It would be the height of hypocrisy for me to criticize advocacy journalism; so here goes!
I learned early on after deciding to live in downtown Springfield that the bulk of the nuanced thought would come from people with skin in the game, people who actually lived in the neighborhood and had to live with the consequences of decisions. Outsiders, almost always from above the tofu curtain, were those who lobbied for absolutes with absolute certainty.
The “tent city” on the lawn of St Michael’s Cathedral was perhaps the simplest example. Of course homelessness was a problem, and with the city of Springfield essentially in receivership programs for the poor were not being funded in the most robust manner. At the same time teachers were in a multi year pay freeze, street lights were turned off all over the city, and police and fire budgets were suffering as well.
Getting back to tent city: In my home I’m sometimes naked, my wife and I have sex, we argue (usually NOT at the same time), we drink alcohol, we urinate, and we defecate; as do “homeless” people living in tents. The one uncomfortable difference is that the solid walls of my abode make those behaviors less public, more hygienic, and less intrusive relative to those around us. People from Williamsburg and Amherst advocating for the rights of the homeless to go about their lives in tent city without the meddlesome intervention of local officials didn’t live across the street, didn’t have 10 year olds going to the children’s room of the city library next door, and didn’t have a paycheck dependent on tourists not being scared away from the museums at the Quadrangle.
For those of us who did have skin in the game we understood the need to balance the needs of the homeless with the tenuous equilibrium of the neighborhood as a whole; a community which drives out all people of even moderate means can’t afford to provide any services to anyone in the long term, and when those people are you and your neighbors it’s easy to understand that a balance must be maintained. Advocates from the hinterland go home to front and back yards where drunk naked people aren’t pooping nearby, and aren’t having knife fights (and?) or sex as their kids walk by.
With that in mind, I read what really is a fine piece of advocacy journalism a few weeks ago. There was some thoughtful analysis and lots of data. It even covered one of the topics I’ve touched on now and again, with much less erudition, here on my blog: locating affordable housing outside urban communities. My own view isn’t straightforward: I mock the hypocrisy of the NIMBYs, but at the same time I don’t think that isolated, unwalkable neighborhoods are really great places to be poor.
In this article the author makes what I see as an irrefutable case against well-to-do towns in Connecticut which use sleight of hand…well, sleight of zoning, to keep affordable housing out of their communities. Right off the bat though, there’s a problem with the “up close and personal” real life example we’re given to illustrate the hardships such a lack of affordable housing creates:
Really sad. Only. Let’s think about it. She can’t afford a place to live…in Bridgeport, never mind Westport. Right? Even if she could afford a place to live apart from a shelter in Bridgeport she would still need to make the trek to Fairfield every day (though we will touch on that in a moment), but Bridgeport is about as affordable a place, and has about as much affordable housing as anyplace in New England, and this woman, bless her soul, hasn’t been able to find housing there! Are we surprised that she hasn’t been able to find a pied-à-terre in Westport? Is it disgusting that the rich people in Westport chose to live in Westport precisely to not live around poor people? Sure, you might think they’re assholes, but they’re rich assholes who don’t want to live around poor people. Being rich is so popular precisely because it helps you do what you want to do. If they were rich people who wanted to experience diversity they wouldn’t live in Westport.
Now, turning to the minimum wage job at the daycare center in Fairfield. That sounds like a real long term deal, the kind of position that a person stays in for decades. I’m sorry, did I say decades? I meant months. Maybe. So if this woman gets an apartment in $7 for a gallon of milk and $6 for a dozen organic eggs unwalkable Westport and somehow manages to get to Fairfield every day, what’s she going to do when (not if) that job goes away? How many jobs does Westport produce? It consumes a lot of jobs: doctors at Yale New Haven, lawyers and hedge fund managers for Wall Street, but the place isn’t really a wellspring of employment opportunity.
Of course, maybe her kids will then be able to attend “a good school” except…read this and follow the links. If you don’t care to read about that issue again, I’ll summarize: the schools aren’t “good”, the kids who attend them are rich, and those schools have NO IDEA how to deal with kids who aren’t ready to learn: they’d be better off in school in Bridgeport.
So how do we deal with the problem? Focus on Bridgeport. Imagine if Ashana could find a job in Bridgeport, a job she could get to using the public transit which is ubiquitous(relative to Westport) in Bridgeport. Imagine if all the Ashanas out there could get jobs in Bridgeport. Then getting employees to watch the rich brats of Westport at their snooty Fairfield day care center would become…WESTPORT’S PROBLEM. And rich people have a way of dealing with problems; it’s almost like being rich is such a sought after status because it provides people with the wherewithal to resolve problems!
I’m sorry, but I have to go a step further. In doing some google searching and snooping regarding this article I found another piece written by the same journalist comparing the success of urban schools in Massachusetts to their struggling counterparts in Connecticut. And while I stick by my assertion that a poor kid can be better served by a school in Bridgeport than in Westport, I have to admit that this is a fine piece of journalism.
Further snooping though also showed that this reporter has a child, and this reporter has lived in, or at least been “linked” to Hartford, and West Hartford. Hartford and West Hartford. Two very different communities in terms of affordable housing and public schools. When this reporter’s child reaches school age (if he or she hasn’t already) will the author see to it that her child goes to a diverse school…by being the diversity, will she live in an economically diverse neighborhood…by being the economic diversity?
To me, if you believe in affordable housing live in a community that has a commitment to affordable housing; and live as close to that affordable housing as you can because that’s what you’re asking others to do. Believe in improving the quality of urban public schools? Advocate from the inside, send your kids to them. Listen to this guy:(52:00-101:16)
Pretty freakin’ eloquent. I like that guy. This was part of a panel discussion on “a divided America”. The man who brought the concept to life told the story of its inception. Without irony he recounted the story of how he and a friend were talking at a coffee shop in one of the wealthiest and most exclusive towns in the United States about how divided we are as a nation. Why? Why are there no poor people at your exclusive coffee shop in a far flung Boston suburb? Yeah, what’s wrong with those poor people? Why don’t they hang out with us?
Let’s see…you could go hang out with them. I mean, maybe you could swing the cost of a place in Dorchester. Nah. Donald Trump! He’s the one dividing us. Bastard.
For an extended period of time the most shared article on City Lab was an interview with a French academic discussing the Trump phenomenon in the United States in comparison the the Yellow Vest movement. I read it three times. This paragraph hits on some familiar themes:
By all means raise awareness about injustice when you believe you see it, but live your life in a way that doesn’t perpetuate the injustice you decry.