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Why Are Our Cities Segregated?

[ 102 ] March 7, 2016 |

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Because that’s what the government intended after World War II:

“We have a national myth that the reason our metropolitan areas are segregated is for informal reasons—private prejudice, differences in income, demographic trends, racial steering by real estate agents and so forth,” Rothstein said. “The reality is that the segregation that we see today was established by the federal government with help from state and local governments. It’s an officially established system.”

Rothstein said the federal government purposefully created segregated neighborhoods throughout the country when it started building public housing in the 1930s. He said sometimes the government destroyed integrated neighborhoods like St. Louis’ Desoto-Carr neighborhood to build public housing that was earmarked for one race. Clinton-Peabody, for instance was built for white families on the near south-side of St. Louis while another public housing project was built for black families downtown.

After World War II, the federal government subsidized the construction of great swaths of homes in city suburbs and made them available to purchase for veterans—as long as they were white. Rothstein credits the appreciation in value of those homes as being a major reason white Americans have been able to build more wealth over the past few generations.

“The enormous difference in wealth between median African-American families and median white families is almost entirely attributable to federal housing policy of the 20th century by which whites were subsidized to buy suburban homes which then appreciated in value many times over over the next generation or two and African Americans were prohibited from buying those homes so they didn’t gain any of the benefits of equity appreciation that white families gained,” said Rothstein.

Ferguson resident Cassandra Butler was part of a small but invested crowd listening to Rothstein speak Saturday. She said his research was an affirmation.

“African Americans aren’t necessarily in the economic position they are in because we ourselves are inferior,” said Butler. “It’s constructed, institutional policies that have led to where we are.”

The continued institutionalized racism against African-Americans is why the argument for reparations is morally correct if politically impossible. It also means that only federal programs will fix it. That includes ensuring that educational opportunities are not significantly better for suburban white kids than urban kids of color, whether through busing or nationalizing school funding, or other innovative programs. It’s the only way to move toward solving these problems in education, in housing, in employment, and in so many other facets of American life.

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  • MattT

    Austin segregated itself in the 20’s by having the city cut off utilities to non-white residents until they were forced to move from the West side of the city (where houses are mostly on granite and have stable foundations) to the East side (where houses are much more likely to be on clay soils and develop foundation issues).

    My house was built in the 50s and still has language in the deed that says non-white people cannot be on the property overnight.

    • Bruce Vail

      Yes, Baltimore is another example of a city that established patterns of strict housing segregation well before the post-World War II construction boom. Baltimore’s civic leaders did not need the federal government to guide them on how to enforce segregation; they had been doing it for generations.

      This part of the city’s history is being discussed pretty widely now, nearly a year after the riot. Problem is, this discussion doesn’t seem to be leading to any solutions.

      • Baltimore’s civic leaders did not need the federal government to guide them on how to enforce segregation; they had been doing it for generations.

        Noting the pre-war, established patterns of segregation is perfectly valid, but I don’t think it spoils Erik’s point here.

        With the remarkable amount, and entirely new character, of building after World War II (suburbanization mostly, but also large-scale public and private development and redevelopment in cities), those old patterns should have been severely eroded. That they weren’t was to a significant degree the result of federal policy.

        • Right–there was plenty of segregation before the war, but it wasn’t government mandated and therefore central to government urban planning as it was after WWII.

          • Oh, I’d say it was central to government urban planning before that.

            I’d say the difference was, there just wasn’t nearly as much government urban planning before the war. What there was – for example, Euclid’s zoning enforcement agains that Chinese laundry, or FDR’s Greenbelt, MD experiment – was deliberately segregated.

        • Bruce Vail

          No, I’m not trying to spoil Erik’s point at all. It’s especially relevant to the Baltimore suburbs where the actual majority of the residents of greater Balt. metropolitan area now live.

          I think it is interesting to question, though, whether it was federal government policy that created the segregation in the Baltimore suburbs, or whether it was the local elites that shaped federal policy to conform with existing patterns of segregation?

          It would be easy for us Baltimorons to blame the federal government for this problem, but are we letting ourselves off the hook too easy?

          • I would definitely say the latter, before the war (actually, I’d say before FDR. He ramped federal housing policy up during the 30s). There was so very little of a federal role before that, it had to be local.

      • AlanInSF

        I can add my personal testimony about Baltimore, and Maryland’s D.C. suburbs, enforcing strict covenant-based segregation well into the 1960’s, and still systematically using the “oh, that apartment was just rented” dodge into the 1970s. I grew up in suburban neighborhoods, in New Jersey and Maryland, that were almost entirely Jewish because Jews weren’t allowed to live in the other neighborhoods.

        • AlanInSF

          And, it goes without saying, blacks and browns weren’t allowed to live in the Jewish neighborhoods.

  • Institutionalized racism runs both wide and deep. That’s what makes it such an insidious problem. It will likely take a major refactoring of our society to break it.

    • Vance Maverick

      “major refactoring”? I know what that means in software development, and I hope that’s not the analogy you have in mind.

      • Strictly speaking, “major refactoring” is almost an oxymoron, unless we’re talking about a timescale on the line of decades or centuries.

        • Anything less than decades would be revolutionary and not evolutionary, but even on the evolutionary side we would need some major readjustment of our society to wean it off of exploitation.

          • I think Vance’s point and mine is that refactoring is evolutionary, step by step change so no one change is likely to break anything and you have enough time to make sure you didn’t before you change anything else. Those testing cycles would be relatively long in human society terms.

      • I could say ‘readjustment’ but I think refactoring is the stronger and more appropriate word in this context :-)

  • The first time I learned about redlining was in city planning graduate school.

    I’d taken plenty of history, had been on track for an American Studies double-major. But it had never come up in class before that.

    • Rob in CT

      I didn’t learn about redlining until… I dunno, 5-10 years ago, reading stuff on the internet.

      I may have heard the term, and had a vague sense of what it was, but actually understanding how pervasive and damaging it was… yeah, really recent development for me.

      • Denverite

        When we bought our house in the mid 00s, we bought in a stereotypically “white” area of the city (it’s actually not true; the neighborhood subsequently was ranked the second most diverse in the city). A couple we were friends with bought about the same time in a neighborhood known as non-white. Everything was roughly the same — combined income, savings, credit, etc. I think our house was about $100k more, which was a lot, but values were at least in the same ballpark (+/- 50%). The houses were within a couple of miles of each other.

        Oh, and their house was in a redlined zip code. The differences in the mortgage processes for them and us (and the terms that eventually were available) were night and day. They had to go to three closings. One of them was aborted because they hadn’t completed the credit counseling class that the bank required for people in that zip code.

    • T.E. Shaw

      A friend of mine is finishing up a graduate degree in urban planning. During the summers she’s been teaching middle-schoolers (in a major urban area) about the basics of urban planning. The history of redlining is a major feature of one of her units.

    • medrawt

      My father was a history major in college. I think he had some vague notions about this stuff, but he (and I) really only learned about it when he took a job at a large urban public housing authority and basically he started doing background reading. I think I may have had a history textbook that had the word “blockbusting” in it for one paragraph or something, but basically I got through what most people would consider a pretty good education without ever being exposed to these things except through my dad bringing home books on the subject. (Though obviously a lot of this awfulness was directed at African Americans, the title that stuck in my head was The Death of an American Jewish Community, about redlining in Roxbury.)

  • Rob in CT

    Goddamnit.

    Keying off this post, I was thinking about how segregated Connecticut is and got to wondering how much of that was driven by overt government policy like this (I’ve seen stuff about Chicago, St. Louis… but how about closer to my home?). So I googled Connecticut Segregation.

    What do I get? Hit after hit of winger OUTRAGE because UCONN built a dorm for black students.

    Much of the non-Daily Caller hits are about recent efforts to combat school segregation, but that to me is part & parcel of housing segregation and I wanted to find something addressing that.

    Any suggestions for learning about redlining and/or other such policies in CT?

    edit: ah, put redlining in and get better results. Is our Rob learning?

    http://connecticuthistory.org/the-effects-of-redlining-on-the-hartford-metropolitan-region/

    • Jeff R.

      I recently found out about the Village Creek neighborhood in Norwalk when a freind moved there. When it was developed starting in 1949 one of the goals was to have a racially (and religiously) integrated community. There website has various clippings from over the years: http://www.vchoa.com/vc_history.html. It is small, only 67 homes, so it’s hard to say how much it drove the housing segregation issue.

  • There is a good reason–well, a reason–that the absurdist claim that the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) gets blamed for the crisis, despite the abundant evidence.

    • Yep.

      It started out as a bit a misdirection from the anti-regulatory plutocrats who actually caused the crisis, but certainly found an appreciate audience and took on a life of its own.

  • gmoot

    Note that over the past 30 years, racial segregation has declined (slowly), but income segregation has risen. The two are intertwined, of course, insofar as there are racial differences in the income distributions, and both are important for understanding contemporary patterns of inequality. And, they interact.

    But, if you had to choose one to focus on, the big story is that rich people are increasingly likely to live in neighborhoods with only rich people, and poor people only live in neighborhoods with other poor people. This has downstream effects on differences in kids’ quality of schools, social networks and peer groups, exposure to violence and environmental toxins, etc etc.

    Same is true with standardize test score gaps, incidentally: black-white test score gaps have narrowed, again slowly and non-monotonically. Rich-poor gaps, though, are rapidly growing, and in absolute magnitude now exceed black-white test score gaps.

    Sociologists Kendra Bischoff and Sean Reardon are doing fantastic work on income segregation. (See, e.g., recent piece in the Boston Globe, although that’s specific to Boston.) Reardon also has work on trends in income test score gaps.

    • Sly

      Note that over the past 30 years, racial segregation has declined (slowly), but income segregation has risen. The two are intertwined, of course, insofar as there are racial differences in the income distributions, and both are important for understanding contemporary patterns of inequality. And, they interact.

      This is also likely due to the fact that “race-blind” anti-poverty spending ends up exacerbating the racial income/wealth gaps, because ignoring structural racism ensures that those programs will give a disproportionate share of dollars to non-whites.

      • Lasker

        I assume you meant to say a “disproportionately small share of dollars to non-whites.”?

        Could you say more about that? I’ve heard that said about Social Security, since non-whites have lower life expectancy and thus don’t collect as much of the benefits they earn, but I’m not familiar with other examples from anti-poverty programs.

        • Sly

          That even though the black and Hispanic participation rates in various direct benefit programs (SNAP, SSI, housing assistance, EITC, Medicare, Medicaid, etc) is large, a few years ago CBPP found that the dispersal of funds is closer to the demographics of the entire population than the demographics of just the bottom income quintile. Put another way, whites make up 40% of the bottom quintile, yet get almost 70% of all direct benefits from the Federal government.

          There are a multiplicity of reasons for this, all relating to structural racism. Whites are less likely to be charged and convicted of felonies when they commit crimes, so states that put limitations on what benefits like SNAP that felons can receive, or benefits that involve a third party that won’t assist felons (housing assistance, job training, etc) will give preferential treatment to whites. Disparities in how various health systems operate allow whites to live longer and thus collect more from SSI/Medicare. Blacks are over twice as likely as whites to fall into the coverage gap created by the refusal of some states to expand Medicaid.

          There are lots of other factors, and they add up.

    • Lee Rudolph

      the big story is that rich people are increasingly likely to live in neighborhoods with only rich people, and poor people only live in neighborhoods with other poor people

      In fact, it’s such a big story that it actually made the Boston Globe yesterday morning! (I didn’t read past the headline because, the Globe.)

  • Joe_JP

    I have seen different definitions of “reparations” but dealing with:

    That includes ensuring that educational opportunities are not significantly better for suburban white kids than urban kids of color, whether through busing or nationalizing school funding, or other innovative programs. It’s the only way to move toward solving these problems in education, in housing, in employment, and in so many other facets of American life.

    will be hard enough, for sure. Harder, perhaps, than some simplistic form of one time reparations, even.

    • Ahuitzotl

      nationalizing school funding – that’s actually the first time I’ve heard that mentioned here & it’s always seemed the sine qua non of simple economic justice: I certainly wouldnt call it reparations, but another way of giving everyone the same opportunities (because frankly, lots of poor white kids would benefit too).

  • AMK

    “We have a national myth that the reason our metropolitan areas are segregated is for informal reasons—private prejudice, differences in income, demographic trends, racial steering by real estate agents and so forth”

    This “informal” stuff matters a great deal. As long the housing market equates blacks and browns with lower property values, de facto segregation will persist. And the market is driven by the lowest common denominator….so many whites who have no personal problem with black neighbors are still compelled to wall of their neighborhoods to protect the full value of their assets.

    • Dilan Esper

      There’s other mechanisms as well. I mean, if you write about this topic and never mention the words “restrictive covenant”….

      • efgoldman

        I mean, if you write about this topic and never mention the words “restrictive covenant”….

        Not that the effects don’t linger, but haven’t those been illegal/unenforceable (nominally) for quite some time?

        • Bill Murray

          well there were Supreme Court cases and laws since 1917 (mainly in 1948 and 1968), but the effects were still being enforced as of 2005 according to this NY Times story

    • Rob in CT

      I’m reading right now about real estate agents steering white buyers away from a particular suburb (Bloomfield) in favor of others (West Hartford, Avon) in the 1970s and 80s, by insinuating that if you move to Bloomfield the ni-clangs will screw up your kid’s education.

      And of course that continues today without the overt racist language. All you do today is look up school system ranking/test scores and buy accordingly. It’s baked in. Nobody has to say anything in particular.

      • Cheerful

        Racial steering was also a big deal in Seattle in the 50’s and 60’s. Much of the early efforts towards open housing pushed in the direction of regulating realtors.

        • dm

          Racial steering is not something from the past. When I first moved to Austin a friend suggested I contact an apartment hunter to drive me around to see various properties. The woman who gave me the tour said: I won’t take you east of the highway because that is a ‘bad’ part of town. My husband and I wound up living on the east side anyway in a racially diverse neighborhood. Our house was built in the 40s. We bought it in the early 2000s and just like MattT’s example, the deed still said we could not sell the house to ‘coloured’ people. We have friends who won’t send their kids to certain public schools. I happened to notice those ‘unacceptable’ schools all had positive educational attainment ratings. I think they simply didn’t want their kids associating with people of color. Eleanor Roosevelt once said that integrating school kids would be a mistake if the neighborhoods weren’t integrated first. I think she was right.

          • mch

            “Eleanor Roosevelt once said that integrating school kids would be a mistake if the neighborhoods weren’t integrated first.”

            “Neighborhood schools.” Interesting notion. In the town where I grew up in NJ, there were seven elementary schools, each of which drew from a number of neighborhoods. (There was also a parochial elementary school.) The neighborhoods represented in the school I attended in the 1950’s included a couple of black neighborhoods (poor to working class), some working-middle-class to middle-class neighborhoods, and a couple of very wealthy neighborhoods. My mother (an early “open housing” advocate — I remember being taken around with her when I was really little to pass out leaflets, house-to-house) was friendly with the principal of my school, Mrs. Brandenburg (her name deserves to be remembered), who told my mother that she had once been approached by civic muckety-mucks (this could have been in the 1940’s or early 1950’s). They had a plan to redraw the school districts so that no black neighborhoods would be included in my school (they would join another elementary school that was largely black). Mrs. Brandenburg refused to cooperate.

  • Peterr

    If you look at a map of all the municipalities that make up St. Louis County, you can see the legally sanctioned boundaries that were erected in large part with segregation in mind. Some are nothing more than large subdivisions that realized they could legislate more effectively as a municipality to keep the “wrong folks” out of “our neighborhood” and voted to do just that.

    Similarly, the town to the west of Ferguson is Kinloch, which was where the African-American community in that part of north county lived back when Ferguson was lily-white. If you look at the street layout, you will notice that save for a few major east-west streets, none of the others go through. Other e-w streets will approach that border, then end for a block, and resume once more.

    Can’t have the “wrong” kind of folks driving casually through “our neighborhood” . . .

    • efgoldman

      If you look at the street layout, you will notice that save for a few major east-west streets, none of the others go through. Other e-w streets will approach that border, then end for a block, and resume once more.

      Our kids live in Arlington VA, which has four different iterations of a main road. Daughter (who grew up near Boston) pointed out to me that it saw for exactly that reason, and to define the “right” neighborhoods.

  • Crusty

    Has anyone ever noticed how there are certain points in certain cities or areas where a neighborhood can shift from lilly white and clearly economically well off to not economically well off and non-white in the blink of an eye- it can literally be one street that separates the two. There’s no gradualism to it at all, as if there’s an electric fence keeping minorities out. Anyway, anyone have any insight on this particular phenomenon?

    • First of all, red-lining involved lines, which were often streets.

      Second, the type of street you’re talking about is often a main commercial street of city-wide significance (as opposed to being the commercial center of a neighborhood that surrounds it), so it serves as an edge between two neighborhoods instead the spine of one. In that situation, the streets off of it are smaller residential neighborhood streets. In that case, you’re talking about changing from one neighborhood to another, and in a manner much more abrupt than the “where does Pokeyville end and Chokeytown begin?” gradualism that often characterizes urban neighborhood boundaries.

      • Third, zoning. Is the housing behind one side of the street multi-family and the other, single-family? That could well be the result of a zoning boundary, and the economics of the two areas reflective of who can afford each type of housing.

    • Denverite

      In my experience, there’s usually some manmade feature separating the two. Like in Denver, the minority neightborhoods on the north side of the city are separated from the non-minority neighborhoods by a couple of big parks, and the minority neighborhoods on the west side are separated by I-70 plus the Platte River and a bunch of stadiums and amusement park. Or in Chicago, Bridgeport is buffered by I-55 on the north, the Dan Ryan and Sox Park on the east, the river on the west, and the stockyards on the south.

      • Hogan

        Just the way God and Richard J. Daley intended.

        • Denverite

          Yup.

      • Woodrowfan

        here in Arlington VA they built a six foot concrete wall between the black and white neighborhoods. It’s still there, but the two areas are more diverse now, and there are gaps in the walls. But it’s still there.

        • Lee Rudolph

          here in Arlington VA they built a six foot concrete wall between the black and white neighborhoods.

          And if Trump had been president, he’d have made … oh, never mind.

        • efgoldman

          in Arlington VA they built a six foot concrete wall between the black and white neighborhoods. It’s still there

          Yup. And my kids live on [Robert E] Lee Highway, and the hotel we stay in when we visit is on Jefferson Davis Highway.
          The past isn’t even past.

      • Denverite

        and the minority neighborhoods on the west side are separated by I-70 plus the Platte River and a bunch of stadiums and amusement park.

        Dur. Meant I-25.

      • pseudonymous in nc

        And building the interstates almost certainly involved razing vibrant black communities, because that’s how it was done — and frankly, how it’s still done, though less blatantly, more because black communities aren’t as good at NIMBY lobbying when the state DOT issues its plans.

        • I saw a great quote from a Minnesota newspaper: “There weren’t very many black people in Minneapolis, but the highway administration managed to find them.”

        • efgoldman

          And building the interstates almost certainly involved razing vibrant black communities

          Not necessarily. If memory serves, Robert Moses plowed the Cross Bronx through mixed and largely Jewish neighborhoods. And the “urban renewal” in Boston in the 1950s took down a largely Jewish neighborhood. If the planned Boston inner belt highway had actually been built, it would have gone through a lot of white, and some fairly affluent, neighborhoods.

          • You’ve picked probably the two greatest outliers in what was otherwise a solid pattern.

          • Ahuitzotl

            If the planned Boston inner belt highway had actually been built, it would have gone through a lot of white, and some fairly affluent, neighborhoods.

            that didnt play a major part in it not being built?

      • Look back at the history of those Interstates, and very often you will find that they either destroyed a minority neighborhood to get built or reinforced an existing boundary.

  • aturner339

    What makes the problem of racial injustice in the nation so fraught is how much of it springs from the deliberate action of policy makers. The answer to nearly every “why?” of racial inequity is “because people wanted it that way.”

    This leaves no room for emotional salves like “unintended consequences” and “natural barriers.” Instead it requires individualist Americans to grasp the cold hard truth that our forbearers ruined the lives of hundreds of thousands of our neighbors just because they could.

    It’s a short leap from that realization to the conclusion that something must be done to rectify this so for many Americans that realization is to be avoided at all costs.

    • MAJeff

      What makes the problem of racial injustice in the nation so fraught is how much of it springs from the deliberate action of policy makers. The answer to nearly every “why?” of racial inequity is “because people wanted it that way.”

      Yup. As I tell my Intro students when we start discussing these issues, “The ghetto was designed to be a space of exploitation. The concentration of poverty in these spaces was on purpose.”

      • Woodrowfan

        “The ghetto was designed to be a space of exploitation. The concentration of poverty in these spaces was on purpose.”

        source please. (I don;t doubt it, but want to be able to use it in my classes too)

        • MAJeff

          Honestly, it’s the cumulative effect of different sources. I think it’s Coates who once said “The ghetto was on purpose” and I use varying combinations of that depending on the policies and practices I’m highlighting.

          • Woodrowfan

            OK, thanks. I will be using Coate’s Atlantic article in my class later this semester.

  • LeeEsq

    It would be interesting to find out which civil servants came up with the idea of red-lining and their motivation for doing so. These policies originated in the FDR and Truman administrations, which were a complicated period for internal politics of the Democratic Party. The liberal parts of the party were beginning to flex it’s muscles on civil rights and race issues but the Southern vote was still very important and powerful for electoral purposes. At the same time, the racist part of the Democratic Party of the time wasn’t really into technocratic methods and a lot of the ways the Federal government supported urban segregation were very technocratic.

    • One key insight was that the formal categories were not “black” vs. “white” neighborhoods, but “stable” vs. “unstable” neighborhoods.

      Solidly-black neighborhoods were considered stable under those early FHA rules, just like stable white neighborhoods. But neighborhoods with a mixed, and especially changing, racial composition were redlined.

      How this standards interacted with the complex patterns of regional and national migration is complicated. Long story short, it screwed black people, and it screwed certain areas of cities, and it planted the screwed black people in the screwed areas.

      • LeeEsq

        The stable and un-stable category fits in with the thinking of the time and explains why so many liberal or liberal-leaning civil servants could justify red-lining and similar programs to themselves.

  • It’s also worth noting that the redlining rules promulgated by government and adopted by banks weren’t limited to mortgages, but migrated over to the commercial side, too – both public programs and private financial services.

    Which means that, just as a black barber could only get a mortgage in certain places, he could also only get a business loan or even building insurance in certain places.

  • Woodrowfan

    Where did that map come from? I know I’ve seen the website where you can look at the data before, but I apparently forgot to bookmark it.

  • Crusty

    One day I was walking through an area of Manhattan (the east 90s) nearby a large house project and a Hispanic woman approached me and asked me some questions about the larger project complex we were walking by in broken English. Apparently, she was thinking of moving there but wanted to know if I knew whether most of the residents were black or hispanic. Like I said, her English was kind of broken, so she even pointed to her black pants and her brown bag to distinguish. I told her I didn’t see race and therefore couldn’t help her.

  • LeeEsq

    My major criticism is that the assumption of the paper seems to be that “but for” Federal urban policies in the mid-20th century, we would be living in a less segregated environment today. I think that is mistaken. Many cities like Baltimore began instituting their own version of these policies before World War I. There might have been desegregating neighborhoods but they were probably out numbered by formally or informally segregating neighborhoods. Federal policies exasperated segregation and made things worst but they reflected what many White Americans already wanted.

    An alternative history without red-lining would be better in many ways but not in the way that Eric imagines. I think that suburbanization would have still been a thing even with a different set of Federal policies. Many White Americans would have still been racist and wanted not to live near African-Americans even without red-lining so you would still have racism driving the rise of suburbs. I also think that many people on this blog downplay other factors that drove the massive increase in suburban living. America is wealthy and geographically large country. The desire for single family homes and personal transportation really increases a lot when you get to a certain amount of wealth in society. The suburbs might have been more racially integrated with an alternative set of Federal policies but they would still exist.

    Most likely, an America with no red-lining policies would still be a place where most White Americans would flee/move to the suburbs and minorities would still be in the urban areas. The advantage is that we wouldn’t have these bad public housing projects or the other destruction wrought by urban renewal. Urban neighborhoods would still be in tact.

    • Jackdaw

      This is my feeling also–the Federal government may have instituted these policies, but they were following the wishes of the vast majority of white people at the time. It’s really a chicken-and-egg situation.

    • muddy

      I thought the point was that they built the suburbs so that whites could flee there. They needed something built (roads, services etc) where they could flee to. It was provided to them by policy.

      • Putting it that way is too pat, in the sense of treating something had a lot of moving parts whose interactions settled into a stable dynamic as a solitary thing that was designed that way from the beginning in order to produce that result.

        They built the suburbs to meet the massive and growing demand for housing. They did so in a manner that produced segregated outcomes because that’s how they believed they should go about meeting that demand.

        Think about how older urban neighborhoods have a mix of commercial and residential uses, and post-war suburbs have strict land use segregation. Did they build the suburbs for the purpose of making sure stores and houses were far apart? No, that’s not why they built those suburbs, but it is how.

        • muddy

          I wasn’t saying the way suburbs were laid out for cars etc was on purpose for… I don’t actually know why they would do this, I guess car culture and every man has his tiny castle and lawn and etc.

          I am just noting that in building the needed housing but not allowing black people to live in it, is essentially building a place for the white people to flee to.

          • “Is essentially” is a slippery concept. The system certainly came to function that way.

      • LeeEsq

        I don’t think it is that simple. The suburban impulse existed long before the mid-20th century and the ideal American house was always some variety of single family home with a yard. Its one reason why row houses rather and single family homes featured so heavily in residential stock even when most Americans lived in cities. There is a lot of literature at this. Predecessors of modern suburbia began to spring up before the First World War or even earlier. I have heterodox opinion and think that while racism contributed a lot to the suburban drive, much of it simply reflected how many Americans wanted to live. A non-racist housing policy is basically going to be like modern suburbia but with much more integration.

        • Good comment.

          Let me just distinguish “suburban” from “sprawl” in the sentence Predecessors of modern suburbia began to spring up before the First World War or even earlier. I have heterodox opinion and think that while racism contributed a lot to the suburban drive, much of it simply reflected how many Americans wanted to live.

          It certainly isn’t unorthodox within the planning field to acknowledge that the desire for one’s own single family home with some land is strong in American culture. That particular desire (as opposed to others) has certainly been promoted and reinforced, but it wasn’t invented by public policy.

          • LeeEsq

            It is a heterodox thought in some schools of liberal thought on the matter thought though.

            • Yes, it is.

              Everyone has a tendency to overestimate the importance of their area of their interest.

              To the extent the people you’re talking about are wrong, it’s only in their prioritization. They arguments they make that X played a causal role in Y are quite correct.

              • efgoldman

                Joe, are you familiar with the blockbusting along Blue Hill Avenue in Boston? I have a personal connection, because it’s where my grandparents (and thousands of others) moved when the West End was torn down, although they never owned property. I was bar mitzvah at my grandfather’s shul on Woodrow Avenue, off Blue Hill.

                Harmon calls it “reverse-redlining.” He says banks drew a line around Mattapan and parts of Dorchester, where they would provide loans to low-income black families only.

                “They thought they were doing a social good… essentially, getting people into homeownership, but as it turned out they were saddling people with mortgages they couldn’t afford,” Harmon said.
                A historic postcard shows Franklin Park.

                And to get Jewish families to move out of their homes along Blue Hill Avenue, some realtors resorted to a practice called “blockbusting.” His household experienced it firsthand.

                “Some real state broker would call up a family and say, ‘Look, your neighborhood is becoming really dangerous. You better sell the property to me now because it’s dropping in value every day, you know it’s a changing neighborhood. It’s going to become an all black neighborhood. You know what happens in an all black neighborhoods,’ “ Harmon remembered.

                “And if you told them to go to hell they would basically escalate the tactic to the point where it would be stuff like, “ Hey what are you, an idiot? You want a mulatto grandchild? You have daughters, don’t you?’ I mean some really vile, crazy stuff.”

                • I remember reading about one practice in which real estate agents would pay homeless black men to hang around and drink on a block they wanted to bust.

                  Just file, sociopathic behavior. For a commission on the sales.

          • LeeEsq

            My heterodox opinion on sprawl is that it just as much a product of widespread car ownership and usage as it is of land use policy. People never really liked living near industrial areas or even very commercial areas with a lot of stores. They only did so in the past because they needed to be close to work. As transportation changes made it more possible to increase your distance between work and home, zoning became more common. The first truly reside4ntial areas appeared because of the train and streetcar. Nearby walkable shopping existed because it was convenient for the housewives but big ticket shopping and work ended up concentrated elsewhere. The car and the refrigerator made even stricter zoning more possible because you didn’t need to shop for food everyday and you could just drive to your shopping.

            • The problem with this theory is that those early streetcar suburbs, and even the first automobile suburbs, were still relatively dense and walkable, with much more retail mixed in than you see today.

              • LeeEsq

                They were less dense than existed previously though. It simply didn’t occur to a designer to design a non-walkable and really less dense suburb because they were basing their plans on what existed previously but somebody would have eventually designed the sprawling suburb. Frank Lloyd Wright came close with his Broadacre city idea. It just needed somebody to make it more feasible.

                • mch

                  This is all really interesting. It’s worth remembering that most neighborhoods in today’s Manhattan started out as suburbs. People got to work on, say, Maiden Lane, from, say, East 30th Street or (starting in the 1880’s or so) East Harlem via horse-drawn streetcars, then trains (or a combination thereof). And they walked long distances (as New Yorkers still do). There were stores like groceries in these residential suburbs because people needed to buy food locally. There were also plenty of “saloons” and such. Trains to NJ and Westchester were accommodating some commuters by the 1880’s, but these were mostly wealthy people. By the 19-teens, though, these familiar “suburbs” were increasingly inhabited by more middle and upper-middle class commuters.

    • dwhite10701

      Maybe things would be less segregated, maybe not. But this point:

      After World War II, the federal government subsidized the construction of great swaths of homes in city suburbs and made them available to purchase for veterans—as long as they were white. Rothstein credits the appreciation in value of those homes as being a major reason white Americans have been able to build more wealth over the past few generations.

      “The enormous difference in wealth between median African-American families and median white families is almost entirely attributable to federal housing policy of the 20th century by which whites were subsidized to buy suburban homes which then appreciated in value many times over over the next generation or two and African Americans were prohibited from buying those homes so they didn’t gain any of the benefits of equity appreciation that white families gained,” said Rothstein.

      is where the importance of the federal policy really makes the difference. Maybe we’d still be just as segregated, but the enormous wealth gap based on housing wouldn’t exist the way it does now.

    • pseudonymous in nc

      An alternative history without red-lining would be better in many ways but not in the way that Eric imagines. I think that suburbanization would have still been a thing even with a different set of Federal policies.

      Well, if you want to think about suburbs without redlining, then you ought to think about the European model where the post-WW2 peace dividend was spent on building public rental housing (because they’d blown up each others’ housing stock) as opposed to divvying it out individually to (white) heads-of-household in Levittowns.

      The issue with redlining was that it involved home ownership, part of a longstanding effort to turn white immigrant communities into property-owning Americans, in part because property ownership in urban and suburban areas is considered a source of political stability — get the tenement-dwellers to maintain a house they own, and they’ll be tied to their jobs and won’t become commie radicals.

      Suburbs happened in the UK as renters moved out, and renters became homeowners, but because there was still a lot of public housing for white people in the outer suburbs, those burbs got public transit and footpaths and integration into urban infrastructure. There was a white flight (see: Ukip and BNP) but not as profound a one as in the US, where surburbs explicitly cut themselves off from the city.

      • LeeEsq

        Canada, New Zealand, and to a certain extent Australia didn’t really have racial issues to the extent that the United States did but they still suburbanized because of low population densities and wealth. Believe or not but a lot of people really like owning their own property or having a home of their own and if they can get it, they want it.

        Public housing ended up just being as much as a disaster in the United Kingdom as it was in the United States for different reasons. They did not have American racial issues and only developed their own racial issues long after a lot of public housing was built but much of it proved to be deeply unpopular with many people including residents. They wanted housing on a more intimate scale than what was built and also wanted to own their own land rather than rent.

        • pseudonymous in nc

          Yeah, I was going to talk about Australia, given that it’s a closer housing model to the US — far greater focus on home-ownership — but I don’t know enough detail, other than that post-WW2 suburban expansion was accompanied by the White Australia policy on immigrants.

          Public housing ended up just being as much as a disaster in the United Kingdom as it was in the United States for different reasons.

          Only up to a point. The 1960s tower blocks and concrete villages, yes. The generation of public housing built after that — outer-suburb semis — offered high-quality housing, which is why so much of it was snaffled up once the Tories introduced right-to-buy. That was a disaster in a different way, because councils couldn’t reinvest the proceeds. Still, most new-build entry-level private housing in the UK is of substantially worse quality than public housing from the 1970s.

          I’d argue that people like the freedom to remodel more than they like owning their own property — unless they’re more worried about property as an investment — but that’s by the bye.

          • LeeEsq

            1. From what I can tell from reading, Australian cities were collections of suburbs with a heavy focus on single family homes since the 19th century. The difference is that they kept the commuter rail systems in tact so you have suburbs with better public transportation.

            2. The Conservatives instituted right to buy because it was popular with the British people. Harold Wilson was considering instituting it during his second administration in the 1970s. In his documentary on the 1970s, Dominic Sandbrook points out that when Labour sent around pollsters, people would bring up the topic on their own volition. Its just that Labour’s left flank couldn’t allow it because it violated their ideology.

        • Ahuitzotl

          Public housing ended up just being as much as a disaster in the United Kingdom as it was in the United States for different reasons.

          What tory bullshit is this?

  • tsam

    That includes ensuring that educational opportunities are not significantly better for suburban white kids than urban kids of color, whether through busing or nationalizing school funding, or other innovative programs.

    It’s maddening that in 2016 we have to talk about doing this. It should have been long past done by now.

  • BruceFromOhio

    After World War II, the federal government subsidized the construction of great swaths of homes in city suburbs and made them available to purchase for veterans—as long as they were white. Rothstein credits the appreciation in value of those homes as being a major reason white Americans have been able to build more wealth over the past few generations.

    40 acres and a mule!

    Oh, wait … wrong war.

  • Gareth

    After World War II, the federal government subsidized the construction of great swaths of homes in city suburbs and made them available to purchase for veterans—as long as they were white. Rothstein credits the appreciation in value of those homes as being a major reason white Americans have been able to build more wealth over the past few generations.

    This article makes it clear that the racial distinction used in most housing segregation is white/non-white. So Asian-Americans would be affected almost as much as African-Americans. Isn’t it a big problem for the argument that Asian-American households have more wealth than average?

    • No, because such a huge chunk of the country’s Asian-American population migrated here after the 1960s.

      • Gareth

        Right, but how much wealth did they have when they arrived, even compared to black households?

        • aturner339

          Considering the nature of immigration policy (which actively selects for the wealth and highly educated) I think this is another case were “because people wanted it that way” applies.

          Many (though by no means all) immigrants, including Asian immigrants are likely to have significant capital. Social, Financial, or otherwise.

          • pseudonymous in nc

            Social capital creating access to financial capital, in the form of lenders catering to particular immigrant communities.

  • JG

    Wow, so you’re telling me that black people are poorer on average due to structural factors and specific policies and not their own laziness? That’s nuts!

  • Ransom Stoddard

    It only deals with this en passant, but Zoned in the U.S.A., by Sonia Hirt, is a great exploration of the development of American urban land-use regulation.

  • mch

    I wish Hillary and Bernie had responded to Don Lemon’s celebrated question by raising issues like this rather than stuff about the limits of their personal experiences or movement work for civil rights.