Live and Let Live: Diversity, Conflict, and Community in an Integrated Neighborhood

Live and Let Live: Diversity, Conflict, and Community in an Integrated Neighborhood

Live and Let Live: Diversity, Conflict, and Community in an Integrated Neighborhood

Live and Let Live: Diversity, Conflict, and Community in an Integrated Neighborhood

Synopsis

We are in a bind," writes Evelyn M. Perry. While conventional wisdom asserts that residential racial and economic integration holds great promise for reducing inequality in the United States, Americans are demonstrably not very good at living with difference. Perry's analysis of the multiethnic, mixed-income Milwaukee community of Riverwest, where residents maintain relative stability without insisting on conformity, advances our understanding of why and how neighborhoods matter. In response to the myriad urban quantitative assessments, Perry examines the impacts of neighborhood diversity using more than three years of ethnographic fieldwork and interviews. Her in-depth examination of life "on the block" expands our understanding of the mechanisms by which neighborhoods shape the perceptions, behaviors, and opportunities of those who live in them. Perry challenges researchers' assumptions about what "good" communities look like and what well-regulated communities want. Live and Let Live shifts the conventional scholarly focus from "What can integration do?" to "How is integration done?"

Excerpt

Diversity can work, but making it work is a messy, contentious business.

—Peter Skerry, “Beyond Sushiology: Does Diversitylity in the United States. On the other hand, it seems we’re not very good at living with difference. Researchers have found that the tensions and conflicts associated with heterogeneity pose significant challenges to community engagement, order, and stability. When it proves too difficult to fashion harmony out of dissonance, certain groups are pushed out or flee. The concentration on integration’s potential or its expected failure has left us with little understanding of how residents of stably mixed neighborhoods manage to live with diversity.

In July 2007, I returned to my native Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and moved into a rented flat in the racially and economically mixed Riverwest neighborhood. A student of cities and inequality, I was intrigued by this unusual place, which had managed to remain integrated for over three decades. Throughout that time, residents and onlookers had warned of impending sweeping changes. They had predicted that the neighborhood would be swallowed by the ghetto one day, and forecasted the arrival of the gentry the next. Yet Riverwest has neither tipped nor flipped. Somehow, neighborhood residents have figured out how to live with difference. Don Sitko, a police officer who works in the neighborhood, puzzles over this pluralistic place: “I think just any way you could possibly put it, that has to be the most diverse area I have ever seen. I would have to believe that if you wanted to build a sod hut, you could. And if you wanted to paint your house deer hunter’s orange, you could do it…. I think everybody is striving to be something different, but you know what, they are all together. And they all seem, no matter who it is, to survive…. And I bet you if they had a block party, they would all come out and all hoist a beer, and do whatever they wanted to do. And nobody would think anything of it because that’s the way Riverwest is. It’s just unique.” Although Riverwest may seem unique, particularly in a hypersegregated city like Milwaukee, an increasing share of metropolitan neighborhoods are integrated. Since cities in the United States are becoming more . . .

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