Claiming Neighborhood: New Ways of Understanding Urban Change

University of Illinois Press
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Based on historical case studies in Chicago, John J. Betancur and Janet L. Smith focus both the theoretical and practical explanations for why neighborhoods change today. As the authors show, a diverse collection of people including urban policy experts, elected officials, investors, resident leaders, institutions, community-based organizations, and many others compete to control how neighborhoods change and are characterized. Betancur and Smith argue that neighborhoods have become sites of consumption and spaces to be consumed. Discourse is used to add and subtract value from them. The romanticized image of "the neighborhood" exaggerates or obscures race and class struggles while celebrating diversity and income mixing. Scholars and policy makers must reexamine what sustains this image and the power effects produced in order to explain and govern urban space more equitably.
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About the author

John J. Betancur is a professor of urban planning and policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Janet L. Smith is an associate professor of urban planning and policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
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Additional Information

University of Illinois Press
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Published on
Sep 8, 2016
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Political Science / General
Political Science / Public Policy / City Planning & Urban Development
Political Science / Public Policy / Social Policy
Social Science / Sociology / Urban
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A Publisher's Weekly Top 10 Best Books of 2017
Long-listed for the National Book Award

"Rothstein has presented what I consider to be the most forceful argument ever published on how federal, state, and local governments gave rise to and reinforced neighborhood segregation." —William Julius Wilson

In this groundbreaking history of the modern American metropolis, Richard Rothstein, a leading authority on housing policy, explodes the myth that America’s cities came to be racially divided through de facto segregation—that is, through individual prejudices, income differences, or the actions of private institutions like banks and real estate agencies. Rather, The Color of Law incontrovertibly makes clear that it was de jure segregation—the laws and policy decisions passed by local, state, and federal governments—that actually promoted the discriminatory patterns that continue to this day.

Through extraordinary revelations and extensive research that Ta-Nehisi Coates has lauded as "brilliant" (The Atlantic), Rothstein comes to chronicle nothing less than an untold story that begins in the 1920s, showing how this process of de jure segregation began with explicit racial zoning, as millions of African Americans moved in a great historical migration from the south to the north.

As Jane Jacobs established in her classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities, it was the deeply flawed urban planning of the 1950s that created many of the impoverished neighborhoods we know. Now, Rothstein expands our understanding of this history, showing how government policies led to the creation of officially segregated public housing and the demolition of previously integrated neighborhoods. While urban areas rapidly deteriorated, the great American suburbanization of the post–World War II years was spurred on by federal subsidies for builders on the condition that no homes be sold to African Americans. Finally, Rothstein shows how police and prosecutors brutally upheld these standards by supporting violent resistance to black families in white neighborhoods.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited future discrimination but did nothing to reverse residential patterns that had become deeply embedded. Yet recent outbursts of violence in cities like Baltimore, Ferguson, and Minneapolis show us precisely how the legacy of these earlier eras contributes to persistent racial unrest. “The American landscape will never look the same to readers of this important book” (Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund), as Rothstein’s invaluable examination shows that only by relearning this history can we finally pave the way for the nation to remedy its unconstitutional past.

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