Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Living spaces. . .


What could be more important to a community, its health and its future?

Where children live matters.

Environments shape experiences and affect lives significantly.

While we gain inspiration from the "poster child" stories of youth who grow up and "make it out," the fact remains that most don't enjoy such success.

Remember this surprising fact: a child raised in a negative home environment, but in a good neighborhood, has a better chance for a life of health and well-being than does a child raised in a positive home environment, but in a troubled neighborhood (Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference).

I have no idea who this little boy is talking to. Possibly a concerned parent is on the other end of this line.

I do know his neighborhood.

It is tough.

It is poor.

It is largely negative.

We fool ourselves against our own self-interest when we forget that living spaces in the city demand our high priority attention.

[Photograph by Janet Morrison]


Justin said...

So if you build nice housing for all those people... are their lives suddenly going to get better?

I'm with you Larry. I think the church needs to stand up, I think to an extent, the government needs to do what it can, but I feel like its a chicken/egg situation here. What caused these neighborhoods to get bad in the first place? Is it poverty? Is it housing? Is it drugs? Poverty alone doesn't make people bad. It surely doesn't help, but its seems like you believe that if we just build housing and give people jobs at 10 dollars an hour, the problems of their area will go away.

Charles Senteio said...

Thanks for illuminating this most precious resource for all communities. Let's not also forget that children may rarely do what we say, but they often do what we do. Let's not lose track of our role in their development.

Children Learn What They Live
By Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.

"If a child's ways and actions are formed by what they see, is there anyone to blame but you and me?"
- Stevie Wonder

Larry James said...

Justin, thanks for your post.

You'd be surprised just how much better they would get!

What caused these neighborhoods?

A lethal combination of middle class flight, racism and a system that follows the quick, easier development dollars. This works great for the majority of us--though there are signs that is changing even for the middle class.

Take away middle class folks--both white ("white flight" in the late 1950s and 1960s)and black ("up and out" after WWII, the Civil Rights era and LBJ helped create that part of the middle class)--and you have not much more than poverty left behind in neighborhoods like this. This neighborhood is not the result of all the people being bad and making terrible choices. It is the result of entrenched, deeply seated poverty. Everyone neglects this community--city, investors, schools, developers, etc.

The key here is the depth and concentration of the poverty. You cannot change these neighborhoods by working exclusively one person at a time in good church, "convert 'em to Jesus" fashion. BTW--talk to the folks here. They will all tell you they are Christians.

These communities require engagement and intervention with a plan to change the psyche (soul) and the landscape of the environments and a strategy for economic development and job creation.

Read William Julius Wilson's When Work Disappears to get a handle on the impact of communities with no work present. Read Paul Jargowsky's Poverty and Place to understand the impact of such deeply concentrated poverty.

Environment matters and it matters a lot. We seem to be able to see that when we are talking about, say, one child in a bad home. Why can't we see it when it is systemic and pervasive?

Daniel Gray said...

Justin, I didn't see Larry mention church. I think this is a lot bigger problem than "the church".

I don't think Larry was talking solely about "housing". It's about overall quality of community in neighborhoods, which is something more tangible than whether or not a house looks nice. I think there is an incredibly holistic approach to poverty taken on this blog, so you can't single out one post and act like it's the end-all solution to poverty.

Daniel Gray said...

Larry, this post reminded me of Akeelah and the Bee -- which I just watched last night. It was an amazing example of how communities can hold people back, and yet how they can become an amazing asset which mobilizes people.

Not sure if you've seen it yet, but I definitely recommend it.

Chris said...

Everyone seems to be a victim these days. That looks like a pretty good street compared to the house I lived in growing up,no indoor plumbing, etc. My sister and I are solidly middle class and my bro is an expert in his scientific field, has spoken all over the world. We did not think of ourselves as victims. I think that is the key.

John Greenan said...

A good street?

That street is tagged as gang territory. If he hasn't already, that kid talking on the phone is going to have to make a choice pretty soon whether to join a gang.

If he joins, then he'll have some status, some protection, and a feeling of belonging to something.

If he doesn't, then he risks being a victim.

Unless he has a good home, examples of good men and someone that cares about him, avoiding the gangs will be very difficult.

Unless he has something he can see that's better than the gang, making a good choice isn't very likely.

Anonymous said...

Chris, that street doesn't look so good to me. I wouldn't want my children growing up on it. Now that you're "solidly middle class," would you want yours growing up there? Is the fact that you grew up in even worse conditions a reason not to help this kid? Is it like hazing - you went through it and survived, so they can to? I really am just trying to understand your point, because something tells me you have one, but I must confess right now I don't.

Janet said...

I would beg to differ with you that the street where Curtis stands is a "good street." The fact that Eric, 17, was shot and killed in broad daylight right around the corner, Clarence, 12, had bullets go through his front door, Dorothy, 7, was nearly picked up as she walked home from school by some grown man who likes to follow the girls home each day,...and those are only a few of the things that have happened during this school year...I would guess this isn't like your street at all.

These kids are "playing the victim," they *ARE* the victims!

Despite all of those happenings, some kids do turn out just like you did (very few). However, it would be interesting to see how any one of us would've handled life if those were the cards we were dealt on a regular basis.

Justin said...

Why wouldn't you want your kids to grow up in that neighborhood Anon? The neighborhood I live in looks very much like that (East side of inner city nashville) and I would have no problem raising a family here. Would you like to see some pictures of my neighborhood? I can post much "scarier" ones than that.

I think what Chris is saying is that it is possible to come out of poverty... but you've got to say "look, I have a shitty life situation, but I'm not gonna give up because of it". So many people aspire to nothing more than what they see because they don't know or believe that they can do better.

I"m not one of those people that thinks the power of positive thinking alone will solve all ills. I think that's naive. But the poor communities have been told so long that they can't do anything because the white man is just holding them down... or they can't do anything unless they get their handouts from the government. When you tell people that they can't do anything apart from you (which is what has been done to keep the voting block) of course you can't expect much out of people.

Daniel Gray said...

These neighborhoods may look similar (Larry's picture and commenters personal descriptions). The problem is that the low-middle class neighborhood from a long time ago looks the same as the poor ones today. Times have changed and things have improved... for most people. And lower-middle class neighborhoods today look MUCH better than they did back then. The problem is the poorer communities are lagging behind, so while something may visually remind us of a time/situation we went through, looks can be deceiving.

Like Dr. Morrison said -- this street is not a "good street" reminiscent of places many people grew up. Times have changed, and these communities are facing major problems. Things are not what they seem. We have to look beyond the immediate appearance and see the community inside -- a community that is suffering -- that our society has ignored.

Anonymous said...

Justin, your political bias is hangin' out a bit, bro!

Chill and come down to the real earth here. The scale here would wipe you out, trust me. . .and that stuff 'bout your Nashville hood is off the charts and over the top. . .come down here and spend the night with me.

Daniel Gray said...

"So many people aspire to nothing more than what they see because they don't know or believe that they can do better... But the poor communities have been told..."

I think there's a lot more than words to this issue. Poor communities have been shown that no one cares about them through our society's actions. It's groups of people who determine that someone working 40 hours a week doesn't deserve to earn enough to care for themselves and their families -- that just because someone doesn't have the same level of education, that they are not deserving of the dignity of a meaningful life. We've oppressed and taken advantage of for our own gain. It's no wonder many in poverty can't see hope -- we've taken it away and blinded them to it.

bpb said...

There's a vast difference between "poor" and "dangerous."

Justin said...


I don't want to get into the wage debate again... but I don't think anyone is saying by not paying someone a "living wage" that they aren't worth anything. Many of the employers that pay minimum wage are doing so because they are skirting by themselves. The guy that owns the discount tobacco shop is not a wealthy person. The lady that owns the beauty salon isn't living in a 5000 sq ft house. They are trying to make a living just like everyone else. And they pay their workers what is dictated by the market. What good is a mandated wage if it puts out of business the employers that are employing the poor?

And anon, I know my political bias hangs out. All of ours does. No one commenting on this blog is completely objective because no one in the world is completely objective. The truth is some combination of all these viewpoints. I think what's important is not that we agree all the time about how things should be done, but that we quit demonizing people who view things differently. There's a lot of republican bashing that happens on here, and I can understand it from some angles, but you have to realize that social darwinism has kinda gone by the wayside. No one is working dilligently (besides satan I guess) to keep the poor down. I mean shoot, even the most greedy capitalist doesn't want poor people to be poor, cause when they become gainfully employed and are no longer struggling to meet basic needs, they are able to buy other things, which makes the greedy person wealthy (which in turn provides jobs for more people).

Its a crazy thing we're trying to do here, and most of us have a mission of trying to help people. We just disagree on how to do it. I don't think any person's opinion should be demonized, but we should discuss and try to find the best solutions.

Also, anon, I would like to know exactly what you mean when you say my discussion of where I live is over the top?

Anonymous said...

Justin, man, all I'm sayin' is you tellin' me that your crib in Oprey Land is in a neighborhood as tough as Rochester Park here in Greed City??? Sorry, bro, but I'm havin' a hard time gettin' down with that. . .

Justin said...

You need to check your map again my friend. I don't live in Opry Land. I'm within walking distance of downtown, a quarter mile from two HUGE housing projects. Is it the roughest neighborhood in Nashville? No, but I considered moving there. My fiancee wasn't wild about it though. The tenant before me in this apartment dealt crack out of here... the person in the adjacent apartment has patched holes in her door from a drive by... are there rougher neighborhoods in the world? Absolutely. All I'm saying is I don't live at 123 Main Street Suburbia, USA. I live in the inner city. And its kinda insulting that you're trying to have a pissing contest about whose neighborhood is more dangerous. If we wanna do that, I can tell you about the neighborhoods around my home church in Memphis which are some of the worst in the country.

Daniel Gray said...

Justin, Highland is right next to U of M. You have to drive a couple of miles before you can define that area as "rough".

Justin said...

Daniel... where are most of the houses we have to paint for workcamp? Orange Mound? Orange Mound is less than two miles from the church. Do you remember when Leslie Guinn was robbed at gunpoint behind the church? Do you remember that two years ago a guy who was being initiated in a gang came in the church building on a sunday afternoon and attempted to rape one of the women in the chinese ministry? I can think of several times I left church late at night and heard gunshots. U of M is across the street, yeah, and east of there is a good neighborhood, but if you go north south or west, you are getting into areas that have higher crime rates than most neighborhoods in the country.

Justin said...

Oh, and a couple years ago, the big shopping center at poplar and highland was the most dangerous large shopping center, I believe, in the country.

Anonymous said...

I believe that the environment to which one lives is a very important determining factor of how one will be in life. It goes along with the theory that states we learn through whom we associate with. Children living in an impoverished neighborhood are at a huge risk, no matter how nice of a family they have. I believe that we need to bring out attention to the neighborhoods as well as the families, to see how our children are being raised. Upbringing should not just imply one's parenting, but include the neighborhood to which someone belongs. However, simply making buildings better will not completely solve the problem, many other factors contribute to why people turn out the way they do.