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Sustaining Racially, Ethnically, and Economically Diverse Communities

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Abstract

As the United States and other highly industrialized nations become increasingly diverse, a key question is whether they will be societies of diverse communities or contested lands of unequal and competing segregated communities. In 2000, the United States was 69.1 percent non-Hispanic white, 12.5 percent Hispanic, 12.1 percent non-Hispanic African American, 3.6 percent Asian, 0.7 percent Native American, and 1.8 percent non-Hispanic other or multiracial (Grieco and Cassidy, 2001, p. 10).1 The U.S. Bureau of the Census projects that by the year 2050 over half of the U.S. population will be “minority,” (U.S. Census Bureau, 2004) calling into question the use of the term itself. Indeed, four states are already classified as “majority minority” states—states where no one racial or ethnic group represents a majority.2 The growth of diversity has been fueled by increased immigration from Latin America and Asia, as well as by the fact that many immigrant families are young families that contribute to natural population increases.

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The gap between academic and applied/clinical sociology is well exemplified by an analysis of the sociological treatment of the concept of “community.” This concept usually rates at least a mention in introductory sociology and social problems textbooks (Broom et al., 1984; Henslin, 1999; Sullivan & Thompson, 1988). But many sociological theory textbooks make no mention of “community,” as indicated by the index and table of contents (Coser & Rosenberg, 1982; Perdue, 1986; Waters, 1994). Community discussions are largely limited to applied and clinical sociology books and journal articles (Alinsky, 1984a,ó; Anderson, 1986; Bridger, 1997; Glassner & Freedman, 1979; Schultz, 1996; Straus, 1984).
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"[Keating] chronicles efforts to break down suburban racial barriers in housing throughout the United States.... Keating's data also point up our urgent need to focus public policy on depopulated and increasingly impoverished and homogeneous urban centers. As he convincingly demonstrates, private and government attempts at suburban integration, as well as special urban integrationist projects, have achieved spotty results at best." —Publishers Weekly Whether through affirmative housing policies or mandatory legislation, there have been numerous efforts to integrate America's neighborhoods, especially the historically white, affluent suburbs. Though much of suburbia has rejected such measures out of a fear of losing their communities to an influx of low-income, inner-city, and primarily African American residents, several metropolitan areas have been successful in creating greater racial diversity. W. Dennis Keating documents the desirability, feasibility, and legality of implementing housing diversity policies in the suburbs. At the heart of this book is the troubling dilemma that the private housing market will inevitably resist race-conscious policies that can be effective only if embraced and supported by individual home buyers and renters, politicians, realtors, financial institutions, and insurers. In the Cleveland, Ohio, metropolitan area, pro-integrative policies have resulted in some examples of long-term racial diversity, particularly in Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights. Keating compares Cleveland's suburbs to suburbs around the country that have both failed and succeeded in reducing housing discrimination. While there have been occasional fair housing victories over the last three decades, Keating's analysis points toward strategies for greater progress in the future.
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In the decades following World War II, cities across the United States saw an influx of African American families into otherwise homogeneously white areas. This racial transformation of urban neighborhoods led many whites to migrate to the suburbs, producing the phenomenon commonly known as white flight. In Block by Block, Amanda I. Seligman draws on the surprisingly understudied West Side communities of Chicago to shed new light on this story of postwar urban America. Seligman's study reveals that the responses of white West Siders to racial changes occurring in their neighborhoods were both multifaceted and extensive. She shows that, despite rehabilitation efforts, deterioration in these areas began long before the color of their inhabitants changed from white to black. And ultimately, the riots that erupted on Chicago's West Side and across the country in the mid-1960s stemmed not only from the tribulations specific to blacks in urban centers but also from the legacy of accumulated neglect after decades of white occupancy. Seligman's careful and evenhanded account will be essential to understanding that the "flight" of whites to the suburbs was the eventual result of a series of responses to transformations in Chicago's physical and social landscape, occurring one block at a time.
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