The Urbanist Musings of Pete Saunders

The Corner Side Yard’s Top Ten for 2017

Happy New Year!

Thanks to you, dear readers, 2017 was another good year here at the Corner Side Yard.  Once again, not as prolific as in my earlier years here — only 35 posts on the year, or about three per month — but good for quite other reasons.  In many ways I’ve sharpened my focus and written much less about extraneous things and much more about the things that matter to me, and the things that distinguish me among urbanist writers.  This was the year I wrote in a much more targeted fashion about race and segregation, and the fortunes of Rust Belt cities, and that’s something I’d like to build on.  In part because of that sharpened focus, and because of my work as an urban affairs contributor at Forbes (where I published another 41 articles on the year), I’m pleased with the niche I’m carving out.

The past year also brought some new opportunities as well.  Last May I participated in an event hosted by the City Club of Cleveland about the past, present and future of the New American Heartland.  It included a keynote address by J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, a presentation by Michael Lind of New America Foundation of a paper discussing the prospects of an industrial comeback in the Heartland, and a panel discussion that included yours truly (follow the first link in this paragraph, click on the “view video” link, and check in at the 1:00 mark to see the panel — and me — in action).  It was a fantastic event and I look forward to many more opportunities to speak publicly about issues near and dear to me.  You have an idea?  Let’s talk.

As for 2018, look for some substantial changes in both the writing and in my work in general.  A rebranding of the Corner Side Yard is in the works.  New opportunities are coming my way that will be revealed over the course of the year.  If all works out, 2018 could be a pivotal year personally for me.

Below are the ten most popular pieces published here in 2017.  I hope you’re able to follow me through what should be a fantastic 2018.

10. CSY At Forbes — The Four Ways Wealth Spreads In Cities (1/11/17) 

“In the decades immediately following World War II, as suburbanization spread and wealth fled cities, a handful of city neighborhoods were able to hold on…

Whatever the reason, these neighborhoods became the foundation from which future neighborhood revitalization sprung in cities, and more importantly, either established or confirmed the pattern by which wealth would spread in cities. The phenomenon known as gentrification took root in these core neighborhoods and spread outward in different ways, depending on the city and its unique geographic and social history.”

9. Integration — We’ve Been Doing It All Wrong (9/12/17) 

“There were (once) two baseball “systems” — MLB and the Negro Leagues. There were two school “systems”, explicitly so in the South but implicitly so in the North — one for whites and one for blacks. There are two housing “systems” in our metro areas, for blacks and whites.

Here’s the problem. When our nation’s power structure looks at these dual systems, the assumption is that one is superior and the other is inferior. Barriers must be broken so that people can flow to the clearly superior system. In pursuing integration, our society destroyed one system in the name of inferiority, while never fully accommodating the needs of those dependent on the supposedly inferior one.”

8. Regarding “The New Urban Crisis” (4/12/17) 

“My frustration, and I suspect Florida’s too, is that I imagined that the flow back to cities represented an opportunity for affluent integration, rather than succession. I once posed the idea that, using tactics similar to those used in successful racial integration efforts in the ’60s and ’70s, perhaps a gentrification management program could work. Not only would it potentially address immediate affordable housing concerns, but it would temper displacement/succession concerns, and set in place a framework for the kinds of social networks that could reduce economic inequality. The initial response was underwhelming. YIMBYs who believe the most critical issue is MORE MORE MORE HOUSING to create affordability seem to lose the economic inequality issue. More neo-libertarian types suggest that other groups had their chance at remaking the city; now, it’s our time and don’t get in our way.”

7. Where Educated Millennial Populations Are Growing (1/24/17)

“Despite very slow growth or even negative growth in their metro areas, St. Louis, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Cleveland outperform their outlying suburban areas in their attraction and concentration of educated Millennials. Perhaps in part due to their collections of major research universities within their boundaries (Washington University, Wayne State, Carnegie Mellon and Case Western Reserve, among others), Rust Belt cities and metros that are still losing population are able to transform demographically through their attraction of educated Millennials.”

6. Detroit’s Recovery? Oh Yeah, It’s Real Alright (2/28/17)

“(M)ost people…underestimate the depths of Detroit’s collapse, and therefore underestimate the significance of its current recovery. Detroit’s collapse was not simply an economic one, but a cultural, social and demographic one as well.”

5. The Midwest, Redefined (2/8/17) 

“Because they came from different places, (early settlers) took different paths to the Midwest. New Englanders came via the Erie Canal and Great Lakes, while Appalachians traveled northward across the Ohio River. Rather than intermingle and create a new and blended society, the New Englanders and Appalachians tended to maintain their local strongholds, with New Englanders in larger Great Lakes cities, and Appalachians in the upper regions of the Ohio Valley. And this happened without any reconsideration or adjustment of political boundaries in the Midwest’s early days.

This has hampered our understanding of the Midwest ever since.”

4. Welcome To South Chicago (4/6/17) 

“If you’ve been reading my stuff here long enough, you probably know that cringe when I hear people talk about Chicago’s South Side as a monolith, as code for black and poor. The truth is, there are many facets to the South Side. It is largely black, but not exclusively so; it is less wealthy than other parts of the city and region, but with pockets of wealth also. It has its very troubled spots, but it has places of promise…

South Chicago does indeed fit one image of the South Side: it is a classic late 19th/early 20th century industrial neighborhood… Virtually from its inception, steel production, port activities and rail transportation defined the community.”

3. Chicago’s Crime Wave Understood — Complex Problem, Simple Formula (2/19/17) 

“Chicago’s violent crime problem can be understood through this formula:

segregation + neighborhood destabilization = Chicago violent crime spike

It’s a simplistic, reductionist, even crude, but it explains the roots of Chicago’s crisis as well as anything.”

2. On the Outside, Looking In (7/13/17) 

“People of color will continue to move to suburbia in increasing numbers. They will do so for the same reasons people before them did — affordability, good schools, lower crime. They are doing so in part because suburbia is something that eluded them for so long, and is now within their grasp. As they move in, they will begin to wield more influence on suburban politics — suburban mayors, County Board representatives, more representation in state legislatures. We will see more minority representation in the suburbs — just as suburban political influence wanes.

Why? Because cities are ascendant.”

1. Cities and Suburbs — In Name Only (1/27/17)

“I’d love for the U.S. Census to refine their urban area parameters. Some readers might be familiar with the fact that the Census identifies contiguous areas within metro areas that house in excess of 1,000 people per square mile. What if the Census did a similar identification of areas with populations in excess of, say, 5,000 people per square mile? If so, we might be able to define areas as “urban” (>5,000/sq. mi.), “suburban” (1,000-4,999/sq. mi.) and “exurban” (<999/sq. mi., but still within the metro area). Density is hardly the only thing that distinguishes city and suburb, but such a change would force us to look at all places a little differently."

 There are a handful of other pieces from 2017 that I’m proud of but didn’t generate the same numbers of views as those above.  These pieces also fit well with my current and future direction.  Check these out as well:

“African Americans are acutely aware that our communities are stigmatized by the broader society, but understand that the stigmatization originates from outside sources. Unlike other groups, we’re quite clear that our communities were created for us, either because concrete barriers were established or a white flight vacuum created a devastated community in its wake. We’re also aware that the broader society views white communities as the standard, and uses that as a starting point for integration policy. School busing and housing policy are two examples of this at work.

If African American families were asked the question, “which would you rather have, integration or opportunity?” we’d overwhelmingly take opportunity. However, society’s response has mostly been “integration is opportunity”, even though we know that integration is that fleeting period between the first black moving into a community and the last white leaving. That period lasts a little longer than it used to, because whites have become more accepting of diversity at the neighborhood level, but it’s still temporary.”

“There are exceptional black people who have been working with everything they have to not only preserve, but improve their neighborhoods. There are academics who have proven theories on the impact of blacks on cities, from the Great Migration until today, and documented the explicit and implicit racist practices that prevented blacks from flourishing. There are practitioners who are working at all levels of government to make wise investment decisions to stimulate development and revitalization. There are dedicated people working in the philanthropic community seeking to support the little-recognized efforts of those working in cities.

There is a black urbanism, and there are black urbanists.”

“I think Boston is among a group of cities that was intentional in maintaining a level of whiteness. I think most all Northeastern and Midwestern cities — from Boston to Washington, and westward to the Twin Cities and St. Louis — patented a policy of exclusion toward blacks for much of their history. The Great Migration was the first and greatest threat to the policy of exclusion, prompting legal, extralegal, and violent battles in virtually all of the cities within this area at some point in the 20th century.

Whereas southern states were explicit in their exploitation of slave labor to fuel the plantation economy from the settlement of this country, I think morally ambivalent northern states and their largest cities chose to avoid the thorny idea of slavery and black people in their midst. They first sought to exclude blacks, and when they no longer could do that, they sought to marginalize them.

I believe this was intentional, and became the prevailing way of organizing the American community and social structure in all places not Southern. Northern exclusion became the dominant influence as it moved into the Midwest, the Plains, the Rockies, the Pacific Northwest, and the Southwest.”

 This type of year-end piece is a great primer on what I write about, and I enjoy it.  It’s a chance for me to be a little introspective and reflect on what I’ve done and what’s left to do.  It’s also an opportunity for readers to see what they’ve responded positively to over the past year.  Thanks for doing so.

Here’s to an even bigger and better 2018.

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