Segregating the suburbs


Suburban homes at night with city in the background

Fotolia File: #21203029 | Author: soleilc1

Is Brooklyn Park the new face of suburbia or the new face of segregation — or maybe both? Twin Cities suburbs Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center have changed from mostly-white to majority-minority cities over the past 30 years. As new immigrants, African-Americans, and Latinos have moved to the suburbs, racial segregation has followed. Even within Brooklyn Park, there’s a north-south racial divide at 85th Avenue. Given the economic realities of race in Minnesota, racial segregation also equates with economic segregation, and with other forms of discrimination. For example, Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center officials say that newly-released sex offenders are being steered to their cities (along with Minneapolis and St. Paul), rather than to wealthier, whiter suburbs.

A three-part CityLab series published in The Atlantic focuses on the issues raised by segregation and the new debates over how governments and policy-makers should respond. The Atlantic series includes an interview with Myron Orfield, U of M law school professor and director of the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, who strongly opposes segregation and blames the “poverty housing industry” as well as racial discrimination:

“You’ve got steering, you’ve got mortgage lending discrimination, you’ve got discrimination by buyers and sellers. Then the government builds all the affordable housing in poor neighborhoods.

“The school districts always gerrymander the poor kids into the poorer school district areas, and then [governments] switch their zoning. That’s six things. Every time you sue one of these people, they always say it’s the other person that’s causing it or it’s the combination of the other five people.”

Orfield advocates for integration, but many people are pushing back, saying that a focus on integration misses the real problem:

“[Netima] Sitati-Munene and others believe focusing too much on integration is a damaging distraction from the real root of poor neighborhoods’ problems. Neeraj Mehta, the director of community-based research at the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota, similarly scoffs at the idea that you can shake up racial demographics and longstanding inequities will then vanish.

“’We don’t have a moving-people problem. We have a moving-resources problem,’ says Mehta. ‘We don’t have a problem with too many people of color living together. We have a problem thinking about how we make equitable investments to strengthen where they live right now.’”

Orfield maintains that integration is possible and desirable. In a UCLA Law Review article, he contrasts Louisville and Detroit, arguing that Louisville’s metro-wide school integration plan stabilized both schools and neighborhoods and that “stably integrated metropolitan schools and neighborhoods, which will prevent expanding ghettos from sweeping into America’s suburbs, are in the clear and immediate self-interest of the majority of metropolitan voters.” Orfield told The Atlantic:

“The experience shows that when people have a chance to live in stably integrated communities or they have a chance to send their kids to stably integrated schools, their preferences change, and they are much more comfortable. …

“When people live together for a long period of time and nothing terrible happens, they stop being afraid of each other. You [now] have magnet schools that have been stably integrated for 50 years, and people fight to get into them.”

Others see an overriding concern for integration as disrespectful of communities of color. Owen Duckworth told The Atlantic that discussions focused on community poverty were “deficit-based, really dehumanizing,” and that such discussions were

“’starting with the assumption that the concentration of people of color is a problem.’ He urges ‘asset-based development, rather than deficit-based thinking.; Duckworth, Mehta and Sitati-Munene alike believe residents of these communities should be consulted about policies that affect them before outsiders are.”

The bigger problem with low-income housing is that there’s not enough of it – anywhere. A focus on moving affordable housing to richer neighborhoods and suburbs does not solve that problem. As Minneapolis Congressmember Keith Ellison told MinnPost:

“There are people in North Minneapolis who might want to live in Plymouth or Eden Prairie or Edina or Wayzata, and therefore those places should be doing affordable housing too,” he said. “But if all we do is mobility strategies, what happens to the neighbors who are left behind, and what happens to the social capital of those who don’t want to move?”

Integration may be a solution for some, but it is not the only solution or the only policy approach needed. Low-income neighborhoods and communities of color have their own assets, and must not be abandoned or gentrified, but rather recognized and strengthened through community-based development,

More information:

News Day articles on housing and

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