Experts seldom talk about one of the driving forces behind urban sprawl. White flight began the exodus of whites from city centers, and racial segregation is still a factor in perpetuating sprawl. In the first of a two-part series, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports on the issue that’s often overlooked:
Experts seldom talk about one of the driving forces behind urban sprawl. White
flight began the
exodus of whites from city centers, and racial segregation is still a factor in
In the first of a two-part series, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports on the issue that’s often
Land use advocates argue that urban sprawl and deteriorating inner cities are two
sides of the
same coin. The tax money that pays for new roads and sewer systems for sprawl and the
investments that pay for new strip malls is money that’s spent at the expense of
because it’s not invested there.
For the most part, all of that investment is made in communities that are
Those left behind in the cities are often people of color who are struggling with
high taxes to pay
for the deteriorating infrastructure and government services designed for
populations much larger
than are left today.
White flight was aided by government and business institutions. Government home
veterans of World War II that made those nice subdivisions possible didn’t seem to
make it into
the hands of black veterans. Banks often followed a practice of redlining. And
brokers also worked to make sure the races remained segregated.
Reynolds Farley is a research professor at the University of Michigan’s Population
Center. Farley says today, when planners and government officials talk about white
segregation, they talk in the past tense. They don’t like to acknowledge that
racism like that
“Well, I think there is a lot of effort to underestimate the continued importance of
discrimination and the importance of race in choosing a place to live. There’s been
decrease in segregation in the last 20 years. Nevertheless, it would be a serious
overlook the importance of race in the future of the older cities of the Northeast
Farley says as recently as two years ago a federal government study looked at real
marketing practices and found there were still “code phrases” that indicated whether
neighborhoods were white or black.
“Subtle words would clearly convey to white customers the possibility that there are
living there, the schools aren’t in good quality. And the subtle words could convey
that they wouldn’t be welcomed in living in a white neighborhood.”
In the North… racism has evolved from overt to covert. It’s a wariness between
the races not talked about in polite society. It becomes more evident as solidly
middle-class blacks begin to move into older suburbs and whites flee once again to
subdivisions even farther from the city core.
Land Use and ‘Smart Growth’ advocates say it’s time to face up to the continuing
segregation. Charlene Crowell is with the Michigan Land Use Institute. She says it
talking about the fears between white people and black people.
“By not addressing those fears, the isolation and the separation has grown. So,
until we are able
to talk and communicate candidly, then we’ll continue to have our problems.”
But it’s uncomfortable for most people to talk about race with people of another
race. Often we
don’t talk frankly. Crowell says we’ll be forced to deal with our feelings about
race sooner or
later. That’s because as more African-Americans join the middle-class, the suburbs
are no longer
“My hope is that those who feel comfortable in moving further and further away from
core will come to understand that they cannot run, that there are in fact black
are in the suburbs and moving into the McMansions just as many whites are. And we
all have to
look at each other. And we all have to understand that this is one country and we
In cities such as Detroit, white flight led to rampant urban sprawl in the
and left huge pockets of poverty and streets of abandoned houses in the inner city.
Wheeler is the Executive Director of the Detroit chapter of the NAACP. He says
constituents often worry about more pressing urban issues, he knows that it’s
African-Americans living in the city recognize farmland preservation and urban
are connected. The investment that paves over a corn field is investment that’s not
rebuild the city. But… black politicians largely have not been
involved in land use issues and usually they’re not asked to get involved…
“There is a racial divide on this particular issue. Often times African-Americans,
people of color and folk who live in the urban centers are not present at the
Wheeler says policymakers on both sides of the racial divide need to recognize that
issues are as much about abandoned city centers as they are about disappearing
which could put urban legislators and rural legislators on the same team. That’s a
that could carry a lot of sway in many states.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.