Charlottesville

August 16, 2017

This past weekend, specifically on August 12, 2017, the Unite the Right Rally took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, the town in which I live.  We are a pretty small place—48,000+ in the city, more in the surrounding county of Albemarle. The dominant employer is my employer, the University of Virginia.  In case you missed it (another planet?), the rally, took place ostensibly to protest a vote by our City Council to remove a Confederate era (i.e., a “Lost Cause”) statue of Robert E. Lee.  Because of the way home rule is set up in Virginia, however, we really didn’t have the right to remove it—state law overrides our jurisdiction. Accordingly, a local White Supremacist sued and we are now in court. This removal of the statue apparently deeply offends people—even folks who wouldn’t seem to have any skin in the game, like a hate-filled guy from Maumee, Ohio who unfortunately had a driver’s license.  (As a person from the Upper Midwest, it pains me that he is from that part of the country.  Shouldn’t he be from, I don’t know, Alabama or South Carolina?  This does not fit with my northern regional stereotypes.  And as a Detroiter, it pains me to see a car used as a weapon.)

 

I have to admit I have watched this all from afar—I’m still in Portland, Oregon (see previous post on White Supremacists and the knifing of brave men on transit) and I head home in three days.  But I, like apparently a lot of the world, am obsessively reading about this.  What has really blown my mind (a 1960s-era statement of shock) is how many emails I have received from Kenya about this.  Keep in mind they just went through a violent Presidential election, but I’ve gotten expressions of concern for my safety from that side of the globe.  We really are interconnected globally.

 

Placing President Trump’s entirely inadequate, if not complicit, response to the murder of an innocent woman and the harming of many others including two students in my Architecture School, aside, I’d like to focus on what President Barack Obama said.  He quoted an African (Nelson Mandela, of course) and said: "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."  (It is now the most shared tweet in Twitter history.)

 

 

So why do we have so much hate?

 

Clearly some of the blame has to do with the internet and hate-filled individuals being able to find and influence one another. The Washington Post has an absolutely devastating article about a father in North Dakota confronting the fact that his son is a neo-Nazi and trying to explain that his son’s hate is not a “family value.”  Totally worth a read, see:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/he-didnt-learn-this-at-home-what-to-do-when-a-child-sides-with-neo-nazis/2017/08/15/5f5158a0-81be-11e7-ab27-1a21a8e006ab_story.html).

 

But a lot of it also has to do with (drumroll):  urban planning!

 

Yes, that incredibly sexy field, urban planning. As a lot of students (I hope, most) who take my land use law class know, our favorite planning tool—zoning—can really be misused. I have three class periods in my land use law class devoted to the “uses and misuses of zoning.” 

 

Why might this come into play with whether you love or hate another person due to skin color (black or brown, yikes), background (queer, transgender, non-conforming—hate to find them in my bathroom!) or religion (to quote the march that took place on our campus “Jew will not replace us)? (So clever—they must have thought hard to craft that one.)

 

Zoning has been and continues to be used as a tool to exclude populations that you don’t want living near you.  It used to be explicitly racist (like we had zones for black people and white people—this should make you think of South African Apartheid). But now it is a lot more subtle—we zone only for single family residential (so hey if you can only afford an apartment, guess you have to live elsewhere), we zone for big lots (gosh, they are kinda pricey, sorry you can’t afford a $500,000 house), and we use other tools (like historic preservation ordinances in Portland) to prevent developers from building houses that might bring those “other” (read:  unwanted) people into our neighborhood!

 

(Above source:  Portland Tribune.  See a recent story on Portland, historic districts and exclusion at: http://www.wweek.com/news/city/2017/06/21/portlands-laurelhurst-neighborhood-fights-to-keep-the-housing-crisis-out/ )

 

 

To get to understanding, much less love, it matters how much you interact with another person of another race, religion or sexual orientation.  While it is hard to get data on religion and sexual orientation, we have measures for racial interactions (or probabilities thereof.)  We have two measures: the dissimilarity index and neighborhood exposures by race.  CensusScope.org is a nice site in which you can learn about these measures and your locality.   A couple caveats—it is the 2010 census (not American Community Survey) and that is seven years ago. 

 

But let’s look at the dissimilarity index.  Defined it is: “the most commonly used measure of segregation between two groups, reflecting their relative distributions across neighborhoods within a city or metropolitan area. It can range in value from 0, indicating complete integration, to 100, indicating complete segregation.”

 

In Charlottesville, our white-black dissimilarity index isn’t completely terrible (52.4). We are somewhat integrated. So where are some of the worst dissimilarity indices?  Try Ohio. Cleveland metro:  79.4; Toledo (as close to Maumee as I could get):  67.0.

 

What to do?  We need to address segregated neighborhoods—which lead to segregated schools—which then lead to lack of exposure and interaction over a lifetime.  We need, thus, to address zoning and the way we keep people segregated through land use planning. 

 

I’m not alone in thinking this.  Rolf Pendall, who is at the Urban Institute, has written on this long ago when he taught at Cornell.  But for a more recent discussion of zoning and segregation, there is a very nice summary in the New York Times (see: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/03/opinion/sunday/zoning-laws-segregation-income.html?emc=eta1 ).  It covers a couple of very interesting studies including a book by Richard Rothstein called The Color of Law

 

We are not color-blind in America.  White, however, is not the color that is being disadvantaged. So sorry Mr. Spencer and Mr. Kessler—you are wrong.

 

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Last Updated:  18 May 2020