The Urbanist Musings of Pete Saunders

Exclusionary Policies Beget Outrageous Results

McKinney police officer Eric Casebolt stands over a 14-year-old girl in response to a call regarding a disturbance at a pool party at the Craig Ranch North subdivision community pool in McKinney, TX.  Source: rt.com

Frankly I’m beginning to get quite tired of writing on the race/urban news item of the day.  It can make me appear in the eyes of some to be some race opportunist, looking for racial issues where none exist.  Trust me, I’m not.  I’ve weighed in on Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, and alluded to Tamir Rice and Eric Garner within the last 18 months or so.  If anything, the fact that these tragedies keep happening is disheartening to me, and hardly enjoyable.

That brings me to the pool party fiasco in McKinney, Texas recently.  There have been a lot of opinions thrust about related to this event: it’s viewed as yet another sign of white police contempt for black lives; it’s seen as another of one of our nation’s segregationist legacies; it’s even seen by some as a blatant disregard for the established rules.  To me, it’s yet another sign of the kinds of communities we’ve created in America.

There are isolated communities, located in our nation’s inner cities and rural areas.  Less understood are our nation’s insulated communities, in the suburban periphery but increasingly surrounding our large city downtowns.  And never the twain shall meet.

To me, the McKinney pool party has more similarities to the Trayvon Martin or Eric Garner cases, wtihout the tragic consequences.  Trayvon Martin’s death, in suburban Sanford, FL, and Eric Garner’s death, in suburban-like Staten Island, can be viewed as actions taken against breaches into the insulation of their respective environments.  George Zimmerman confronted Trayvon Martin because he presumed that he did not belong in the gated community where his dad owned a home.  I know less about the problems that Eric Garner purported posed to the residents of the Staten Island neighborhood where he was killed, but I think it’s safe to say that police operated with the authority of surrounding residents.

What happened in McKinney, and Sanford, and even Staten Island, is the result of the kinds of exclusionary housing policies that suburbs have relied on heavily over the last 60-70 years.  They have become so indoctrinated into our development DNA that it’s become difficult to understand how they work against low-income and minority residents.

Let’s take McKinney as an example.  The Craig Ranch planned community is a 2,200 ac development in McKinney that’s been in the works for the last 20 years or so.  It’s no different than that of many other subdivisions or planned communities throughout the nation, other than its size.  In Craig Ranch’s case, it has been developed in a piecemeal fashion with numerous developers and numerous subdivisions, all being built in conventional single-family development styles and largely through the planned unit development process that often allows developers to revamp or escape traditional zoning standards laid out by a community.  In the Craig Ranch North subdivision, about 300 acres in size and the first development in the planned community, single family homes are said to start in the $150s and occupy about 2 dwelling units per acre.

Craig Ranch employs all of the tools that are standard in today’s typical suburban communities:

  • A lack of mixed uses or multifamily development that is restricted by
  • Exclusionary zoning policies that act to artificially set market prices for homes, and
  • Private control of heretofore public uses.
The first two points are often understood as the suburban development strategy but the third point is less well known.  They are all outgrowths of the post-WWII suburban expansion that accelerated after the rise of the Civil Rights Movement.  Proponents of these tools utilized them to insulate themselves from unsavory elements and undesirable groups that could negatively impact property values, school district scores and crime.
Examples of privatization of public uses includes:
  • Shopping malls under one owner that replaced shopping districts;
  • Parks that charge fees for recreational programs, often nestled within growing subdivisions;
  • Homeowner association (HOA) control over uses like community pools.
Each of these offer suburban subdivisions, and suburban communities, incredible control over the makeup of their environment.  Obstensibly, if you can afford to live in the community you will be accepted and be able to partake in its amenities.  However, each exclusionary tool is a signal to those physically — or mentally — outside of those boundaries that they don’t belong.  
The young partygoers at the Craig Ranch pool party was a signal to local homeowners that there were people who did not belong.
Before 1960 or so, local residents in neighborhoods throughout many major cities often felt the urge to “defend” their neighborhoods from minority or low-income migration.  In Chicago alone after World War II, there were at least three separate incidents of mob violence in response to fair and open housing measures.  This happened in other cities as well.  But suburban development since that time has absolved them of this responsibility.

Since the ’60s, suburban communities, indeed nearly all communities, have elected to shift the community defense responsibility to local police.  Rather than lash out personally and risk gaining the “racist” label, residents leave it to police to handle it when they believe that there are people that “don’t belong”.  If the exclusionary tools fail, the police step in.

Without more open suburban communities, and more open minds, we can expect more of this will happen.

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