Charles Buki has an interesting post over at New Geography ("Class and the Future of Planning") that's worth a read. His thesis: the draw of suburbs, the Carys and Holly Springs of our world, has been largely drawn from the middle class, who're leaving cities behind to the clear haves and the clear have-nots -- and urban planning hasn't adjusted to try to address this.
It's an interesting and powerful argument, and one I think is of interest to thoughtful Durhamites. While the notion of suburbs as an escape valve in post-war America is by no means a new one, I think Buki has a good point in describing the neglect of the massive middle on these issues.
Heck, in Durham, neighborhoods like Trinity Park and Watts-Hillandale show up and get what they want. And downtrodden areas of the city still find means, directly or through proxies like the North-East Central Durham leadership council, to speak up their interests to City Council and others in power. Yet the voices between often aren't seen voicing their concerns.
The strong neighborhoods show up in force, working the system to their advantage. They often transform any land use or zoning issue into a referendum on the impacts on property values. The water treatment facility gets sited far away from such neighborhoods. Low-income housing becomes an articulated virtue, so long as its located elsewhere. This occurs in supposedly enlightened and ‘progressive’ neighborhoods like mine – Rosemont in Alexandria, Virginia – and places like Kensington near Berkeley, or in Fairfield County, Connecticut, where addressing homelessness is a rising priority – if it’s handled in Bridgeport and not Danbury or Shelton or Norwalk. Planning nearly always yields good results for neighborhoods like mine.
In contrast, residents of struggling areas are skeptical of processes that have not benefited them very much in the past. In places like low-income parts of Norfolk, Virginia, "planning" has come to mean either 1950s style urban renewal or 1990s style gentrification. New Urbanism in Norfolk has often meant the very opposite of practical economic inclusion for low-income working households. The very idea that real change could both come and be beneficial to them is laughable. Their issues are not about landscaping with native plants: their concerns are jobs, crime, services, and housing affordability. Astute (cynical) planners soon discover that "respect" is also in play in these neighborhoods; merely listening with sincerity becomes a stand in for actual change. Listening requires no real work, certainly not compared to the heavy lifting of actually improving these areas for their current residents. Planning rarely adds much to these places.
Middle-class neighborhoods want to preserve what they have. They don’t want their small claim on prosperity threatened by those from the troubled areas in town. They want nothing more than to preserve their safety and the small patch of grass they mow on the weekends. For families in these neighborhoods, the suburbs have for decades been a bastion from a changing urban setting that appears to always grant the rich a pass and provide unearned opportunity to the poor.
Unable to migrate into the ranks of the upper middle class and penetrate the neighborhoods of lawyers and accountants and physicians, middle neighborhood residents often simply leave and form a place of their own. Plumbers and carpenters dislodged from Del Ray (an old blue collar neighborhood in Alexandria, VA) drive their pick-up trucks to Springfield, where they have a mall and plenty of ranch houses, and where they can safely raise their family while holding a job that does not require a college education.