Race, Poverty, and American Cities

Race, Poverty, and American Cities

Race, Poverty, and American Cities

Race, Poverty, and American Cities


This volume was conceived in the spring of 1992 in sober reflection on the urban crisis plaguing this nation. It came to birth in spring 1995 in the face of growing division between rich and poor, whites and "minorities," urban and suburban populations, "haves" and "have-nots."

In April 1992 America's imagination was gripped by the image of cities burning. A sense of the surreal suffused the nation. White police officers, videotaped in the act of severely beating a black man, Rodney King, were freed by the criminal justice system. Fires leveled South Central Los Angeles, and man-made devastation surpassed that wrought by earthquakes and other natural disasters. Racial tensions flared, sparking both anger and anguish. Political analysts' and broadcasters' words paled beside the poet's:

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Los Angeles--land of fantasy--came to symbolize the grim realities of the new "urban crisis," one that drew the nation's attention, for a time, until it turned its head.

The South Central riots and their aftermath prompted myriad questions and provided few answers. Will forces such as those at work in Los Angeles in 1992 trigger a growing incidence of urban unrest in the days ahead? Is urban deterioration inevitable? If so, have our great cities outlived their time? Is poverty inextricably linked to race and ethnicity? Are the roots of racism deeper than we can or will acknowledge? Has our system of laws permitted inequity and injustice to persist or simply failed to provide a cure? Have intransigent afflictions such as these defeated our collective imagination or only our will? What lessons might be gleaned from prior incidents of urban strife to shape our policies for the future? No less troubling is the growing recognition that none of these questions can readily be answered in isolation. Instead, meaningful solutions to the problems plaguing America's cities must be premised on a better understanding of how attitudes about race and poverty, and the fate of evolving urban centers, are inextricably intertwined.

Nearly four years after the South Central riots, the country's urban crisis and the interrelated issues of race and poverty seem no less pressing and . . .

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