Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City / Edition 1

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Overview

In Black on the Block, Mary Pattillo-a Newsweek Woman of the 21st Century-uses the historic rise, alarming fall, and equally dramatic renewal of Chicago's North Kenwood-Oakland neighborhood to explore the politics of race and class in contemporary urban America.

There was a time when North Kenwood-Oakland was plagued by gangs, drugs, violence, and the font of poverty from which they sprang. But in the late 1980s, activists rose up to tackle the social problems that had plagued the area for decades. Black on the Block tells the remarkable story of how these residents laid the groundwork for a revitalized and self-consciously black neighborhood that continues to flourish today. But theirs is not a tale of easy consensus and political unity, and here Patillo teases out the divergent class interests that have come to define black communities like North Kenwood-Oakland. She explores the often heated battles between haves and have-nots, home owners and apartment dwellers, and newcomers and old-timers as they clash over the social implications of gentrification. Along the way, Pattillo highlights the conflicted but crucial role that middle-class blacks play in transforming such districts as they negotiate between established centers of white economic and political power and the needs of their less fortunate black neighbors.

About the Author:
Mary Pattillo is professor of sociology and African American studies at Northwestern University

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Editorial Reviews

AJS

"Mary Patrtillo's beautifully written, remarkable new study of black gentrification . . . manages to make powerful and innovative contributions to the study of public housing, schooling, gentrification, and the predicament of African-Americans today. . . . This terrific book is all but guaranteed to spark debate.—Mario Luis Small, American Journal of Sociology

— Mario Luis Small

Boston Globe

"To see how diversity creates strange and sometimes awkward bedfellows . . . turn to Mary Pattillo's Black on the Block, an in-depth sociological study of Chicago's North Kenwood-Oakland (NKO) neighborhood, a historically poor and predominantly African-American community rapidly gentrifying. . . In [this] neighborhood, Pattillo and other newly-arriving homeowners, many of whom find themselves sandwiched between empty lots and dilapidated, low-income housing projects, are caught between two motivations: the wish to live in an area with decent stores, well-maintained parks, and adequate city services; and the ethical pull of advocating on behalf of those poorer blacks who might be displaced if the neighborhood continues to gentrify. [Pattillo] cautions that . . . we must recognize that most whites will still not move into a black neighborhood. And because they still face discrimination by financial institutions and real estate agents, the black middle class have few options of potential neighborhoods in which to live, and many of the potential sites are poor areas where they will displace their poorer counterparts. This leaves blacks in a precarious position. They end up becoming the public face lending support to redevelopment of ghettos and public housing demolition."

Chicago Reader

"A century from now, when today's sociologists and journalists are dust and their books are too, those who want to understand what the hell happened to Chicago will be finding the answer in this one."

— Harold Henderson

Political Science Quarterly

"Pattillo convincingly demonstrates that mixed-income communities are not the answer to urban poverty."

— J.A. Vallejo and J. Lee

Chicago Reader - Harold Henderson

"A century from now, when today's sociologists and journalists are dust and their books are too, those who want to understand what the hell happened to Chicago will be finding the answer in this one."
Political Science Quarterly - J.A. Vallejo and J. Lee

"Pattillo convincingly demonstrates that mixed-income communities are not the answer to urban poverty."
AJS - Mario Luis Small

"Mary Patrtillo's beautifully written, remarkable new study of black gentrification . . . manages to make powerful and innovative contributions to the study of public housing, schooling, gentrification, and the predicament of African-Americans today. . . . This terrific book is all but guaranteed to spark debate.—Mario Luis Small, American Journal of Sociology
Boston Globe

"To see how diversity creates strange and sometimes awkward bedfellows . . . turn to Mary Pattillo's Black on the Block, an in-depth sociological study of Chicago's North Kenwood-Oakland (NKO) neighborhood, a historically poor and predominantly African-American community rapidly gentrifying. . . In [this] neighborhood, Pattillo and other newly-arriving homeowners, many of whom find themselves sandwiched between empty lots and dilapidated, low-income housing projects, are caught between two motivations: the wish to live in an area with decent stores, well-maintained parks, and adequate city services; and the ethical pull of advocating on behalf of those poorer blacks who might be displaced if the neighborhood continues to gentrify. [Pattillo] cautions that . . . we must recognize that most whites will still not move into a black neighborhood. And because they still face discrimination by financial institutions and real estate agents, the black middle class have few options of potential neighborhoods in which to live, and many of the potential sites are poor areas where they will displace their poorer counterparts. This leaves blacks in a precarious position. They end up becoming the public face lending support to redevelopment of ghettos and public housing demolition."—Boston Globe

Chicago Reader

"A century from now, when today's sociologists and journalists are dust and their books are too, those who want to understand what the hell happened to Chicago will be finding the answer in this one."—Harold Henderson, Chicago Reader

— Harold Henderson

AJS

"Mary Patrtillo's beautifully written, remarkable new study of black gentrification . . . manages to make powerful and innovative contributions to the study of public housing, schooling, gentrification, and the predicament of African-Americans today. . . . This terrific book is all but guaranteed to spark debate."

— Mario Luis Small

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226649313
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 3/15/2007
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Pattillo is professor of sociology and African American studies at Northwestern University. She is the author of Black Picket Fences: Privilege and Peril among the Black Middle Class, also published by the University of Chicago Press, and coeditor of Imprisoning America: The Social Effects of Mass Incarceration.

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Read an Excerpt

Black on the Block

The Politics of Race and Class in the City
By Mary Pattillo

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2007 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-64931-3


Introduction

On the morning of November 25, 1987, Harold Washington, Chicago's first African American mayor, broke ground for a new housing development in the North Kenwood-Oakland neighborhood. That afternoon, he died. Black on the Block, set in the black South Side neighborhood where Washington made his last public appearance, builds its metaphors from these facts of death and new beginnings. At the city level, a short-lived era of black political power was buried with Washington, and a regime of white leadership with black and Latino consent was (re)born. At the neighborhood level, what passed away were the vacant, trash-strewn lots that had marred North Kenwood-Oakland's landscape. Before long, the neighborhood's public housing high-rises would fall, and a cadre of community activists would rise up to tackle the social problems that had plagued the community since the 1960s-gangs, drugs, violence, and the font of poverty from which they sprang. North Kenwood-Oakland would be rejuvenated by people who rehabilitated its old houses and moved into new buildings like the ones for which Harold Washington turned the soil on that autumn day. The residents who acted as the new neighborhood's symbolic midwives envisioned a revitalized, self-consciously black community. As a student ofChicago, of cities, and of black politics and social life, I was drawn to the transformation of North Kenwood-Oakland. In 1998, I became one of those new residents and began my research.

There is another end and beginning described in Black on the Block. Building on the work of scholars like Cathy Cohen, Adolph Reed, and Kevin Gaines, I lay to rest the notion of a unitary black political agenda. The story of the gentrification of North Kenwood-Oakland by middle- and upper-income African Americans-assisted by municipal, institutional, philanthropic, and corporate actors-makes clear the existence of divergent class interests within the black community. While blacks may, by and large, vote Democratic, support affirmative action, and agree on the need for some kind of reparations for slavery, their more immediate, daily concerns involve finding an affordable place to live in a safe neighborhood with good schools. People live locally. The most earnest political battles are played out when they face threats to their neighborhoods or try to fashion a new kind of neighborhood. Controversies then arise over control of and access to public spaces, streets, commercial ventures, jobs, schools, and housing. On these issues, the black position becomes many positions, split along lines of seniority in the neighborhood, profession, home ownership, age, and taste. Along any one of these axes, one side may launch efforts to shame, stigmatize, silence, or "disappear" the other. These struggles within the neighborhood are often waged between African Americans of different means and different perspectives, but this is by no means just a black-on-black affair. Alliances with and allegiances to whites outside the neighborhood add another layer of complexity to the ever more futile attempt to determine what course of action is in the best interest of the black community. In this way, middle-class blacks act as brokers-as "middlemen" and "middlewomen"-spanning the space between established centers of white economic and political power and the needs of a down but not out black neighborhood.

Internal fissures notwithstanding, the concept of "the black community" is not retired in Black on the Block, for while attempts to capture a single black politics, black perspective, or black agenda are dead (if they were ever really alive within the black community), I argue that the black community is forged in this engagement. The "Black Metropolis" of the 1930s and 1940s, which St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton described in unparalleled detail, lives on. North Kenwood-Oakland attracts African Americans looking for a black residential space defined by institutions like Little Black Pearl Workshop and streets such as Muddy Waters Drive. White-owned real estate companies pick up on this desire and give developments names like "Ellington Court" and "Jazz on the Boulevard"-where you can choose a model home to suit your musical tastes: the (Louis) Armstrong, the (Jelly Roll) Morton. Even gang names-the Black Disciples, the El Rukns-connote black ownership of the neighborhood. But it is more than just names and symbols (and relatively inexpensive real estate) that attract black middle- and upper-income newcomers to the neighborhood. They come, or come back, to North Kenwood-Oakland out of a sense of racial pride and duty, to be conduits of resources, to model "respectability." In this milieu, disputes between black residents with professional jobs and those with no jobs, between black families who have been in the neighborhood for generations and those who moved in last year, and between blacks who don fraternity colors and those who use sport gang colors, are simultaneously debates over what it means to be black. Choosing participation over abdication and involvement over withdrawal, even and especially when the disagreements get heated and sometimes vicious, is what constitutes the black community.

Black on the Block is also about North Kenwood-Oakland's history and position as a black neighborhood within a larger context of urban policies and projects. A victim of discriminatory federal home appraisal practices in the 1930s and 1940s, recipient of thousands of units of public housing in the 1950s and 1960s, innocent bystander to urban renewal, and dead space on the radar screens of planners in the 1970s, North Kenwood-Oakland has been shaped by politicians and the businessmen and institutional leaders who influence them. The most recent interventions have been to undo the actions of previous generations of city leaders. Along with other U.S. cities, Chicago is in the midst of a major experiment in the provision and location of public housing, driven by federal initiatives such as the Homeownership and Opportunity for People Everywhere (HOPE) VI program, which aims to transform public housing for poor families into "mixed-income communities." It is in this policy context that the Chicago Housing Authority developed its "Plan for Transformation," which calls for the demolition of at least eighteen thousand units of public housing. Already, most of the concentrated public housing in North Kenwood-Oakland has been demolished to make way for row houses and apartment buildings. The hope is that these new developments-in which poor, less poor, and not poor families will live side by side-will be more palatable to the middle class than were the public housing high-rises of the 1950s and 1960s. The more pleasant design of public housing, the logic goes, will entice the middle and upper classes back to central city neighborhoods. This process, more commonly known as gentrification, is happening in North Kenwood-Oakland, but with a decidedly black flavor. Since the neighborhood is not an island, this book situates the development activity in North Kenwood-Oakland within broader urban and national political and economic trends.

The Conservation of North Kenwood-Oakland

Along Chicago's south lakefront, a mile from the campus of the University of Chicago, and a ten-minute drive from downtown, North Kenwood-Oakland (NKO) has been rediscovered as ripe for new investment, as have many inner-city neighborhoods across the United States, and in many European cities as well. The City of Chicago is actively facilitating this process, having designated the neighborhood in 1990 as a "conservation area." That status, legally supported in both state and federal law, enabled community residents to work with city planners to develop a conservation plan. Ongoing advising and monitoring of the conservation area and its plan is done by the Conservation Community Council (CCC), a body of residents approved by the alderman-the community's elected representative to city government-and the mayor. Meetings of the CCC are central sites of negotiation and contestation over visions of NKO's future.

The details of the making of a conservation area, plan, and council in North Kenwood-Oakland are complicated, multilayered, and, most importantly, intensely contested by the people who were involved, or-as some would have it-claim they were involved. There is hardly consensus about when discussions were initiated, who were the most vocal proponents, where the planning activity centered, or how the city bureaucracy was engaged and persuaded to support the designation. Perhaps the preface of a 1978 planning document by the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) best presented the challenges inherent in getting everyone to share one vision of community improvement. It stated, "There has been an adversary [sic], rather than a cooperative, relationship between local residents, governmental agencies and private developers. This has either frustrated planning processes or militated against the implementation of plans.... It is recognized that both governmental agencies and private developers have a stake in, a role to play, and resources to deploy in the redevelopment of the community area. Local residents can't go it alone."

The constellation of people, organizations, and institutions that ultimately got involved in the planning process is the best proof that no one person alone made the conservation area happen. There were, rather, many key players, whose names will be familiar by the end of this book: Robert Lucas was executive director of KOCO, the organization that commissioned the document quoted above. KOCO was involved early on, calling for a conservation area, rehabilitating apartment buildings, and organizing block clubs and tenant organizations that gave human force to the revitalization efforts. Shirley Newsome and her husband Howard Newsome also worked to organize block clubs, and made key contacts with representatives of the University of Chicago, members of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Conservation Community Council, and private developers. Both Lucas and Newsome formed relationships with real estate giant Ferdinand (Ferd) Kramer, whose designs for the neighborhood sparked as much controversy as the conservation plan itself. Izora Davis has been one of the most consistent public housing activists and, along with many comrades, struggled to stay at the planning table throughout the process. Alderman Toni Preckwinkle was not elected until after the North Kenwood-Oakland Conservation Area was designated, but her participation in crafting the conservation plan and her obvious role as the neighborhood's elected representative makes her a key figure in these events. There are so many others who organized subcommittees, did research on the neighborhood's history, demanded greater police services, and fought for decent recreational facilities. And of course there were those who were unflinchingly critical of the conservation process. "I guess I'm hopeful," said Mary Bordelon, perhaps the most ardent and long-suffering skeptic in the neighborhood, to a reporter from a Chicago weekly. "But I see monsters. I've been seeing them around here for a long time." Those monsters were the community outsiders, the big universities, the big developers, the big philanthropies, even the big social science researchers, whose enterprising overtures in the neighborhood were not always to be trusted. These diverse perspectives come through in various parts of the story. Still, I am always mindful that, because I did not live through it, I can never fully grasp all of the effort and resistance that resulted in the "conservation" of North Kenwood-Oakland.

Two years into this research, after I felt I had done enough objective observation-taking notes without meddling, listening without asking-I submitted my name to sit on the CCC, and I was appointed. This position gave me access to information on nearly all facets of neighborhood development, but it also branded me in the eyes of some residents as beholden to the desires of the mayor and alderman who approved my appointment. As one critic argued, the CCC was nothing more than a "puppet board waiting to have its strings pulled." I discuss the complexities of this role further in chapter 4, but in short it gave me a sense of the personal and political stakes of community development and it taught me that there are no easy answers.

Conservation areas stand in contrast to "slum and blighted areas." The goal in a conservation area is to salvage existing buildings and renew the neighborhood fabric, whereas slum and blighted areas are subjected to demolition, clearance of structures and people, and new construction. It was the latter classification that allowed for urban renewal and the expansion of downtowns across the country in the 1950s and 1960s. Urban renewal has a long and storied history in American cities, and Chicago's South Side has been an important main stage. Adjacent to North Kenwood-Oakland, Hyde Park-South Kenwood area surrounding the University of Chicago was established as an avowedly middle-class and reluctantly, for some, interracial neighborhood using the tools of urban renewal. Attaining this balance required the disproportionate removal of African Americans who had then recently moved into Hyde Park-South Kenwood. These acts of aggression in the name of urban renewal left more than a bitter taste in the mouths of many black Chicagoans, especially with regard to the university, which reappears as a major player in contemporary gentrification. It was in this era, the 1950s, that the Kenwood neighborhood was split in half. Forty-seventh Street became, in the words of residents, "the dividing line," "the invisible line," "the Mason-Dixon line." To the north of the line, North Kenwood and the neighborhood north of it, Oakland, languished. To the south, South Kenwood and its southern neighbors, Hyde Park and the University of Chicago, flourished.

Given its literal divisiveness and its association with dispossession and exclusion, present-day urbanists have disavowed "urban renewal" as a planning strategy. The move, however, seems more semantic than substantive. The contemporary lexicon favors words such as "renovation" and "rehab," when referring to specific buildings, or "revitalization," "conservation," and "gentrification," when speaking of entire neighborhoods. But the ghost of urban renewal is always present. "After all," anthropologist Arlene Dávila notes, "gentrification-whether called renewal, revitalization, upgrading, or uplifting-always involves the expansion and transformation of neighborhoods through rapid economic investment and population shifts, and yet it is equally implicated with social inequalities." The line between revitalization and gentrification is a thin one. For some, gentrification is heralded as exactly what cities need, an infusion of tax dollars and disposable incomes. For others, gentrification suggests the kind of robbery of poor people's neighborhoods by elites that urban renewal came to symbolize. "Revitalization," on the other hand, often connotes a more bottom-up process, but in some respects it is just a more polite term since revitalization without the intervention or introduction of the gentry is rare. The common thread in all of these approaches is the desire to attract middle- and upper-income families to working-class or poor urban neighborhoods. In North Kenwood-Oakland this has entailed both the mass construction of new, high-end homes and condominiums by developers alongside the more piecemeal rehabilitation of existing old homes by individual investors. The result is a general upward trend in land, housing, and rental prices and the influx of people who can afford them. This sounds a lot like gentrification, so I use the term, along with words like revitalization, throughout this book.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Black on the Block by Mary Pattillo Copyright © 2007 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations     vii
Acknowledgments     xi
Introduction     1
4432 Berkeley     23
The Black Bourgeoisie Meets the Truly Disadvantaged     81
White Power, Black Brokers     113
Remedies to "Educational Malpractice"     149
The Case against Public Housing     181
The Case for Public Housing     217
Avenging Violence with Violence     259
Conclusion     297
Notes     309
References     349
Index     371
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