Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Lesson from Yonkers. . .Will We Ever Learn?

I've come to the conclusion that we always do better together than apart in this nation.

The latest evidence comes from a report published on Sunday in The New York Times ("In Yonkers, a Mixed Success," A-22, May 28, 2006). The story by Fernanda Santos describes the experience of the residents of an Eastside neighborhood in Yonkers, New York. Of particular interest are the town houses developed on Gaffney Place and Trenchard Street--the Andrew Smith Townhouses.

Fourteen years ago, and following an extended court battle charging that the City of Yonkers had intentionally segregated public housing and schools on the basis of race, black families, who had lived in public housing projects, began moving into the middle of a white working class neighborhood. The action was seen as an experiment in enforcing civil rights law in housing and education.

White residents of Yonkers objected with anger and organization. Many feared that property values would decline drastically and that crime would escalate.

The outcome?

Eight hundred new housing units, the last to be built this summer, have been developed for low-income families.

Crime has not gone up in the community.

Home prices have not dropped.

Hispanic and black families who formerly lived in public housing have been able to raise their children in a much better environment. One of the themes heard again and again by these new residents is how much safer they have felt living in their homes in Yonkers.

While detailed studies have not been conducted by academics, it appears that the new families made real progress economically and educationally.

Bottom line: what the white community feared did not occur.

The community not only survived, it improved.

Sadly, the new residents report feeling isolated from their new neighbors. Socially there has not been the kind of acceptance that would make the neighborhood better for everyone.

Sad commentary, huh?

All that is lacking in Yonkers for the community to really thrive is a commitment to become neighbors, real neighbors.

I've noticed here in Dallas that when people get together, things work better for everyone.

The things we fear the most have the most power over us until we face our fears and get together with other people.

Will we ever learn?

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