In response to national events this week, this blog will be focused on urban issues related to race, multiculturalism, geography, disparity, and built form. As a way to begin, this is a blog post from 2010 that I wrote looking at the geographic and social conditions of Jamaica Plain in Boston - the neighborhood I lived in at that time. Since then I've relocated to DC and will be exploring urban formal topics like this in the neighborhoods I now encounter. Disparity can be found anywhere, and although the goal is to remove these barriers, perhaps that's not all that should be sought after. What about commonality? What about looking at the ways we come together rather than what divides us as people, as races, as cultures, as communities?
From a previous blog:
A friend sent me a link to a map that shows the demographics of every neighborhood in the country, based on census data gathered from 2005 to 2009.
Here is the site:
Oh how I love easy graphics! So of course I wanted to see how my neighborhood broke down. See below:
All of Boston - pretty green-dotted…except for a few pockets, although the lower middle portion is heavily blue colored. I know this country preaches assimilation, but practice has yet to follow.
And a closer view of Jamaica Plain -
The colors are starting to blend - it’s like a confetti map. It’s kind of tasty looking, like a cupcake.
A related discussion of the day: If the state was completely uninvolved; if race and socio-economics were not so frequently two sides of the same coin; if people made this choice autonomously, no strings attached - which would happen: A complete confetti of colors, or individual color blocks? Would people intermix, or would race groups settle in similar race groups?
JP - I like your colors. But then again, thinking back on the satellite image from an early post and see the housing disparities, one has to recognize…Even if various races and cultures cohabit, are we really cohabiting at all? Where is the line drawn between disparity and cultural preference? And how differently are different race groups living, even if in the same neighborhood?
Looking at the google map (detail blown up from earlier google map), it’s not only the parks that provide the trees. On my daily walk with Lucielle along the Arborway, I pass oaks that act as street trees but can be described as nothing if not mighty - such tremendous trees! In fact, trees seem to act as a spine along which the houses and street patterns grow. There are a few spaces in this image, however, that don’t fit within that category.
Yes there are parking lots, to be sure. Parking lots are great spots for temporal public activities and space usage, although maybe underutilized for that purpose. I’ve never seen the parking lot behind the church (cut off at the top center of the image) used for anything at all, although I don’t think I’ve walked by there on Sunday mornings. Let’s be fair and assume 4 hours a week the parking lot is fully used. how many hours in a week are there? 168? So the parking lot is used 2% of the week. I think I sense the subject of another blog. stay tuned…)
But the other spot that’s evidently different…well, if you didn’t see it before, it is really clear if I strip out some things, and highlight some others, and maybe make all of it monochromatic.
Yay urban forms! By taking everything out of the map but constructed objects, the spatial position of housing and commercial buildings becomes very clear. For instance, it’s evident that the strip running down the center is mainly commercial, right? The buildings are denser and bigger. Those buildings define South Street - the beginning (or end probably, depending on your position) of Jamaica Plain’s main street. The majority of rectangular ants marching are not ticky-tacky at all but rather intensely colorful and varied housing stock that makes up a good portion of this neighborhood. They also are owned or rented primarily by white people. The long skinny blocks in the center of the diagram make for the really interesting spatial discussion. These orange blocks are mid-rise housing originally built for war veterans and their families, but are now run by the Boston Housing Authority for low- to middle-income families, and are primarily black and latino. A total formal shock to the Victorian typology that surrounds it, and without much character on its own. So the demographic maps shows JP to *start* to blend, but upon closer inspection, does it? Ehhh...hmm.
It’s an interesting discussion in the midst of the recent challenge to Masachusetts’ State Law 40 - the affordable housing initiative (which made it through the election cycle of 2010). Enacted in 1969, it is the state’s main affordable housing initiative, but it has undergone pretty serious scrutiny for giving developers too much power and for not focusing enough on the rental market. That is an important piece of legislation, to be sure. But what of the housing stock we already have to deal with? I imagine we can come up with some spatial improvements everyone can agree to.