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Black Lining

Thursday, September 08, 2005
Hey, it's been awhile since a bashed David Brooks. I even liked his last piece. I thought "maybe Katrina has finally gotton Bobo to open his eyes!" Silly me.

In today's foray into Neverland Brooks suggests that there is a silver lining to the whole Katrina disaster - namely that it gives us an opportunity to conduct experiments on New Orleans' poor. He doesn't put it that way, but it's what he's really talking about. Brooks thinks that we should use the blank slate that Katrina has made of New Orleans to disperse the poor into middle-class neighborhoods in the suburbs where their children will learn the habits of the sober American middle class and break out of the cycle of poverty.

Where to begin? The first consequence of moving the poor into subsidized housing in the suburbs (which is what we are really talking about here) is that housing prices will drop and the middle class people in the area will leave. You will have replaced urban poverty with suburban poverty. Speaking of, does Brooks really think that all poor people live in inner cities? If so he has never even seen an exurban region, where so many of them live. Ever heard of a trailer park, Dave?

The second result of this policy will be to gentrify the inner city. Now this appears to be where most cities are moving anyway. In my beloved New York, the poor and middle class are being forced out of town because housing prices are so astronomical. Every time a new building goes up it's for luxury apartments. Now maybe Brooks just doesn't want poor people cluttering up his sidewalk, but I fail to see how just moving around the poor is a real social policy.

I also fail to know where the resources and commitment to this policy are going to come from. Brooks' favorite President and political party have underlined their total contempt for the poor during this tragedy. Do we really believe that they are now going to turn around and use the political and economic capital needed to help them? Puh-lease.

Brooks fails to recognize what is so great about cities: that they mix up people of different backgrounds and classes, block by block. In this way we are forced to deal with fellow citizens who are different from us. This is where the great energy and and creativity of the city comes from. The inner city problem is in part the result of the urban renewal disaster that concentrated the poor. We should be breaking up those masses, but within the city, not outside of it. Moving the poor out the the suburbs won't make them less poor - it will just make them less visible.

Which is what I am guessing Brooks and his Republican friends really want: not to help the poor, but to make them easy to ignore. Because a problem you can't see isn't really a problem, is it?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:02 AM
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