These barricades, as he explains, separate districts, communities and social groups and increase inequality in cities.
Sharkey’s work begins by emphasizing the importance of the place where George Floyd was assassinated. As he describes it, that place: The patterns of segregation we see in our cities not only highlight the fragmentation of urban groups, but also reveal how social inequality emerges in our neighborhoods and cities.
Sharkey explains how urban renewal processes in U.S. cities have increased inequality and segregation as barriers have been created in our communities and neighbors are being separated from each other. As he writes:
What happened in Minneapolis has also happened across the country under the auspices of urban renewal. As the number of blacks increased in northern and southern cities, those municipalities did not make much effort to make integration work, improve housing conditions, or protect the rights of black Americans. Instead, the authorities demolished entire districts and strategically located highways, as well as public housing projects and office buildings in places that would strengthen the boundary between black and white districts. Cross-border areas have become another type of barricade. When the federal government invested in highways rather than public transportation systems, it gave white Americans the opportunity to escape from central urban areas and continue to reap the economic benefits of the city.
As I wrote here earlier, Gottdiener’s social spatial approach to urban sociology studies illustrates how the built environment shapes social life, and residents also create meaning socially in the spaces of their settlements. The barricades that Sarkis writes about not only separate the neighbors from each other, but also give powerful meanings in the local culture, which later determine how the locals interact with the barricades and with each other. If you’ve heard the phrase “wrong side of the tracks,” often used to refer to a relatively poor or inferior urban area, you’ve seen the process take shape.
Many of my students are well aware of the patterns of segregation in their hometown and the region around our town. When we discuss this piece of Sharkey, most students can easily recognize the barricades built in the places they are from. Some point to highways that distinguish between mostly white and non-white areas. Others cite rivers or specific buildings that are known to the population of the area as landmarks that distinguish people who might otherwise be neighbors. One student, who grew up in an inexpensive home here in Spartanburg, discussed widely understood patterns of residential segregation in the areas here and wrote, “In my city, I feel like we have a lot of city barricades … Like Converse Heights and Hillcrest. / The Glendale area is for wealthy whites, and Northside is a segregated area of more low-income poverty.
Can you come up with examples of such barricades where you live? One place I think of is not the place I have lived in, but the place I have visited and know from my studies in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh I-579, otherwise known as Crosstown Boulevard, has separated the city center from the Hill District since the 1960s, when a highway was built during a redevelopment process that also involved the construction and relocation of the Civic Arena. thousands of people, mostly blacks.
A new park was opened last year. It covers part of the boulevard and creates a public space connecting the lower hill neighborhood with the city center. The park is officially named Frankie Pace Park and is now open, with rain gardens, bike paths and public art. Here is a video of the KDKA ribbon cutting ceremony at the local news station. More photos and diagrams of this cover project can be found on the Pittsburgh Sports and Exhibition Service website here.
After discussing these barriers, one student wrote about how physical barriers that separate urban populations change social interactions and can increase tension. He is a veteran who has served in Afghanistan and examples of contrasting when Afghan communities and villages come together to support each other, with how these barriers in U.S. cities suppress empathy and increase social tensions among neighbors. Here is what he wrote:
The biggest part of this unit that got me stuck was the city barricades. Now that I’m on the road, I can’t help but notice how we’re still separated as a community. I only see huge walls built around the blocks and vegetation so the viewer can’t see. I see the poor living in crumbling houses, and the rich living in great mansions. I see most where the white and black communities are separated from each other. When I was in Afghanistan, I experienced whole communities and villages coming together to provide and support each other. Here we all seem to be separated from each other and lose social connections. By reducing the amount of social interaction, we also lose our sense of empathy for each other. This in turn increases the tension between race and prejudice.
This student’s concerns about prejudices and tensions resonate with Sharkey’s concerns about how these physical barriers exacerbate social fragmentation. As Sharkey explained:
When governments build barricades in space, they shift the burden of social problems to the most disadvantaged communities. They confront communities, reinforce divisions between them, and leave immediate challenges.
It is therefore reassuring to see projects aimed at rebuilding communities such as Cap Park in Pittsburgh or Klyde Warren Park in Dallas or the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston.
Here in Spartanburg, I look forward to seeing the expansion of The Dan’s trail system, which will be supported by $ 23.8 million. A USD federal RAISE grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation will connect our urban areas. This includes connections between the areas noted by the student above, and the widening of the trails will, among other things, enhance the use of trails between the Converse Heights and Northside areas. Separation and the creation of barriers can be the result of policy choices, but it also means that we can also decide to remove those barriers, connect our neighborhoods and restore communities and a sense of community.
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