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July 9th, 2008

I took T. to Target today with the goal of buying some more 4T clothes for him for when we are completely focused on A. and trying to sleep and similar. I believe I have mentioned earlier that R. has done something similar at Costco once, and it usually takes 4 or 5 of these kinds of collection efforts to assemble enough clothes for a given size range. I figured it would be air-conditioned, involve a drive in the van, they sell goldfish crackers and junky beverages and have a decent toy selection. The main problem with T. in a toy section is he wants to pull down everything he already owns. The good news is, he's starting to understand the you-already-have-that explanation for why he isn't getting it.

Today, he got the Fisher-Price Laughtop, which is really quite shockingly similar to the VTech Tote n Go laptop. Go figure. This happened after we picked up the requested goldfish crackers. He's in a toddler mode now where he'll ask for something, I'll say, we'll get some later, we get it later, he says no and tries to throw it when handed to him, I put it back and stand there silently for about 15-45 seconds, he asks for it again (or reaches for it himself), accepts it, and we continue on our way. If I try to discuss it with him, or leave without the item, a massive tantrum ensues. I'm chalking it up to (a) transition issues and (b) just what exactly does no mean, anyway? Like I said, toddler mode.

I even managed to get some clothes for him.

The section 8 stuff was on NHPR, I think Fresh Air, but hey, don't hold me to it, because I thought the author being interviewed was Charlotte Mecklenburg about an article in the Atlantic, but when I _went_ to the Atlantic online later and read the article, which is here:

http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/memphis-crime

It's by Hanna Rosin. *shrug*

The coverage was virtually identical to the article, so you don't need to track down the audio.

The story is simple, if sad. Memphis has a crime problem, which is not particularly new, but the scale has gotten worse and the location of the violent crime has shifted. They got rid of their public housing projects in favor of Section 8 vouchers (common trend). And a couple of academic types who were working closely with government services types noticed that (a) the city was now super safe and (b) the crime tracked the section 8 housing locations. Eerily well. Discussion of how a lot of the people who made this all happen don't want to hear this/feel real bad about it ensues, along with some relatively decent coverage of how the now-gentrified inner areas are segregated pretty hard. In new buildings that include some of the old project residents who qualified under strict I-am-compliant-and-not-wicked-at-all-no guidelines, along with new (white) families with children, there's not a whole lot (any?) cross-socializing going on.

Are we surprised? No, we are not surprised.

The coincidence came in the form of e-mail from Lincoln Institute, which has an article in their latest publication on the subject of people-based vs. place-based programs. You may have to register (free, and totally worthy) to get at this link:

http://www.lincolninst.edu/pubs/download-thankyou.asp?doc_id=719

Written in a very different style than the Atlantic piece, it discusses the tradeoffs of how to help poor people effectively. It notes things like: place-based programs have a tendency to disproportionately help property owners (who probably aren't the poor ones) and displace the poorest and most marginalized. Economic zones in particular may not lead to many new jobs, and those that are created may well go to new in-migrants. People-based programs (section 8 vouchers, transfer payments, etc.) don't directly address the missing infrastructure (bad schools, inadequate policing, no decent grocery stores, etc.). It points out that place-based programs are kind of a cheap proxy for actually identifying the people who need help -- and notes that it's not that great a proxy, anyway.

It isn't an _encouraging_ article, per se. But let's not forget this old chestnut from Matthew 26:11 -- "You will always have poor people with you." Descriptions of reality are often discouraging.

And that really is the weakest part of the Atlantic article. There's a list in it:

"According to FBI data, America’s most dangerous spots are now places where Martin Scorsese would never think of staging a shoot-out—Florence, South Carolina; Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina; Kansas City, Missouri; Reading, Pennsylvania; Orlando, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee."

There's a really brutally fucking obvious thing that most of these places have in common: they're in the South. Sure, Missouri is considered Midwest, but it's considered Southern for at least prominent definitions. And while Reading is north of Mason-Dixon, it's not by very much. What's being portrayed as a Section 8 voucher problem in this article, is in fact a pretty classic case of White/Rich People moving the Black/Poor People out of the Newly Desirable areas, and not really caring too much about where they wind up. Predictably, they land in a place that isn't exactly having a great time of it anyway and suffers from a lot of the inadequate infrastructure discussed in the Lincoln Institute article. Worse, the social services that used to be readily available are NOT because they're in the suburbs with no decent transportation. And the people _in_ those low density neighborhoods are not prepared to deal with the kinds of crap that the worst of the relocated are capable of.

Historically, the pattern was straightforward: the people with choices kept moving further out from the problems. But it wasn't just this last rise in gas prices that made the exurbs not so desirable -- the time lost to the commute -- especially for young families that want to actually spend time with each other -- was increasingly a deal breaker. So the cities got more desirable and had to be cleaned up. And they were. Instead of going further out, they went all the way back in. But nothing about the pattern as a whole has changed. Those people with choices always left behind housing stock, aging infrastructure, etc., that the next tranche down moved into. Elephants. All the way down.

Let this be a warning to anyone who thinks the suburbs are a great place to stay because they're cheaper. And we'd probably better keep on trying to figure out ways to increase the equitability of our society, too, even _if_ the poor will always be with us. After all, Jesus isn't here to do the heavy lifting.