List of Tables, Maps, Illustrations, and Figures


1. Symbolism, Self and Urban Environment
Residential Succession: How "Losers" Win
Negro Pioneers and White Flight
Relative Selectability among Minority Invaders
Symbolic History and Self
Symbolic History: Modern and Ancient Foundations

2. Self Selection and Urban Decay
The Social Character of the Manor

3. Woodland to City Neighborhood: 300 Years of Change
Indians, Geology and Transportation
Protecting the Community: Covenant and Zoning
Increasing Community Parameters

4. Invasion and Succession

Irish and Italian Catholics
Veterans: Undesirable Heroes
Blacks and the Special Problems of Nonwhite Invaders
Back to City Brownstones: A Confused Invasion
The Invasion Mentality

5. Micrological Aspects of Urban Problems
Involuntary Change: Aging and Death
Attidues of Heirs
Apartment Houses: The Big Change
The Life of a Tenant and a Building
Understanding Intricate Urban Problems

6. Stigma and Self-Image in the Inner City
Achievement and Residentia Movement
The Moral Careers of Inner-City Residents
The Community Paradigm
Implications and Applications


This work reports on a small portion of my continuing sociological research on city neighborhoods. The subjects which are dealt with here are quite delicate and my long-term involvement in the community is both an advantage as well as a disadvantage for understanding and describing it. Although at first glance this may appear to be a case study of a single neighborhood, as in William Whyte's Street Corner Society, the abstractions and concepts either generated or employed in this piece are by no means limited to the particular site for this research. The same phenomena have been observed and documented by myself and others not only in American cities but cross-nationally as well. Sociological phenomena are seldom, however, expressed exactly the same way in any two locations.

The major theoretical theme of the book is the complex relationship between cultural symbols and societal structures which are embodied in the concrete entities of society--people, buildings, streets, maps and all forms of human settlements. One particular aspect of this general relationship is the interaction between self-images and the social meanings of the neighborhood communities in which people live. It is one of those many social phenomena "taken for granted" as part of everyday life and seldom analyzed, but nevertheless influential in the social construction of local community realities.

Although many social scientists have written about the relationship between the self and others, few have focused on the self-territorial community relation. George Herbert Mead had indirectly considered this relation of self and community in a discussion of William James and the question of consciousness. James had given an example of a person entering a house. The house has a history and the person who enters becomes part of its history. The house, simultaneously, becomes part of the person's history.1 What I have done in this work is to attempt to synthesize the many ideas of self and community from several disciplines and perspectives to form what I hope is a contribution to understanding this important dimension of human social life.

In general, the body of the text deals with examples of social and psychological meanings of human settlements, of self-image and the relations between them. I note that there is in society a tendency to balance the tension between self-image and the image of one's environment. The phenomenon is analyzed through the use of a Symbolic-Interactionist framework. The theories of cognitive balance and cognitive dissonance, developed by Festinger and Heider, are of course equally useful theoretical parameters for understanding and explaining this intricate process. The process is not limited, however, to the individual or group psychological levels. It also involves larger societal and cultural structures. The process is also dialectical in that individual self-images can change the image of the community and the image of the community in turn can change individual self-images. Ideally, we have a self-community feedback system which operates within larger social entities. Even the past and future are elements of the system exercising influence in the forms of history and expectations.

In many ways this report is also a personal sociological enterprise. Having had no outside support for the research is only one of several reasons for its obvious idiosyncrasies. A central idea in this volume is the relationship between self and community images. A related concept is the parallelism between social mobility and geographical mobility. Erving Goffman has frequently reminded us of the importance of understanding social biography. As many others in our highly mobile American society, I am a person who has moved successively and successfully over the past four decades from one neighborhood to another. This movement can be seen as an expression of personal socioeconomic advancement.

In my own case, the journey began in a low-income housing project in the notorious Red Hook section of Brooklyn. From there, my family graduated to a deteriorating tenement at the edge of Bedford-Stuyvesant. Our family served as janitors-in-residence in the building. We then moved through a series of Italian-American and Jewish middle-class areas after which I was off to a college dormitory in Bloomington, Indiana, followed by Army barracks in New Jersey, California and Frankfurt am Main, Germany. After marriage in Germany, my wife and I lived in a middle-class German neighborhood for two years and then back to a married housing apartment park at Indiana University. Upon graduation we returned to Brooklyn and the setting for this book--Prospect-Lefferts-Gardens.

When we came to the neighborhood we rented an inexpensive "rent-controlled" apartment in the working-class part of the community, not far from where my wife was born and in which her parents and grandparents had lived since the early 1900s. A few years later, we purchased a home in the historically elite Lefferts Manor section of the community. During this ten-year span of time, the area changed from an "integrated" to an essentially black community and is today the locus of some "back to city" or "gentrification" activities. Throughout our thirteen-year tenure in the neighborhood we have been active in many local neighborhood associations and have personal as well as professional interests in urban community dynamics.

Most of the issues raised in this work concerning neighborhood change, ethnic succession and changing self-images are therefore part of my personal biography. However, this exposition should not be seen as merely gratuitous. Karl Mannheim's discussions on the Sociology of Knowledge caution the social scientist on the importance of understanding the social position of science and scientists in attaining maximum objectivity. In a related vein, Max Weber considered the issue of the social scientist as an activist, researcher and teacher. He emphasized that a scientist must be able to distinguish between what he sees in society and what he would like to see. Both noted how one's values can influence objectivity. With these thoughts in mind, my remarks are intended to give the reader some benchmarks from which to better evaluate this work.

As to whether or not this book is biased, I would respond: "Of course it is!" No social product is value-free. However, by making clear one's point of view, the error due to bias is reduced. Being political as well as social animals, sociologists also have political orientations which affect the way they see the world, the problems they choose to study, their methods, the conclusions they reach and the suggestions they make as possible solutions to problems. For lack of a better label, I am a "pragmatist"; not only believing that there is a connection between how we think and how we act in society, but that we "ought to" act as we think. In this regard, my sociological research and writing parallel my civic activism aimed at reducing inter-group conflict and achieving the maximum degree of social and economic equality for all members of society.

If one denotes in my work a great degree of sociocultural equivocation, it can be assumed that it is not accidental. For example, I am less concerned with discrimination against one particular group in American society than with discrimination in general. Finally, I hope by this brief expose that whatever errors the reader discovers in the text become as valuable as the "correct" conclusion at which I arrive.

One last point ought to be made about the purpose or intention of this book. It is granted that books are written for purely personal reasons--academic tenure, income, promotion, ego-gratification or having nothing else to do with one's time are equivalent in this regard. There are also altruistic reasons for publications. From my point of view, however, it is difficult to separate serving various communities, such as the professional and academic communities, from serving one's self. As a social scientist and a community activist, I have frequently criticized, from a safe distance and up close, the policies and programs of public and private agencies involved in alternately maintaining and destroying city environments. It is relatively easy to criticize when your own positions are not exposed to scrutiny. This work, I believe, makes clear my positions on many matters affecting city neighborhoods and residents. It also indicates some practical and theoretical approaches to community study and development which have been more or less ignored in prior efforts. I hope that the ideas presented here lead to further development and elaboration by others and that they may in some way influence the actions and attitudes of those empowered to maintain our urban environments.

This book was originally published by The University Press of America in 1982.

To Acknowledgements >>

Note to Preface

1. George Herbert Mead on Social Psychology: Selected Papers, ed. with intro. by Anselm Strauss (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964), pp. 65-82.

To Acknowledgements >>