Gang Leader for a Day

Sudhir Venkatesh in Slate:

Chicago_projectsThere are quite a number of interesting lessons to be taken away from the transformation of public housing in Chicago.

On the whole, I tend to agree with your sentiment: Losing the projects has led to a loss of awareness of poverty in the United States (a fact that is not going to be helped by the withdrawal of John Edwards from the presidential race). And you are right again in thinking that we are moving toward a European (or Latin American) urban landscape: the poor shunted to the outside while the middle and upper classes reclaim the central city.

It is interesting to note how this movement to demolish distressed public housing began. The objective was to replace concentrated, highly segregated inner-city poverty with “mixed-income” housing in which the black poor would live with the nonblack middle class. Sounds noble enough. The problem was that there was no social science evidence that this kind of mixing was possible or even preferable. Hundreds of millions of dollars were given by HUD to mayors, with minimal oversight. All this rested on the hope that the poor would either live in newly designed mixed-income neighborhoods—or use vouchers to live among the middle class.

Today, we face a difficult situation.

More here.