In metropolitan regions across the U.S., you'll see remarkably similar patterns of inequity, in which a "favored quarter" attracts wealth like a magnet. Economically thriving neighbourhoods--where you find coffee shops, start-up businesses, and top-ranked schools--begin downtown and fan out in one direction toward the ritziest suburbs. Think north in Atlanta and Dallas. West in Houston and St. Louis. Southwest in Minneapolis. East in Cincinnati. Northeast in Phoenix.
Chicago offers perhaps the most dramatic example. "Of 53 construction cranes currently at work in the city, only one is south of 22nd Street," David Doig, president of Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives (CNI) and former CEO of the Chicago Park District, noted last summer.
Local planner Pete Saunders divides the city into "New" Chicago and "Old" Chicago. New Chicago--the North and Northwest neighbourhoods--is a "business service hub, a global financial center, and an emerging tech center, with a strong desire to be the greenest and most sustainable city in America." Even with the city's outsized reputation for homicide, murder rates in many neighborhoods on the North Side are among the lowest in urban North America.
Chicago's South and West Sides--Old Chicago--are a different story. Plagued by crime, unemployment, and economic disinvestment, "Old Chicago has struggled to recover from severe deindustrialization over the past fifty years," Saunders said. As in many other cities facing stark geographic divides, race is the critical factor. While the prosperous North Side is largely white, the struggling South and West Sides are heavily African American and Latino. There's no doubt that generations of racism and exclusion have left visible scars on the city's development.
These "unfavored" sections of American cities aren't just stray pockets of neglect. They represent half or more of the landmass of these cities. And rather than simply failing to keep up with progress in the favored quarters, many are continuing to lose residents and economic activity. The differences between the favored and unfavored portions are so vast and stark that some experts have raised questions about whether the much ballyhooed revival of America's cities isn't something of a mirage.
Yet one lower-income South Side neighborhood manages to defy the ironclad logic of the favored quarter: historic Pullman, a vibrant enclave in the middle of the South Side that is home to equal numbers of African Americans, Latinos, and whites. (Not all South and West neighborhoods are poor, but most of those doing well economically--Hyde Park, the Near West Side, Bridgeport, and Beverly--are predominantly white and Asian.)
Strolling down Pullman's St. Lawrence Avenue, whose shaded sidewalks are fronted by side-by-side duplexes, you notice the same redbrick charm that characterizes the North Side. Yet in Pullman, you can land a well-kept three-bedroom duplex down the block from a cozy cafe and around the corner from one of the city's top-rated public elementary schools at a price that wouldn't go far in swank precincts across town. Residents enjoy many of the conveniences of North Side living, too. At the new Pullman Park development, there's a Walmart (watering this former food desert), a clothing store, a Planet Fitness health club, a locally owned dry cleaners, and Pullman's first sit-down restaurant in decades.
The relative peace and prosperity of Pullman in the midst of the hard-hit South Side highlights the promise of "asset-based" community development--the idea that focusing on the strengths of a particular place is just as important as targeting the problems. This model offers practical lessons for other neighborhoods across the country suffering from economic disinvestment and social unraveling. In Pullman's case, a remarkable degree of resilience has arisen from these assets: high levels of civic engagement; a physical environment that encourages walking and social interaction; access to resources...