Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Suburbs were designed to keep the poor out.

I wanted to add some quotes from Robert Caro to a Storify that I've already posted here about the public policy rediscovery that, as the New York Times puts it, "suburbs were not designed for the poor." This is Caro in The Power Broker, starting Page 900 in my edition, on New York State's mid-century highway and construction impresario, Robert Moses, referred to here as "The Coordinator." (Italics are his, boldface emphasis mine.):
The Coordinator's proposed highways and garages were designed to help automobile-owning families. But in 1945 two out of three residents of New York City belonged to families that did not own automobiles. Many of these families did not own them because they could not afford to. The Coordinator's subway-fare-increase proposals being advanced at that very moment in Albany would force poor New Yorkers to devote more -- in many cases, more than they could afford -- of their slender resources to getting around the city. The Coordinator's grabbing of the lion's share of public funds for highways and garages meant that public resources would be poured with a lavish hand into improving the transportation system used by people who could afford cars. Only a dribble of public resources would go into the transportation system used by people who could not -- and who therefore rode subways and buses. While the city and state were providing car users with the most modern highways, they would be condemning subway users to continue to travel on an antiquated system utterly inadequate to the city's needs. While highways were being extended into "suburban" areas of the city in which highways were needed -- and in fact, into areas of the city in which highways were not needed, in which the need for highways would be created by the highways -- subways would not be extended into areas of the city in which subways were needed. There were subway plans too, just as there were highway plans... ... But the Coordinator's monopolization of public funds made subway construction impossible. By building transportation facilities for the suburbs, he was insuring that no transportation facilities would be built for the ghettos. Therefore, planners saw, in the transportation field, the portion of the public helped by the use of public resources would not be the portion of the public that needed help most.
For the well-to-do residents of the "suburban" areas of northeastern Queens, not having a subway nearby meant having to take a bus or drive a car to the end of the line in closer to Manhattan or having to drive all the way into Manhattan and back every working day. This was a hardship. But for the impoverished residents of the southeastern Bronx, not having a subway nearby and not owning a car meant taking a bus to the subway and that meant paying a double fare each way -- twice a day, five days a week -- and that meant paying money that many of these residents simply could not afford. And that meant that often these residents walked to the subway, walked a mile or more, in the morning and home in the evening when they were tired. And it meant that on weekends, families that would have liked to take their children on trips -- to a museum or a movie downtown or Coney Island or some other park (particularly to a park, since Moses had built few in "lower-class" neighborhoods) or to visit a friend who lived in another neighborhood -- stayed home instead. The Coordinator's policies were doing more than simply not helping those people. They were hurting them.
They were even limiting their freedom to choose a place to live. His denial of funds for the extension of mass transit lines into outlying sections of the city and into the suburbs meant that the new homes and apartments there would be occupied only by car-owning families. Whether by design or not, the ultimate effect of Moses' transportation policies would be to help keep the city's poor trapped in their slums. They were in effect policies not only of transportation but of ghettoization, policies with immense social implications. "We knew we had to do something to halt this trend," reformer Leigh Denniston said in a letter-to-the-editor. "And we were asking how best to do it."
There's more earlier about the intentional racial and class-based segregation of Long Island public amenities such as Jones Beach but this is probably enough quoted text for one post.

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