In Chicago, neat rows of distinctive bungalows line the streets in many neighborhoods (known collectively as the Bungalow Belt). Many of these homes were built in approximately the 1910s and 1920s.
On the Southside, a good number of these homes have been suffering a disturbing fate: as longtime owners age, their children have been selling/losing the family homes at an alarming rate. This trend began over a decade ago, (long before the current economic crisis) and continues, creating a perfect storm of community erosion. Once proud manicured blocks are now marred with boarded up windows and overgrown shrubbery. The homes that families worked for a generation to own are being lost in a period of a few years (in some cases, even less). Some are being lost due to the monetary strains that owning an aging home can create, others are being lost because the younger generation doesn’t value the home (particularly its location in the heart of the city). What is being erased is a seldom told story that author Mary Pattillo-McCoy attempted to document in her 1999 book, Black Picket Fences.
According to the author:
The goal of Black Picket Fences is to richly describe the neighborhood-based social life of a population that has received little scholarly or popular attention—the black middle class. The black middle class and their residential enclaves are nearly invisible to the nonblack public because of the intense (and mostly negative) attention given to poor urban ghettos. Substantial downward mobility signals that there are systematic obstacles to ensuring [a] transfer of class status.
Due to the proximity of these Black Urban Middle Class neighborhoods to other neighborhoods, their survival is directly linked to the survival of Urban residents in more impoverished areas. To be clear, the Black Urban Middle Class is most cases are by no means rich. Many are teachers or plumbers, or other hard working folks. But due to proximity, their dollars positively impact all the communities around them: some are small business owners, and many have the expendable income to support various charitable endeavors and local initiatives.
But the younger generation of more mobile Blacks is leaving the cities in droves, and in many cases, is more reliant on credit than ever before. This is partly what attributed to the recent dip in the average median net worth for Black Households (the typical black household had just $5,677 in wealth (assets minus debts) in 2009)
I have said repeatedly that I think “escaping” the problems of the city by moving outside of its limits is doing a disservice to so many people (including ourselves). The strong, vibrant, creative communities we dream about require a commitment to build it. There’s nothing but opportunity in empty storefronts and two-flats. What do you want to see?