With Colada: Our Sunday Reads 10.18.15

Integration of people within our cities and neighborhoods is a sometimes difficult but essential process for creating a vibrant, equitable future for ourselves, and it is a topic that united our reads this week.

Right now, the poor, the rich, and the middle class often exist apart from one another, and the lines that separate poor people also work to keep them there, in poverty. The way we design our cities, the infrastructure, and the culture we develop can work to isolate and segregate us in ways that devastate communities of color and poor people in general. Or those elements can work to bring us together, fostering a sense of community and a drive to work toward an equitable future.

The impact of poverty, and the social and legal mechanisms that keep people there, is especially felt by poor black families, many of whom are still feeling the effects of racist policies of the past, such as redlining. Generational poverty, when tied to racial discrimination,  becomes even more difficult to escape - as a recent in-depth report by ProPublica on how debt collection suits are concentrated in black neighborhoods reveals.

Wage garnishment that began in 2012 over an unpaid car loan has never stopped for Cori Winfield. Her annual interest rate is over 30% so she has already paid what she owed twice over - Image courtesy Edwin Torres/ProPublica

Wage garnishment that began in 2012 over an unpaid car loan has never stopped for Cori Winfield. Her annual interest rate is over 30% so she has already paid what she owed twice over - Image courtesy Edwin Torres/ProPublica

Their account is a fascinating and sobering read - well worth the time investment. The report explains that when poor families fall on hard times, they have fewer resources to draw from, and this is especially true for black families. The average black family making $20,000-40,000 a year has about $650 in liquid assets, while the average white family has $2,010. And, since poverty disproportionately impacts black communities, that means fewer extended family resources to draw on. The report also found that “High-cost installment lenders and subprime auto lenders obtained more than 8,200 judgments against residents of mostly black neighborhoods from 2008 through 2012. The lenders have seized at least $9.5 million from debtors through those cases.”

Poor families, especially poor children, are deeply impacted by neighborhood quality, according to research by Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren of Harvard University. Children whose families relocate to better neighborhoods (i.e. ones with less poverty) are more likely to earn a higher income as adults than their peers who were raised in poor, segregated neighborhoods. Of course, for long-term change in our cities to take place, “bad” neighborhoods must be rehabilitated in collaboration with their current residents, so that neighborhood improvements don’t price them out - as happens too often for residents of areas that become the target of gentrification. 

Economic segregation trends upward as middle-income neighborhoods decline. High-income and low-income Americans have become more geographically separated within metropolitan areas. Between 1970 and 2009 the proportion of families living either in predominantly poor or predominantly affluent neighborhoods doubled from 15 percent to 33 percent.
— Joe Cortright

Focusing on how we can integrate becomes even more urgent in light of a recent report from City Observatory that indicates Americans are becoming more segregated and have less in common with each other than prior generations. Loosening exclusionary zoning regulations (which would allow for more mixed income neighborhoods and pave the way for better street design), better transit, and more diverse public places all go a long way toward contributing to developing neighborhoods and whole cities that are integrated and more equitable.

Chalk art from the community event, Chalktackular, aimed at securing land promised for a park in Miami- Image courtesy James Sweet

Chalk art from the community event, Chalktackular, aimed at securing land promised for a park in Miami- Image courtesy James Sweet

Anyone can get involved in making their neighborhood and city more equitable, in Miami there are any number of organizations you can join to become more civically engaged. There’s the Miami Worker’s Center, a nonprofit engaged in the interests of working class people; Catalyst Miami, a nonprofit dedicated to building community; Engage, a new nonprofit bent on civically engaging the burgeoning millennial generation; Emerge, a grassroots organization focused on strengthening the sense of community in Miami, and so many more.

As you prepare for the new week, share with us on Twitter or Facebook how you are engaging with your community in Miami!