Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Ethnic Neighborhoods and Urban Revitalization: Can Europe Use the American Model?

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Ethnic Neighborhoods and Urban Revitalization: Can Europe Use the American Model?

Article excerpt

It is difficult to find a major American city today that has not used ethnic-theme neighborhoods in a revitalization strategy. "Little Italys" play major roles in the personalities of New York City, Boston, Massachusetts, Baltimore, Maryland, Cleveland, Ohio, San Diego, California, and a number of other cities. Columbus, Ohio, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, have German villages. Detroit, Michigan, and Chicago, Illinois, have Greek towns. Chinatowns are common from Philadelphia and New York in the East to San Francisco, California, and Vancouver, British Columbia, in the West. San Antonio, Texas, Los Angeles, California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, celebrate a Mexican heritage. Even black neighborhoods, long seen as nothing to be proud of--the Harlem Renaissance notwithstanding--are now recognized as important places; Sweet Auburn in Atlanta, Georgia, and Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, are notable examples. More recently, Little Saigons have appeared from Washington, D.C., to Orange County, California. Nearly all of these cities view ethnic districts as cultural and economic assets. The districts are places to be promoted in the tourist literature as interesting places to eat, shop, and be entertained. They are places that enrich local culture and add to the spice of urban life.

Sometimes, entire towns have been completely transformed in an effort to create--and often invent--ethnic landscapes. Solvang, California, used a Danish village architectural theme to attract investment and filled nearly every building in the center of town with Nordic shops and restaurants. Leavenworth, Washington, has used many of the same procedures to make itself totally Bavarian (Frenkel and Walton 2000). Meanwhile, Santa Fe has been plastered into a replica of Taos-style pueblos. Throughout the United States there are Amish towns and "Wild West" towns, most with some variation on the ethnic identity theme. Despite the obvious inauthenticity, most of these places have some sort of kitschy charm and are economic assets for their regions. Indeed, Dydia DeLyser suggested that place authenticity, not adherence to an accurate architectural history, is what works for people on the ground (1999).

Our purpose in this article is to explore the idea that American-style ethnic-theme districts can serve to help revitalize declining central-city districts in Europe. European cities are now experiencing two trends that make them more like their U.S. counterparts. First, many of them have an increasingly large, exotic, non-European immigrant population, and, second, growing numbers of marginal, if not skid-row, central-city neighborhoods could benefit from focused revitalization efforts. We use the examples of Little Italy in San Diego, California, and an emerging Chinatown in Trieste, Italy, to compare possible procedures for using the celebration of ethnic identity in the promotion of marginal central-city districts.

CHANGING PERCEPTIONS OF AMERICAN ETHNIC DISTRICTS: THE STORM BEFORE THE CALM

The positive view of the role that ethnic districts can play in American cities has not always prevailed. As most students of urban history know, it was not that long ago that ethnic diversity in the United States meant inevitable conflict and turf battles (Ward 1971). Beginning with massive Irish immigration during the 1840s, many cities practiced extreme discrimination, exclusion, and even organized violence to suppress "un-American" ethnic groups. The Irish, Russian Jews, Chinese, African Americans, and Mexicans had some of the worst experiences, but it was not uncommon for everyone from French Canadians to Poles to have their cultural identities suppressed. Even the Germans, arguably the largest group of "foreigners" to populate the American continent, were often seen as an undesirable element, especially in times of war. In Columbus, for example, a solidly German neighborhood that had its start as early as the 1820s became extremely suspect during and just after World War I. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.