My brother worked for years in a “quality control” capacity for the Social Security Administration over the Northwest region of the United States, as such he had the opportunity to witness the living conditions of the poor in urban locations including Seattle, Portland, and Tacoma, as well as the most rural of locations in Alaska and eastern Washington and Oregon. In his experience the circumstances of the urban poor were nearly always superior to those of the rural poor.
In the interest of avoiding extreme hypocrisy I want to make clear that I don’t consider my brother’s anecdotal evidence any sort of proof that urban poverty is better than rural or suburban poverty, but I couldn’t help but recall our conversations as my wife and I began to discuss the upcoming vacation week here in Springfield. She took it upon herself at Milton Bradley Elementary’s PTO meeting to enumerate the opportunities for free recreation that are available this week in the community, and the list is impressive; child focused activities all week at the 4 (open) museums at the Quadrangle, prizes and junior ranger programs at the Springfield Armory, outdoor events at Forest Park and the other parks in the city’s system, and films and story times at the library’s various branches.
What a great place to be poor. Not that anyplace necessarily seems great when you’re struggling economically, but when the cost of a couple of round trip bus passes is all it takes to access all of the aforementioned activities, I would think that it must be better than being isolated in a sprawling suburban location, and certainly there’s a bit more variety than just going out to the woods to play, as fantastic as that can be. Whatever the general conditions the poor experience in rural areas, it seems clear that to be poor in suburbia would present special difficulties for anyone who didn’t have access to a car or for whom gas prices would be prohibitive. Some commentators, Jim Kunstler among them, believe that the suburbs will be the slums of the future with each oversized home providing shelter to numerous families and today’s lawns giving way to subsistence farming.
Perhaps, but it comforts me that, at least for now, urban gentrification doesn’t appear to be displacing the poor so much as it entails merely adding the middle class and the wealthy, you know, like cities have (almost) always been. There is certainly space in my neighborhood to add thousands of the economically better off without obligating anyone to leave and, as the report indicates, giving them easier access to better resources.