|Chapter 6.5: Implications and Applications|
List of Tables, Maps, Illustrations, and Figures
1. Symbolism, Self and Urban Environment
2. Self Selection and Urban Decay
3. Woodland to City Neighborhood: 300 Years of Change
4. Invasion and Succession
5. Micrological Aspects of Urban Problems
6. Stigma and Self-Image in the Inner City
It was the purpose of this book to relate the personal troubles of inner-city residents to macrological problems and to demonstrate how individual quests for community are influenced by societal ideals and issues, such as rationalization of territory, disenchantment in the urban environment, racism, and the American culture of community. To understand the problems of inner-city residents a humanistic approach was offered which emphasized methodological and theoretical approaches found in Symbolic Interactionist and Social Constructionist analyses of society. These perspectives bring into sharper focus the interface of common human needs with larger issues. It is obvious that this work can only raise more questions than it either addresses or answers. It is hoped that those intrigued by the issues raised herein, attempt to employ the methods for urban analyses suggested in this book to study the residents of other troubled neighborhoods in other cities, and that these efforts will ultimately lead to a more humanistic urban social science and urban social policy.36
Although this book focuses, by necessity, on some of the special problems of nonwhite inner-city communities, the framework outlined of the community paradigm is applicable to other central city areas. White lower- and working-class communities in the city and suburbs are especially vulnerable to change, and, as shown by the history of the Lefferts Manor, suburbs have a tendency to become citified and then inherit all the typical urban ills. The community problems noted in Prospect-Lefferts-Gardens differ from other neighborhoods in degree, and not in essence.
In providing financial, social services and other aid to residents of the inner city, it is important to realize that these people live in a negatively defined social environment. This environment affects their self and group images, as well as their motivations and methods, for self and neighborhood improvement, when that opportunity arises. To some degree comprehensive and lasting solutions to their problems require the upgrading of their situations, not only physically and objectively but symbolically and subjectively as well.
The majority of the people who reside in Prospect-Lefferts-Gardens and other city neighborhoods are not poor and disadvantaged objectively, yet they suffer because their community has been stigmatized. one need only to magnify the problems of these people several times in order to understand what people who live in "actual" low-income and minority ghettoes (including public low-income housing projects) suffer due to their locations. "Problem" families and individuals need residential stability. Their constant relocation creates enormous problems for children, for example, and are required to make new friends at every stop along the way to nowhere. The stigma of their neighborhoods also reduces the desire of people to make lasting friends and neighbors who are important for day-today living among the poor. Given the stigma of some local neighborhoods, it is not surprising that frequently in such areas, despite ethnic and class homogeneity, there is little social solidarity such as was found in the traditional ethnic ghetto, as was noted by Louis Wirth in his study of the Jewish ghetto.37 People are not planning to stay in the area but are hoping to move away from it. One does not build personal and family ties to a neighbor who is seen as "undesirable."
Low-income housing is ipso facto stigmatized and undesirable for those who live in it, as well as for those outside. The constant failures of low-income housing projects in cities, and also in the suburbs, vividly testifies to the lack of concern that residents have for what outsiders believe they should be "grateful." Living in low-income housing projects is a constant reminder of failure in society. The institutional look of most projects, even if brand new and innovatively designed, cannot hide the fact that they were built for those who could not "make it" on their own. The general stigma of public assistance, then, has an environmental corollary. Familiarity with the ideas presented in these pages should be helpful to practitioners who are often faced with the apathy or hostility of low-income, or minority groups toward their local environment. They cannot be expected to take pride in an enclave that has been defined and labeled as a "community of failures."38
Also, others who are similarly trapped in residences such as nursing homes and orphanages can be expected to have equivalent negative reactions and attitudes toward their physical and social surroundings.39 It is only the defeated person who does not try to escape from his or her prison, or does not try to destroy it. The effectiveness of half-way houses and other "community facilities" should be carefully reconsidered in light of the ideas presented here. It does little good to provide community-based residential facilities or treatment centers in already stigmatized areas. And one should realize that the facilities themselves are stigma for those who use them, and for those who live nearby. It is quite understandable, therefore, that residents who think well of their neighborhood will fight against the "invasion" of social service centers into their community space.
It is through an understanding of the socialpsychology of community activists that new hope for the preservation of modern cities is found. Their moral career, or "calling," is a natural outcome given that they must constantly justify to themselves and others the moral value of their inner-city community existence. In a way their activities are "rituals" in the same sense that Fustel de Coulanges outlined the rites and rituals associated with the founding and maintenance of ancient cities.
Many of the things that Activists do today can be favorably compared to those of the leaders of ancient cities. The ancient city venerated its past and maintained holy relics of founders in central places of worship to demonstrate continuity of sacred inhabitance. Activists in the Lefferts Manor and Prospect-Lefferts-Gardens worked hard to obtain an Historical Landmarks designation for the Manor, a public expression of respect for the hallowed history of the community. The designated area is shown in Map 14. The designation, in effect, "beatifies" part of the neighborhood and prevents people from desecrating it. Even the belief that the ancients and primitive people in general have about the power of name symbolism has its modern counterpart. As noted in earlier chapters, neighborhood names often convey symbolic contents. Places like Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville have definite "bad magic" associated with them. Prospect-Lefferts-Gardens Activists created their own new name to counter the stigma of Crown Heights, which during the 1960s began to obtain an undesirable reputation; Prospect comes from Prospect Park, Lefferts is borrowed from the elite Lefferts Manor, and Gardens from the nearby Botanical Gardens. Parks and gardens give rise to positive images in the mind. Other neighborhoods in Brooklyn have similarly developed new names to combat stigma and attract newcomers. This is a reminder of the names chosen for suburban communities in the 1950s. Every place in suburbia was a "town" or "village," and the streets were christened "drives," "lanes," and "paths" of marigolds, roses and elms. For the Prospect-Lefferts-Gardens Activist, the name allows them to psychologically separate themselves from the residents of nearby less fortunate areas. These symbolic changes, and other activities in the community, have at least altered the official neighborhood maps of the city, although it remains to be seen whether they will change the mental maps of all of the city's residents.
The aim of this book has not been to offer easy solutions to urban problems, but to stimulate research and debate. Ultimately the stereotypes of the inner-city and minority group communities must be changed via the judicious use of the media and educational institutions, as well as solving the "real problems" of crime and deterioration. Otherwise, the self-fulfilling prophecy of racial and ethnic change, and inevitable decay of city neighborhoods, will continue to operate to the detriment of the poor, the near-poor, and also the middle class. If unchecked, the processes may turn whole cities into "communities of failures."
Notes to Chapter 6.5
36. A most recent discussion of what is meant by "humanist" sociology is given by McLung-Lee (1973). Two good examples of humanist approaches to policy-related disciplines are Friedmann (1973) and Leff (1978). See also Mumford (1968) and Goodman (1947) for earlier examples.
37. Wirth (1928) noted that although the Jews were stigmatized by their ghetto residence it was also a source for positive social and psychological identities.
38. For studies of the effect of living in low-income neighborhoods see: Freid and Gleicher (1961), Lewis (1966) and Schorr (1966). See especially Rainwater (1970) for a study of the ill-fated Igo-Pruitt housing project in St. Louis and Dorman (1972). For "Stigma of Poverty" see Waxman (1977).
39. See, for example, Goff (1961) and Stephens (1975) on asylums and single room occupancy hotels respectively.