Moynihan, New Orleans, and the Making of the Gentrification Economy

Blackjobs400Megan French-Marcelin at nonsite:

In 1969, Daniel Patrick Moynihan sent a rushed note to then secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) George Romney. Unfazed by the backlash some four years prior to The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, Moynihan, now Richard Nixon’s counselor on Urban Affairs, enumerated the obstacles city mayors were up against on the eve of the 1970s. Armed with a slew of new statistics, the academic-turned-policy wonk doubled down on his thesis that the disintegration of black family structure was at the root of urban poverty.1 However, as the impact of deindustrialization and stagnation came into focus, Moynihan now observed other discouraging elements at work in cities as well. In little more than a few years, the failure of antipoverty programs had contributed to a more serious urban crisis motivated now by two “opposing trends”: the flight of white families and “just as clearly, the social structure of the Negro poor [which] continues to deteriorate.”2 As antithetical sides of the same crisis, city administrators must now consider how dual threats—white flight and black poverty—undermined urban stability, the academician warned.

Over the course of the next decade, local administrators in New Orleans embraced these twinned crises as means to pivot focus from inequality to matters of urban demography—conveniently ignoring broader structural economic shifts. Planners argued that the consequences of this binary left local administrators with few achievable pathways to urban stability. The city, Mayor Moon Landrieu argued, had become a “city of minorities,” “poor” and “weak.”3 Consequently, the mayor said, the fiscal crisis with which American cities contended was exacerbated in New Orleans by the sheer number of residents who “require[d] services but who [we]re less capable of paying for them.”4

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