The Pitfalls of the City

The Pitfalls of the City:

When considering the American landscape, there are three geographical spaces for living: the city, the rural, the suburbs. Each space has advantages and disadvantages for its residents. Each space containing unique characteristics. The cities that span across this country have the unique quality of representing both wealth and poverty. There is a juxtaposition and the definition of a city varies based on its residents. For one it can be a beautiful apartment overlooking Central Park in New York City, while another lives on the streets just outside. Two polar opposite experiences that are each defined by a city.

City Skyline GIPHY  

1 The “definition” of a city: Can there be one definition for a city? How does one create a definitive and all encompassing meaning for a place that has changed and developed over time? Merriam- Webster defines a city as “an inhabited place of greater size, population, or importance than a town or village”.  In the book, The Organic City, takes an extensive look into the development of the city through 19th and 20th century. As the city became popular “during the late nineteenth century, Americans confronted the challenge of a seemingly new urban form.  Americans [were] attempting to impose order on a rapidly changing society caught in the throes of industrialization and urbanization, the men and women interested in urban affairs embraced the notion of interdependence popular in descriptions of society and started to view the city as an organism- as an interdependent system of complementary parts or neighborhoods.” Urban Sociologist Ernest W. Burgess in 1926 also defined a city as an “organism” (pg 1). Cities are an organism in the sense that they are a system that is both dependent and also interdependent. The city influences the people while the people also influence the city. The rapid increase and development of cities develops a diverse demographic of people and industries. This results in different experiences and the inequalities of life to develop. [1]

2 Housing Divide in Cities: There is no doubt that there are class difference across not only America but also the world but there is no better place to see the clash and divide of class like housing in cities. Although there are classes that help define economic differences there is a clear racial wealth gap. The racial wealth gap between white and black homeownership in cities is significant. Through the process of privatization or “de facto segregation” is commonly thought of as private activity. This private activity is what led to highly segregated cities and the movement of upper class whites to the suburbs. In Richard Rothstein’s book, The Color of Law, he points out that the private activity and segregation would not have been possible without the government laws that explicitly promote white and black segregation. The housing segregation led to the exploitation of the blacks in cities and over time has created a huge wealth gap. The lack of attention paid to those in the lower economic bracket has allowed for the continuation of neglect to these communities and people. [2]

The Color of Law

3 Crime in Cities: In the late 1990’s there appeared to be a decrease in crime throughout American cities. This would make people believe that living conditions in cities were evening out and that the city was becoming gentrified in a positive way. This lack or decrease of crime in cities did not last long. In the mid 2000’s, there was a spike in crime in American cities. The main spike in crime is coming from the poorer areas of cities such as the south side of LA. Police in many of the poor parts of cities say that of the many factors that contribute to this rise in crime that high poverty rates is one of the key factors. People in these poorer parts of the city are joining gangs and getting guns due to the easy access. The desperation many of these people is causing many to commit both senseless crimes as well as crimes out of desperation; “Seventy-one percent of the cities surveyed had an increase in homicides, 80 percent had an increase in robberies, and 67 percent reported an increase in aggravated assaults with guns.” [3]

Police tape across city skyline

4 Housing and Crime: The mix of neighborhoods and crime in cities. The demographic of neighborhoods influences the residents as well as the crime.  A wealthy upper class tends to inhabit the nicer areas of the city while the poorer and generally black class is left with little to live off of. The poor are left in the neighbors with little and generally ignored by the city. In these areas there is a lot of crime. In a study done by the University of Wisconsin, they examine the mix of both crime and the housing crisis in many cities. The start of the problem lies with the white avoidance. [4] While the socioeconomic demographics between whites and blacks is shrinking (albeit not entirely quickly), the mix of neighborhoods does not show this. Blacks are still being segregated in housing even though it is more of a social practice. Whites have said that they would move out of neighborhoods that are 1/3 or more black. [4] This is the start of the problem. The segregation allows of the development of neighborhoods and areas that are not diverse. Without the resources being put in to the development of the poorer areas, these areas continue to remain underdeveloped. The areas that are predominately black are perceived to have more crime. This seems like a chicken and egg situation. Do these areas have more crime because they are underdeveloped? If this is the case, they will never improve if people continue to turn a blind eye to the areas in need. This is causing a stereotype of black neighborhoods to be created and perpetuated across this country. It has incredibly negative repercussions.

5 Atlanta Housing and Crime: The University of Georgia did a case study on Atlanta and crime. They looked at how crime changed the further away from the public housing you got. This is an important study because it assumes that those with a poorer background will have a higher crime rate. Public housing was a huge urban establishment in the early 1950’s where “many have evolved into warehouses for the most disadvantaged segments of the urban population, intensifying racial/ethnic segregation and the social isolation of their residents” [5] Many state the lack of attention paid to this buildings along with the people these buildings attract, that they are resulting in surrounding neighborhoods to also have the same demographic. When looking at the Atlanta crime and public housing the correlation is clear. In Atlanta, “predominantly black neighborhoods in close proximity to public housing exhibit the highest crime rates, but those further removed from public housing sites are no more likely to exhibit high crime rates than predominantly white neighborhoods.” [5] One can assume that this is not unique to just the Atlanta city but also is reproduced in the majority of cities across America.

Chicago Crime: Chicago is one of the most crime ridden cities in America. There are many crimes commit there every day. I personally have many family members that live both in the suburban and urban spaces of Chicago. There are clear areas of the city that one should not go in to alone. Getting lost in downtown in Chicago can be terrifying. This fear arises out of the distrust people feel towards the areas residents. Much of the crime in Chicago is organized crime that steams for gangs. The crimes tend to be violent. Last year as of June 30th, Chicago had already had 1,760 people shot by guns. [6] That is an incredibly high number. That is a problem. Many if not all these shootings were taking place in the most poor areas in Chicago. At this point last year, Trump also decided to send the Feds in as an attempt to prevent further crime. This violence in Chicago is not new, but rather is an epidemic that reoccurs year after year. It is horrible to think that there is an issue that people are turning a blind eye to even though they are aware of the problem. Last year Chicago, which is the third largest city in the country, had more than twice the number of murders as LA or NYC. [7] Although with the intervention of the Feds, the crime still persists. Many of the reasons why there is so much crime in Chicago is because of the racial makeup of certain parts of the city. Those living in the poor area of the city are desperate to live and do whatever they need in order survive.

Cartoon “Fleeing Violence” From the Chicago Tribune
Cartoon from Progress Illinois

Police Brutality in Cities: Police brutality is something not unfamiliar to us. There have many examples in the 21st century that reinforce the idea of unfair policing. Many of the poor policing practices and discrimination that we see today stems from the miss conduct of policing in the 1960s. In the early 1960’s there was the eruption of the Civil Rights Movement. Many blacks fighting for their rights came to clash with the police in certain areas. Police at this time used extreme force as a way to prevent protests from moving forward. This level of force was not necessarily new but now was in the public eye. The idea that police could be brutal to the blacks in this country was instilled in their practice. Out of the violence that was emerging, the US government in 1968 attempted to take action. A commission was created and the ultimate findings were that “the nation is moving toward two societies, one black and one white — separate and unequal” and as the Marshall Project, a non for profit news paper, states these findings still “ring true”. [8] The report found determined that it was not the police’s’ fault rather the fault of the black Americans. This shows the systematic issues that cities face with race and police. The blame is not placed on the government rather the individual. At time when cities were meant to be integrating, there appeared to be more racial segregation than ever. The policing issue of the late 1960’s allowed for mayoral candidates to call for a more integrated police force. [8] This integrated police force in Atlanta at the time is what some site as being the problem in the Atlanta Serial Murders. Over the years and since this report emerged, city police and the unfair violence against minorities has continued to occur. Many state that nothing has changed since the extreme brutality of the policing in the 1960’s. Many lawmakers chose to ignore the racial/class issue and instead attempt to fix the policing. This is the wrong way to go about it because most of the crime issues stems from poverty and inequality on all levels in America. [8]


8 Gender in Cities: The overarching theme of cities is that there is a huge group of people that are being ignored. They are being left out of the story. Although many of those forgotten are because of race, there are also many of the LGBTQ community that are ignored. Their stories not being told and spaces for them to thrive are not being created. A prime example of this is the police raid that occured in NYC at the bar Blue’s in the fall of 1982. [9] Although this event created a huge amount of controversy within the community and on top of that was overly violent, the media paid no attention to this. The raid essentially went ignored. This is an example of the city choosing to ignore those that do not fit its “mold”. The police were discriminating against those different from them. (sound familiar?) This phenomenon is something that blacks have been also facing in cities for years. This is also another example of the housing privatization choice who is ignored. The people in the LGBTQ community were all put in to neighborhoods by themselves. These neighborhoods are still define today. Many policies, whether lawful or not, have created policy violence and exclusion. The gentrification has only proved positive for a certain group and exclusionary to everyone else.

Blues protest 1982

9 The Atlanta Monster: Born and raised in Atlanta, I take tremendous pride in my city but there was also something missing from my knowledge about my beloved home. In 1979-81, 28 young black kids from the downtown area of Atlanta were either missing or murdered. This is an incredibly high number of murders in such a small amount of time. Few people took notice and the murders continued to occur. Finally after people begging for help, the government began to take action. People at the time recall the fear and lack of help they received. It’s hard not to think that had this occured in another part in the city with more affluent white kids that measures would have been taken almost immediately. These kids seemed to be forgotten in a time when they were in desperate need of protection. The podcast “Atlanta Monster” takes an investigative look in to the story of the kids and what transpired in the city at the time. Nearly 40 years later this is still something that goes untalked about in the city. It is almost like they are trying to cover it up, but the reality is this is happening all over the country. Crimes are being committed in cities and because they are not happening to the wealthiest or dominate group they are going ignored. Especially interesting is that at this time Atlanta had their first black mayor. One would have thought that this would have made people pay more attention to the serial killings and yet this is not what happened. This is still present in cities across the country today where people are being ignored because they are not deemed important. [10]

The Atlanta Monster Podcast cover

10 The Future of Cities: The Wired has an article that describes what cities will look like in the future. The only thing missing is that it does not talk about the demographics or the human make up of the cities. The article opens by stating “around the second decade of the 20th century, things changed. Cities started to happen on purpose. Beginning with New York City’s zoning laws in 1916, development began to occur by commission, not omission. Laws and regulations dictated the shape of the envelope.” [11] This current day article talks nothing about the past and the developments of cities rather the improvements cities will make in the future. I included this article because it shows how cities look to move forward but there is no talk about the development of the “problem” areas. How can a city move forward if it continues to ignore the citizens that need help the most. While it is important to celebrate our improvements it is important to recognize the pitfalls and attempt to fix our previous mistakes. [11]



Ferkenhoff, Eric , and Darnell Little. “The Bleeding of Chicago.” CityLab, 27 Feb. 2018,

Gorner, Jeremy. “As feds help Chicago on guns, Trump aide says city’s crime more about ‘morality’.”, 1 July 2017,

Hanhardt, Christina B. “Broken Windows at Blue’s: A Queer History of Gentrification and Policing.”, 14 June 2016,

Larson, Sarah. “”Atlanta Monster”: In Pursuit of Justice and a Hit Podcast.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 12 Feb. 2018,

Library, Yoichi Okamoto/LBJ, et al. “How a Landmark Report on 1960s Race Riots Fell Short on Police Reform.” The Marshall Project, 2 Mar. 2018,

Mcnulty, Thomas L., and Steven R. Holloway. “Race, Crime, and Public Housing in Atlanta: Testing a Conditional Effect Hypothesis.” Social Forces, vol. 79, no. 2, 2000, p. 707., doi:10.2307/2675514.

Melvin, Patricia Mooney. Organic city: urban definition and neighborhood organization 1880-1920. Univ Pr Of Kentucky, 2014,

Nodjimbadem, Katie. “The Racial Segregation of American Cities Was Anything But Accidental.”, Smithsonian Institution, 30 May 2017,

Quillian, Lincoln, and Devah Pager. “Black Neighbors, Higher Crime? The Role of Racial Stereotypes in Evaluations of Neighborhood Crime.” American Journal of Sociology, vol. 107, no. 3, Nov. 2001, pp. 717–767., doi:10.1086/338938.

Rogers, Adam. “8 Cities That Show You What the Future Will Look Like.” Wired, Conde Nast, 1 May 2017,

Rothstein, Richard. “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.” Economic Policy Institute, 2017,

Zernike, Kate. “Violent Crime in Cities Shows Sharp Surge.” The New York Times, 9 Mar. 2007,

3 Replies to “The Pitfalls of the City”

  1. I think this is very thorough, but maybe go into more depth about what structural practices exist that prevent people of color from moving into certain neighborhoods.

  2. It is a very interesting topic, and really well written. It’s an enjoyable read, and the spelling/grammar looks good. I would suggest maybe adding some more medias, like videos, gifs, or more pictures to some that don’t have any. #3,4,5,6, and 10 need medias.

  3. This is really interesting. I think you would benefit by adding more media into the listicle, perhaps one per bullet point. Videos and songs will also help engage the reader. Also, I think you should number your footnotes because the reader can’t see which footnotes belongs to which paragraph. Overall good job!

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