Segregation, Diversity, and More

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This week is the last week of this legislative session in NY. While the political hoopla is around mayoral control, don’t let the noise detract you from something that has been simmering for decades: NY’s pervasively, deeply segregated schools.

There’s been some great momentum on the issue, at long last, both from NYSED and NYC. Yet the fact remains that there is no existing legislation on the issue that has been passed.

There is a bill that can begin the first steps in addressing that deficiency: Bill S3794 in the Senate and Bill A5795 in the Assembly.

Since I wrote my last post, there’s been some promising momentum: Senator Jesse Hamilton co-sponsored the senate bill, and Assemblyman Walter Mosley co-sponsored the assembly bill.

But the bill still needs to be put on a very busy agenda and made a priority in order to make it to the floor. Please call your senator and assembly person and ask them to help move this bill forward.

Thanks in advance. On to other news related to school diversity:

NYSED drafts a stronger statement against segregation than NYC

“Last week, the mayor’s drew headlines — and criticism — for his long-awaited diversity plan. Among the concerns — the mayor chose not to use words like “integration” or “segregation” to define the problem.

The state, on the other hand, isn’t mincing words. On Monday, the Board of Regents discussed its own draft diversity statement. “More than sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education,” it states in its opening paragraph, “New York is the most segregated state in the country.”

The use of the word “segregation,” vs. the more general word “diversity,” is a flashpoint in conversations about integration. Advocates stress that the word must be used because it acknowledges the history of discriminatory policies and choices in loans, housing, zoning, and schools that have led to and perpetuated segregation. Others, such as Mayor De Blasio, view the terminology as secondary—and even a possible impediment to—in moving forward to address inequities as they exist now.

I can see both sides on this, and when I’ve advocated for increasing diversity in schools at a policy level and to the wider public, I tend to phrase it exactly like I just did: increasing diversity in schools. Why?

I think it comes down to whether we are talking about the past, or the future. When discussing the historic conditions and policies and choices that have led to pervasive segregation, we need to call it what it is.

But when looking forward, I think it makes sense to call for increasing diversity. Because it’s not only about race and class, it’s also about making our schools into inclusive spaces, rather than exclusionary places.

Maybe that’s making the bucket too big, but the fact is that active exclusion of others who are “different”—by both children and adults—is a key issue, and that’s a problem that exists in a school of any racial composition.

State’s draft diversity statement addresses ‘segregation,’ a word the mayor’s plan avoided, Chalkbeat NY

How many white students need to attend a school before it can be declared officially desegregated?

Seems like an important thing to define. Though I also think if we end up getting caught up in talking about numbers we’re focused on the wrong thing.

What Defines a Segregated School? Debate Over Connecticut Integration Policy Heading to Court, the 74

New research from Ohio puts integration advocates who aren’t pro-choice on the spot

There’s a tension between being pro-desegregation and anti-school choice. Many advocates for integration are also opposed to school choice. A recent study out of Ohio suggests that interdistrict choice can promote improved academic outcomes (and integration).

New Research: Student Gains in Ohio’s Open Enrollment, but Top Districts Remain Closed, the 74

A rezoning effort in Baltimore reveals the difficulty in implementing integration

“Research shows that racial and socioeconomic integration benefits students of all races and backgrounds — but experience reveals the difficulty of achieving it.”

Redrawing school districts could redefine two Baltimore County communities, The Baltimore Sun

The school board ended up passing a compromise between the NIMBYists and the original rezoning plan.

Baltimore County passes compromise redistricting plan for eight schools

Two high school seniors design and publish their own curriculum to teach teachers how to talk about race with students

“Putting the project together required a huge time commitment outside school. Guo and Vulchi often met up at 4 a.m. to work on the book before classes started, and they have spent many hours traveling to schools to train teachers in how to talk about race and host class discussions on the topic.

And their work will only continue after their June 21 graduation. Vulchi has been accepted to Princeton University, and Guo plans to go to Harvard University, but they hope to defer their enrollment for a year to work on a third edition of the book. A crowdsourced fundraising effort is in the works.

“We don’t mind losing sleep for this. We feel the need. We feel the urgency,” Vulchi said.”

2 NJ High School Students Create Racial Literacy Text to Help Schools and Teens Learn to Talk About Race, the 74

Idea for increasing teacher diversity: elevate paraprofessionals

K-12 Teachers Are Disproportionately White and Monolingual. Here’s One Way That Could Change., Slate

Essential reads on segregation

In case you’ve missed it, the Baltimore Sun has run an excellent series on segregated schools in Baltimore County: Bridging the Divide

Part 1: The struggle to move past segregated schools

  • “You are potentially causing our property values in Academy Heights to plummet!”

Part 2: Struggles of new East Baltimore school show challenges of integration

  • “Schools filled with students living in high concentrations of poverty are like boats going against a strong tide.”

Part 3: Within integrated schools, de facto segregation persists

  • “Victoria Howard said being in classes with black students made her feel more at ease, but she believes “nothing changes if everyone’s just too comfortable.”
  • “Exposing people to being around different kinds of people is how we acclimate and how we change,” she said. “And that’s important when we leave high school. Because out in the world, you don’t get to pick who you’re around.”

And The Grade has a behind-the-scenes take on the creation of the series.

“If I had covered it with someone who thought the same way as I did, it probably wouldn’t have been as strong,” says Green.

And here’s another comprehensive piece on integrating schools from City Limits

To increase diversity Goldsmith says, “You need middle class families that have some commitment to public education and are willing to vote with their child.” You can attract such families, he says, with schools that offer a quality education, have inspired leadership and can “create an environment that is welcoming and inclusive to all.”

This is from an older piece about the Upper West Side squabbles over rezoning. Worth bringing back up here.

“It’ll take thousands, maybe a hundred thousand dollars off the value of my apartment”. . .

. . .”We moved here basically for that school, and that school is kind of like our right.”

Because apparently “public” is now synonymous with “private.”

Public service over property value: Ann Holton suggests how white parents can make integration a value

My parents did a good job of helping us feel like we were part of something bigger than ourselves, something that really mattered. That influenced me in all kinds of ways.

“It influenced me toward a career in public service, and more immediately, the experience of going to school with people who were from different backgrounds. My background was not only white, but homogenous: Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, upper middle class. I didn’t know much of anybody who came from different backgrounds, and that experience of being with folks who were different, and yet discovering how much similarity we had across differences, it was a very important part of my education, and I have valued that throughout and including in my role as secretary of education.”

Anne Holton, in an interview with the74

Nikole Hannah-Jones argues that democracy depends upon individual parents thinking more about the common good

Democracy works only if those who have the money or the power to opt out of public things choose instead to opt in for the common good. . . .

“If there is hope for a renewal of our belief in public institutions and a common good, it may reside in the public schools.”

Derrell Bradford responds to Hannah-Jones’s piece, suggesting that individuals should have equal power to public institutions

Our relationship with public institutions — and schools in particular — is only in balance when the individual can wield equivalent force against them. Achieving a state of balance with the nation’s public schools rests not in the constant altruistic acquiescence to them, but the strategic self-interested defiance of them. . . .

“In the school districts of the rich and the ruling, this equilibrium between voluntary participation and the ability to exit is the essential tension that drives performance. It’s a game for the privileged, but it’s a game they win.”

Bradford’s assertion here is interesting. But should individuals be able to wield “equivalent force” against public institutions? The “public” is by definition an aggregate of individuals—the people as a whole—and an institution that is a “public” institution therefore serves the interests of the many, rather than that of the individual.

Yes, it is true that those with wealth and power are not reliant upon public institutions. But however much those institutions have failed over the years, as Bradford rightly points to, I’m highly skeptical that in the absence of those institutions things would be better.

Public institutions, however problematic, get better through greater civic engagement, not the reverse. I would propose that if those that are better off chose to get more involved in those institutions–as Nikole Hannah Jones has suggested we do–than maybe we’d all be better off.

Smorgasbord: Segregation

A wonderfully reported piece on segregated schools in Baltimore is this week’s must read.

There is a key thread that weaves throughout it: public schools have become associated with private property — and property owners don’t want “those kids” to affect their property values.

As one parent of color put it: “You can put it as a financial issue so you don’t have to talk about it as a racial issue and a social issue.”

Let’s start talking about the real issue, folks.

http://data.baltimoresun.com/news/bridging-the-divide/

The issue is that white property owning parents resist efforts to integrate schools by race or class.

“Sheff advocates and critics alike point to a critical flaw that has hampered its progress: resistance from the leafy New England suburbs that surround the capital city.”

http://www.courant.com/education/hc-sheff-open-choice-charters-day-3-20170314-story.html

And here’s a key problem with property ownership and race, while we’re on the subject

“At no point in American history has a majority of black Americans owned their own homes”

Selfie of white joggers in African American neighborhood sets off debate, and quest for understanding – LA Times http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-leimert-park-20170208-story.html

And while we’re discussing segregation, you know what also is divided? Sleeping conditions.

“sleeping conditions remain sharply divided along racial and socioeconomic lines”

The Night Shift | New Republic

https://newrepublic.com/article/140960/true-cause-sleeplessness-epidemic-book-review-wild-nights-benjamin-reiss

No, really. We’ve all heard of the “achievement gap.” Do you know about the sleep gap?

I’m no scientist, but sure seems like there could be a correlation there. . .

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/10/the-black-white-sleep-gap/454311/

Leaving civil rights to the states is a recipe for bullying

Arne Duncan makes a strong argument on the need for federal protections of civil rights.

“Leaving enforcement of civil rights laws to states will breed chaos, undermine the education of millions of children, and subject students of every age to abuse, neglect, indifference and outright racism, sexism, and anti-immigrant hostility.”

http://getschooled.blog.myajc.com/2017/03/12/arne-duncan-trump-devos-should-preserve-office-of-civil-rights-to-safeguard-students/

Sociology needs to get more involved in policy decision-making

“It may be true that these lessons on identity and community don’t lend themselves immediately to policy white papers and five-point plans. But a deeper understanding of them sure could help policy makers.”

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/03/17/upshot/what-if-sociologists-had-as-much-influence-as-economists.html?smid=tw-upshotnyt&smtyp=cur&referer=https://t.co/wclDZ2XQzk

The tragedy of poor learning spaces

I can’t think of any better way to capture the tragedy of how we dismiss the importance of learning environment for our kids than the following sentence:

“More than 100 special needs students who’ve been learning out of trailer classrooms for the past 16 years are finally moving into a permanent school building this fall, city officials said Monday.”

https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20170314/woodside/ps-151-ps-255-tcus-trailer-classrooms-doe?utm_source=Master+Mailing+List&utm_campaign=e5de8e79d4-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_03_15&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_23e3b96952-e5de8e79d4-75749801

Reclaiming the meaning of St. Paddy’s

“Yesterday’s alien is today’s workmate; yesterday’s pariah is today’s patriot.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/16/opinion/green-beer-and-rank-hypocrisy.html?action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&module=Trending&version=Full&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article&_r=0

School diversity as a means to build shared values and understanding

I’ve written here before about why I believe we need our schools to reflect the broader diversity of our society from the lens of fighting prejudice.

I also believe that nourishing diversity in our schools serves a civic purpose: building shared values and understanding. This is what can allow our democratic republic to flourish.

My attempt to voice is this has been published on The Hechinger Report; I would greatly appreciate it if you read it, and will be interested in your thoughts.

http://hechingerreport.org/opinion-diversity-schools-critical-democracy/

 

How Did New York Become So Segregated?

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How did New York end up so segregated? As part of my NY Policy Fellowship, I did a little bit of research to try and answer this question.

The Great Migrations

During WWI, industrial urban cities in the North actively recruited Southern black laborers due to labor shortages and war production demand. By the 1920s, Harlem housed 200,000 African Americans and became an epicenter of black literature, music, and visual arts. NYC’s black population expanded from 140,000 in 1910 to 660,000 by 1940. Only a quarter of that 1940 population were born in New York. Economic demand during and after WWII similarly spurred a large influx from southern states. By 1970, NYC’s black population was at 2,350,000, and Buffalo’s at 108,000. Meanwhile, “NYC’s Hispanic population increased by almost twenty times between 1940 and 2010, while its total non-Hispanic White population decreased by over 60% over the same time period.”

Redlining

After WWII, the Federal Housing Authority provided funding for homeownership for many white working class families. However, some banks would refuse to lend money to aspiring black homeowners. The practice of “redlining” refers to maps banks would keep of neighborhood racial demographics, which they would use to determine “bad investments.” Banks would then deny services to African American families, or selectively raise prices. This practice furthered racial segregation, and also guaranteed that many black neighborhoods were either underdeveloped or left in disrepair.

Urban Redevelopment and Highways

Robert Moses engineered passage and amendment to the 1942 Hampton-Mitchell Bill (enacted as the Urban Redevelopment Companies Law), which allowed the displacement of communities (typically low income) by private developers. The NY State Court of Appeals, in a 1949 case, Dorsey v. Stuyvesant Town Corp., later upheld the right of private property owners to discriminate by race. The court ruled: “It is well settled that the landlord of a private apartment or dwelling house may, without violating any provision of the Federal or State Constitutions, select tenants of its own choice because of race, color, creed or religion … Clearly, housing accommodation is not a recognized civil right.”

In a trend-setting development, Moses built the first highway through a crowded urban center, the Cross Bronx Expressway. This development, like the Stuyvesant development on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, resulted in the displacement of lower-income families and reinforced segregation.

Other cities in New York followed suit, with the Skyway in Buffalo and the I-81 in Syracuse similarly stranding low-income families in noisy, polluted inner cities, while creating swift escape routes for suburban commuters. Coupled with strict zoning rules and the lack of affordable housing and public transportation options in many suburban areas, poorer families found it difficult to gain the means either to leave or improve their high poverty neighborhoods.

Loss of Industrial Jobs

While the Fair Housing Act of 1968 made redlining practices illegal, the stagnation of the economy in the 1970s, coupled with deindustrialization, spurred the flight of white and middle class families to suburbs, leaving behind inner city neighborhoods with few employment opportunities and resources. According to EdBuild, twenty nine of the country’s 50 most extremely segregated school districts are in the Rust Belt, with New York State number 6 on that list.

Fruitless Fights for Integration

In the 1950s and 60s, a Reverend in Brooklyn, Milton Galamison, fought for integration, first as chair for the Education Chapter of the NAACP, then as founder of the Parent’s Workshop for Equality in New York City Schools. His group “presented a series of integration proposals to the New York City Board of Education, none of which were implemented.” In 1964, Galamison led a group of civil rights organizations to boycott NYC public schools, but he did not gain the support of the teacher’s union and later lost the support of national civil rights groups. In the late 60s, he began fighting for community control of schools, creating tension with the teacher’s union, the Al Shanker-led UFT. This tension came to a head in Ocean-Hill Brownsville in 1968. Tensions between labor rights and community control advocates, as well as between advocates of integration and of black separatism, created fissures in liberal thought that shifted key narratives and perceptions of public education. As Dana Goldstein notes in her book, Teacher Wars, “Ocean Hill-Brownsville created rifts between teacher unions and black civil rights groups, as well as between liberal elites and the union.” These rifts and tensions continue to reverberate today, especially via the critique of teachers unions and traditional district schools offered by parental choice and charter school advocates.

NYC has never been under a desegregation order. There were a few efforts made to increase diversity through an open enrollment program or by shifting zone lines, but the fiscal crisis of the 1970s and subsequent white flight ended any further efforts until very recently.

In 2014, State Commissioner John King and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch initiated the Socioeconomic Integration Pilot Program (SIPP), providing grant funding to school districts that sought to integrate student populations by socioeconomic status. A number of school districts are now implementing programs, including Manhattan District 1.

Beyond Race & Class: Special Education Segregation

From 1894 through the mid 1900s in New York state, increasing attention was paid to the identification and specialized support for students with disabilities due to legislation. In 1967, a “handicapped child” was definedas an individual who ‘because of mental, physical or emotional reasons, cannot be educated in regular classes but can benefit by special services and programs.’ This definition summarized state policy, which since the early years of the century had favored removing handicapped children from regular classrooms and schools, and placing them in ‘special classes,’ home teaching, or private schools.” The policy of segregation and outsourcing of support began shifting in the 1960s. Federal legislation, culminating in the 1990 IDEA act, pushed states towards inclusion in a “least restrictive setting,” and NCLB in 2001 introduced school accountability for educating students with disabilities. However, in an IBO report as of 2013, 25% of students identified with a disability continue to be educated in separate, “self-contained” programs. The outcomes for self-contained students are not positive, while some research seems to suggest that including students with disabilities in general education classrooms has more positive outcomes for them, while not harming the outcomes of general education students. Yet the populations of students with disabilities are far from evenly distributed between schools.

Smorgasbord: Sundries, Inclusion, and Democracy

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Sundry Items from the World Wide Web

Here’s a handy infographic of the 74 ways characters die in Shakespeare’s plays.

Clinical psychiatrist Daniel Siegel argues that our minds are best understood as a combination of bottom-up sensory experiences and top-down schematic models.

If you want to enhance your brain, stop wasting your time with “brain training” apps and pick up a new musical instrument, instead. And exercise.

In Los Olivos, California, parents pay $49,000 a year for their kids to chop their own wood and grow their own food. Seems like a worthy trade-off, to me. Especially given the growing amount of research substantiating the positive effects of the outdoors on learning.

Speaking of the outdoors, if you have a view of the ocean, you probably have lower levels of psychological distress. Supposedly this applies across income or neighborhood quality, but let’s be real: most neighborhoods with an ocean view usually have a few other competitive advantages.

We all know being born well-off (financially speaking) comes with benefits. But here’s some depressing results from a new report: “even poor kids who do everything right don’t do much better than rich kids who do everything wrong.” So much for meritocracy.

Speaking of meritocracy, boys read less than girls and even when they do read, they comprehend less. Which is a problem since even tech startups are trumpeting the value of reading.

And what separates champions from “almost champions” is how they respond to adversity. They put in the practice and training, and most critically, they compare themselves against past versions of themselves, rather than external comparisons against others. Implications for supporting our students in self-monitoring their progress here.

Because hey, even a ball of dough can learn to learn, with the right amount of electric shocks.

Sorry to inform you, frenetic button pushers: pushing those crosswalk and elevator close buttons are just placebo placating your sense of control.

In his new book, Messy, economist Tim Harford argues that allowing a bit of disorder and chaos into our lives can make us happier and more productive. One way, he suggests, is to force ourselves to interact with others who are different than us. (And here’s a past post on how allowing a little bit of chaos in a school can also be a good thing.)

Equity and Inclusion: Can we overcome our history?

While some may see this as merely a symbolic gesture, I think it’s a pretty big deal that a “president of America’s largest police management organization” issued a formal apology for police mistreatment of communities of color.

Knowing our history, as Politico’s Eliza Shapiro reports, is important as new battles about school zones and desegregation play out. Here’s a quote demonstrating why:

Recent meetings on the proposed rezoning have turned hostile: Lincoln Towers residents have wept and pleaded with the city not to go ahead with the rezoning, arguing that it would divide their community. Parents have shouted down Department of Education officials at meetings, accusing them of lying and intentionally concealing details about the plans. One person referred to PS 191 as a “cesspool.”

The principal of PS 191, Lauren Keville, has attended some of the public meetings, urging PS 199 parents — to apparently little effect — to visit her school before forming their judgment. PS 191 parents have been largely absent from the debate.

After the Council proposed its own plan and made explicit pleas for a more integrated district at a recent meeting, scores of parents spoke out against the plan. When one member of the council claimed he’d been “blindsided” by the plan, dozens of parents gave him a standing ovation. The PS 199 parents who support the integration plan — a constant but muted minority presence at public meetings — have been largely drowned out. (Bold added)

The parent group that is calling for integration, however, is making it’s views loud and clear.

A new report highlights what schools successful at increasing diversity are doing. Keys to increasing diversity: promote the school to diverse communities and make it welcoming to all, and change admission policies.

Democracy: Should complex decisions be made by the people, or their elected representatives?

Populist democracy is on the rise. Yet our founders envisioned the US as a representative democracy. George Thomas argues that we have lost sight of the educative function of political leadership, and that we are increasingly placing complex policy decisions in the hands of voters who may lack an understanding of the need for compromise that effective and experienced political leaders possess. Repercussions are to be found in Republican kowtowing to Trump and Tea Party supporters, Democrat kowtowing to Sanders supporters, across the pond in the Brexit referendum, and California’s ever increasing ballot measures. Some argue that voting should only be left to those who have the requisite knowledge. And there’s some evidence to back this up: education levels have a correlation to who you vote for. Just take a guess.

And the 538 explores some of these issues from another angle: a science experiment in Key West open to public vote.

Just Imagine

“Demarcus Taylor, a seventeen-year-old junior at King, had had enough. He was tall and slender, with broad shoulders, and as he spoke, he shook his hands in exasperation:
I’m not here to put the blame on anybody. I’m here just to reflect. Just imagine being at a school where you sit down, get your education, you get back up, go home, next thing you know you brought bedbugs from school to your home. Now you have an infestation at your house. Just imagine being at a school where your teachers are all sick and tired, and they’re acting like they’re not able to teach because they’re not getting paid for what they do. Just imagine when your teachers say, “I don’t know what’s going to happen to me next year, I don’t know if I can afford my car loan. How can I afford to pay rent, how can I afford to even live with the wage I’m getting?””
—Alexandria Neason, “Held Back” in Harper’s Magazine

Sunday Smorgasbord: Race, Pedagogy, Business, and Science

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Race

Andrew Rotherham, aka Eduwonk, advises us to “buckle up” and expect more of the sort of suburban bred “local control” fearmongering against diversity and federal intrusion seen in this op-ed.

For more context and history on the racism that underlies that brand of fear, as well as to understand how it relates to crusades for local control of public land, read this excellent longform piece.

Federal protections can backfire, however, such as in this sad irony of fair housing laws used to prevent “community preference” in lotteries for affordable housing in San Francisco.

Even in diverse schools, students of color can still be denied a quality education. The question seems to be: how do you “create a more equitable environment and also keep the most powerful parents happy”? It’s a sad question to have to ask, but finding a solution to it will determine the success of future efforts in increasing school diversity.

Diversity is worth it, though, at least when it comes to working on a team. The work feels harder, but the outcomes are better. (This parallels the idea of fostering “desirable difficulty” in classroom learning.)

Because we all want money.


Pedagogy

The inimitable E.D. Hirsch, Jr., makes the case that “good teaching can often depend more reliably on the coherence of the wider system, and on the cooperation it brings, than on virtuoso performances.” Stop blaming the teachers, and start developing better systems and curriculum.

Doug Lemov interviews Tim Shanahan, who articulates the nuance of teaching reading strategies, provides a sound definition of close reading, and dispels the myth that leveled reading is worth any teacher’s time.

At the Windward School in Manhattan, they are using gesture and movement to teach reading to students with disabilities, and having powerful results. There’s something to this connection between corporeal movement and conceptual understanding; in the math realm, research suggests the same area of our brain that counts on our fingers continues to be activated when we move to higher level problem-solving.


Business

Speaking of bodies, traders who are more effective listen to their bodies when making decisions under stress, rather than their minds.

We always hear from business leaders about how we’re not equipping our kids enough in K-12 with the high-level skills they are trying to hire for. But the FiveThirtyEight argues that there’s less of a skills gap, and more of a lack of job-specific training provided by those businesses.

In the most positive and exciting news in this presidential campaign thus far, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are strongly committed to investing in infrastructure.


Science

Our brain’s connectivity and wiring may be determined by its physical structure, not simply by its chemistry.

It may be possible to predict life success from a test at birth. This has much to do with “education-linked genes.” Which is scary.

And an important reminder that context and nuance is much needed when discussing research.

 

 

Poor neighborhoods determine life outcomes

“As it turns out, living in poor neighborhoods isn’t just an inconvenience. It’s a huge factor in what our lives — and our children’s lives — turn out to be.

Research shows it’s like breathing in bad air; the more you’re exposed to it, the more it hurts you. And it isn’t just because of the lack of opportunity. It’s that living in these distressed areas changes your brain — and your kids’ brains.”

—Alvin Chang, “Living in a poor neighborhood changes everything about your life

Highways Destroyed America’s Cities. So Let’s Tear Them Down

“…highways also created problems, some of which have become much worse in the years since. Urban freeways displaced communities and created air and noise pollution in downtown areas. They made it easier for suburban commuters to “zip to their suburban homes at the end of the work day, encouraging those with means to abandon the urban core,” Ted Shelton and Amanda Gann of the University of Tennessee wrote in a paper about urban freeways. . .

“Where urban highway construction did occur, in urban design terms, it was highly detrimental to the urban fabric; creating physical and psychological rifts that are extremely difficult to bridge and introducing a substantial source of noise and air pollution,” Shelton and Gann wrote. “Cities across the country continue to struggle with this legacy.”

The quote above comes from Alana Semuels’ article on The Atlantic, “Highways Destroyed America’s Cities” which pairs well with her prior piece on Syracuse,”How to Decimate a City.”

I find this relation between highways and segregation to be illuminating, especially when I consider a local area I used to work in, East Tremont, and how it has been impacted by the Cross Bronx Expressway.

Some connections, like highways, are not universally beneficial — it depends upon whom is being connected, and how. Highways provide a clear short-term benefit to those with means, while further isolating others. The tragic irony is that in the long term, most everyone ends up further disconnected. Witness the standing lines of cars each morning and evening, commuters sitting bathed in fumes, stressed out, paying exorbitant fees for parking and maintenance of a vehicle no longer a luxury, but a burden — and a dangerous one at that.

I take the public bus to work each day. It might be stressful sometimes when it’s most crowded and the doors won’t close because of that last desperate commuter trying to cram in. But I’d take that bus over an isolated, stressful, dangerous commute in by car any day.

And while there is always a part of me that craves escape from my noisy nook in this city, and envisions my own backyard, in some quiet haven where there’s no panhandlers, and no loud music, and no pollution, and lots of trees — I also know there’s a cruel trade off to such an escape (assuming I could even afford such luxury). It means losing access to the riches in diversity of connections, cultures and experiences that this city affords me.

Maybe I’m just strange, but I believe that I am a better person, that I am enriched, when I’m able to interact, live, and work with people who are different than me. It’s why I love working with children, why I love working in the field of special education, why I love working in the Bronx, and why I begrudgingly love NYC (though this former Californian misses — sometimes achingly so — the vast spaces and mountains and coast of the West).

I’m thankful to live in a city where there are many public transportation options, and while I miss California, I don’t miss the general lack of public infrastructure there. I like driving just as much as anyone, when the roads are clear, but being stuck in traffic and driving around a vehicle I don’t know how to fix myself is not how I wish to spend most of my money and my life.

But I’m going off on a navel gazing tangent. The point is that building highways to ease the flight of well-off suburbanites damages our greater social fabric. In fact, building more roads even makes congestion worse, not better. Rather than establishing routes for middle and upper class people to “escape” the city, Semuel’s presents a sensible solution, in the case of Syracuse in “How to Decimate a City“:

“What Syracuse needs, more than anything else, is a way to knit back together a region torn asunder by the construction of an urban highway and the outmigration that followed. That means more affordable housing in the suburbs, more access to transportation to outlying areas, and better jobs and housing in the urban core.” [Bold added]

These ideas parallel ideas for fighting desegregation. I would also add to that list “better schools.”

Forget building highways. Let’s tear them down, and build more parks, profuse protected bike lanes, and Googleplex-style schools that act as centers of their communities, flooded with natural light, greenery, and fresh air. Let’s ensure affordable housing is available everywhere. And let’s design our schools and admissions processes to include, rather than exclude.