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Urban Development

Free Sociology Essays

Urban America: Race Relations

The idea that each citizen of a country should have a roof over his/her head is hardly new. For example, since the times of the antiquity, the governments have been painfully solving the problem of housing for all the people, including the poor, and, admittedly, the humanity was unable to advance far in this matter for many years. Only in the XX century, in the times of the rapid growth of the population, everyones right to a roof over their head was recorded in most constitutions. The United States were among the worlds pioneers in the field of a large-scale construction of affordable houses, which resulted in the rapid urbanization of the large territories of the country. This process has resulted in the concentration and accumulation of economic and cultural potential of the society to large city centers, which has created the conditions for the formation of samples of the material and spiritual activities. Later, these advances have been developed by the others, not the central cities, which gave a new impetus to the development of the city centers. However, the interaction between the social groups is often violated during the urbanization. In particular, social disunity opposes its integrative nature and provokes the clash of antagonistic interests of classes and social groups. Moreover, the private ownership of the land, as well as the conflict between the downtown and suburb areas, often leads to the urban decay. As a result, the problems of unemployment, crime, slums, and ethnically segregated ghettos have become acute for many of the U.S. cities. Out of all the mentioned potential consequences of urbanization, the problem of the race relations in the city, namely in ghettos, is the most relevant as it is always accompanied by social and ethnical conflicts. Therefore, the following work is dedicated to the study of relations between the different races in the urban areas of the U.S.

Urban Development and Race Relations

The U.S. is often associated with the Statue of Liberty, Hollywood, and, of course, skyscrapers. The American cities can be considered an example of a separate culture with its own unique and distinctive style. Currently, the United States is one of the most urbanized countries in the world (Zukin 10).

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The urban development of the U.S. was a historical process that was manifested in the increasing role of cities in the life and development of the society. In particular, it included the changes in socio-demographic and occupational structure of the population, lifestyle, and resettlement of the people, their culture and psychology, as well as the distribution of productive forces. At the same time, the urban development has come at the expense of the formation of wide suburban areas, migration of rural population to the cities, and the conversion of rural areas into urban ones (Silver and Moeser 31).

In the U.S., the rapid urbanization was associated with the rapid development of various industries in the country. The verge of the two centuries is generally considered the most active period of urban development in the United States. During that time, the level of urbanization has increased significantly. The primary sources of inflow of the population of large cities were immigrants and the labor force of all races, which was necessary due to the high scientific and technical progress and the continuous process of industrialization. In order to provide a place for living for all these people, a program of affordable (social) housing has been implemented (Hunter 213). As a result, the urban population has started dominating over the rural one. As for the cities, most often they were compact and large point centers with clear boundaries, which then grew into the large metropolitan areas. To date, more than a half of the Americans live in agglomerations (metropolises) the compact cluster of settlements linked together around a single center with multiple economic, political, cultural, and the other ties (Hunter 127).

However, the process of urban development in the United States has not been always going smoothly. Since the middle of the XX century, the country has been experiencing the so-called suburbanization the movement of the people from the overpopulated downtowns to the suburbs (Wilson 37). In the 1950s, the cities of the United States experienced a massive relocation of the white population to the suburbs caused by the reluctance of the qualified professionals with a high income to share the same land with a population of the African-American and the other ethnic minorities (Silver and Moeser 8). This phenomenon is called the white flight and it has damaged many of the U.S. cities. In particular, as the qualified specialists moved to the suburbs, the infrastructure and taxation moved with them, turning once prosperous districts into the deprived ones. Thus, the white flight was the beginning of the end for many of the industrialized cities (Hunter 212). The primary reason for that was the policy of segregation a separation of the white population of the United States from the other ethnic groups through various social barriers, including the movement of ethnic minorities to the separate blocks and areas (often against their will) or, as in the case of the white flight, the willing relocation of the white population (Silver and Moeser 20). Hence, the entire regions of many cities became segregated, with social and economic conditions within them greatly differing from those in the other districts. These blocks have become known as ghettos the deprived urban areas and the cheap social houses built many years ago. These areas left their inhabitants with little opportunities for moving into the larger world, as the so-called social elevators almost did not work there (Wilson 24).

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Thus, ghettos have become the source of the so-called new urban poverty. Being mostly inhabited by the unemployed people or those who no longer can be considered the labor force, these areas have underdeveloped connections with the local employment networks (Wilson 19).The people that live there become subject to social isolation, which reduces their opportunities of acquiring of acquiring the capital skills, namely the proper education. In turn, this factor contributes to their low social mobility (Wilson 24).The ghetto becomes a paradox of conflict and dilemma. It still gives hope for change for better, as there are many examples of the people that were able to achieve success and leave the ghetto. At the same time, it is characterized by the complete apathy due to the existing social barriers, thus combining the dynamics and stagnation.

In order to understand this social phenomenon, one must keep in mind that the Americans as the nation are the brainchildren of migration, who have began to identify themselves as one after the immigration flows to the country have weakened. Moreover, this multicultural alloy is not always associated with a single idea, as it is often portrayed in the media. Of course, the respect for the countrys ideological policy of equality is implemented effectively, but in the society there is always a place for a cultural ghetto, which often transforms into the real one. In America, there are communities, which often do not even speak English while preserving their language and culture (Zukin 43). Such multiculturalism often serves as the basis for social and ethnic conflicts, which are often solved in the simplest way possible the physical separation of both of their sides.

As a result, the U.S. can rightly be considered the capital of the modern ghetto, a country with the entire ghetto culture. Despite the forbiddance of segregation, almost every city has similar problem areas. There are many reasons for their existence, including a high rate of urbanization, slaveholding past of the country, and, most importantly, the acute social inequality. Architects and city developers are doing everything possible to avoid the ghettoization of cities, but the optimal solution is yet to be found. Ghettos continue to be an integral part of the American reality and are still causing trouble not only to the authorities due to their contribution to the growth of unemployment rate, but also the ordinary Americans by serving as triggers of social and ethnic conflicts.

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Literature Review

The problem of race relations in the urban America has been studied in the works of many authors, including Christopher Silver and John V. Moeser (The Separate City), as well as Marcus Anthony Hunter (Black Citymakers) and William Julius Wilson (When Work Disappears), whose writings were used as a source material for the research. Out of them, the conversation between Silver, Moeser, and Hunter would be the most interesting. First of all, both of the works describe roughly the same period of time (Hunters book covers the entire XX century, but only its second half will be taken into account in the following review). However, the most important aspect of the conversation is the fact that the authors focus on the race relations in the different regions of the U.S. Namely, Silver and Moeser describe the life of the segregated society in the Southern States, which were known as a rampart of slavery in the country until the end of the Civil War. Therefore, the attitude towards African Americans there was mostly negative at the time. On the contrary, Hunter focuses on the role of black people in the life of Philadelphia one of the oldest cities of the American North, which opposed the idea of slavery. Therefore, the conversation between the authors would allow viewing the same period of the U.S. history from different points.

First of all, both works have certain similarities. In particular, both of them describe the difficulties faced by the black Americans during the XX century, including the intolerance from the side of the white population, which was manifested in a variety of social barriers and restrictions. It should be noted that in The Separate City, Silver and Moeser make a comparison of the isolated black communities of the North and the South, identifying both of them as products of discrimination, which coincides with the views of Hunter (Silver and Moeser 8). However, the further study reveals the following differences in these works.

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The book by Silver and Moeser describes the black community of the South as an isolated zone that exists within the large city. As a result, it manages to function separately both in the terms of policy and economy, despite being dependent on its white counterpart (Silver and Moeser 62). As in any city, the black community experiences the division into the social layers and becomes overrun with the internal conflicts. According to the authors, despite the fact that the black people were able to come to power in the South after the end of segregation, their efforts to change the situation in the black communities were futile (Silver and Moeser 140). In general, the inhabitants of this community were set adrift, having no power (or will) to change anything in their lives. At the same time, the very presence of a separate city as well as the inability of the authorities to disband it, has served as a proof of inefficiency of the many-year struggle to remove the racial barriers from the American society. Therefore, the primary takeaway to be drawn from this work is the fact that laws and power alone are not enough to eliminate segregation and racism within the society.

On the contrary, Black Citymakers uses the results of political, historical, and social researches in order to prove that the black inhabitants of Philadelphia are no simple objects of the social and economic changes that have occurred in the American society as a result of the intensive urbanization, i.e. they are no passive observers. Instead, the black Americans of Philadelphia are able to understand the upcoming social changes and create alliances both between themselves and that the other social groups. In turn, these actions have allowed them to organize a movement from the black wards to the new urban enclaves in Philadelphia (Hunter 212-213). As a result, those people are not victims who have been forcibly moved away from their homes and put into ghetto, but the real citymakers and one of the driving forces of the urban development. Therefore, the primary takeaway to be drawn from this book is that each man has the power to shape history, disregarding such factors as race, skin color, and social status, as long as he/she is willing to do so.

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By comparing the abovementioned works, it is possible to say that the argument presented by Hunter is more compelling than that of Silver and Moeser. Indeed, in both cases, the black Americans were oppressed and deprived of many rights, but in the end, the Philadelphian ones were able to shape their own future because they were united by the common goal. On the contrary, the black communities of the South were much more isolated and complex in the terms of social structure. Of course, the mentioned differences in the attitude towards the African-Americans in the North and South may have played their role in the process of urban development. However, in case the Philadelphians had simply given up on making their life better, they would have shared the fate of the inhabitants of the South, being only the observers of the urban development rather than its driving force. All these facts contribute to the relevance of Hunters work, making it more compelling than that of Silver and Moeser, at least from the point of view of the author of this work.


It is possible to say that one cannot give a definite answer whether the urbanization is a positive or negative phenomenon in the history of the U.S. On the one hand, it has turned the United States in the powerful and developed country as it is known today. On the other hand, it has also led to a deepening of social and territorial disparities and social polarization between advanced and underdeveloped areas of downtown and suburbs, the occurrence of the adverse social and economic effects, and, therefore, the deterioration of the living conditions of the urban population, especially the poor. Thus, suburbanization (a rapid growth of the suburban area around the big cities) has occurred, involving primarily the wealthy citizens and serving as a form of escape from the social ills of the city. Moreover, it has led to ghettoization of the entire districts of the large industrial metropolises, with the corresponding social problems. Still, it is possible to say that the effect of urban development largely depends on the social policy conducted by the government. Namely, some metropolitan areas of the U.S. continue to develop, while the others have been abandoned. Therefore, the ability to organize the process of urbanization and monitor the changes are required for minimization of its negative consequences, including those affecting the relationships between the members of multicultural society.

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