Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Who's the Man? And Who's the Dog He Bit?

Posted By on 08.11.09 at 01:21 PM

Mark Brown:

"Some readers, viewers and listeners, however, believe they have detected a pattern all right: that all it takes to make news on the North Side is a mugging while on the South Side it pretty much requires somebody getting killed, and even then, there has to be a sympathetic victim or other extenuating circumstances."

FWIW, the Guardian has taken an interest (via the Windy Citzen). Anyway, Steve Rhodes:

"My God, for how many decades are we going to pose this as a question?"

That's easy: infinity decades. But if we're going to pose the question, might as well pose an answer, which Brown doesn't really do. Here's an economic one.

1. Segregating people segregates wealth. Read Beryl Satter's masterpiece, Family Properties, for a local angle. It makes the very strong case that discriminatory housing practices during the 20th century in south side neighborhoods were not just deleterious to communities, but on a very basic level represented an enormous transfer of wealth from already-impoverished neighborhoods.

How? Discrimination led to shortages of available housing, driving up the price of subpar housing stock, which, among other things, is more expensive to maintain. Limited, expensive housing allowed blockbusting slumlords to take advantage of poor clients in many ways, like cramming more people into buildings, and driving up the price of single family homes, which allowed them to squeeze more money out of buyers until the buyers defaulted, thus allowing landlords to flip the properties and repeat the process.

Seriously, read Family Properties. (Buy it, in hardback, if you can.) It's one of the best books ever written about the city.

2. Segregating wealth segregates power and influence, especially in a metropolis where money greases the skids. Here's a passage from former Reader reporter Gary Rivlin's Fire on the Prairie, starring Dick Mell:

"By mid-1984 there were more than a few of the 29 [the anti-Harold-Washington contingent of the mid-80s 'Council Wars' City Council] as fed up with [Harold] Washington as Mell. Let's give him nothing the more hawkish members of the 29 [which also included Ed Burke] said. Thus when Washington introduced a $95 million bond measure to fix the city's crumbling streets, sidewalks, and sewers, there was no eagerness among the 29 to lend their support.

"Later Mell would regret his candor about his opposition to the bond proposal, but in a talkative mood one morning he confessed to a journalist that there was a lot of the bond measure that made sense. He said it was exactly the kind of project proposal that in years past would fly through the council without debate. 'I could use the four miles in [street] resurfacing,' Mell said. 'We definitely need it here in the ward, and it wouldn't cost that much.' The problem, he said, was that Washington's plan favored the city's black communities.

"Mell or one of his colleagues was always making this claim.... In a letter to his captains distributed throughout the ward, Mell implored voters to stand up against Washington's 'policies of neglect to our community.' Only if Washington is put out of office, the letter continued, will 'we, as taxpayers, be in a position to demand our fair share of city services and projects that have been nonexistent since the election of Harold Washington.'

"Yet a listing of projects that Washington sought to fund with the bond proposal showed that sixty-three percent of the bond money was designated for wards represented by the majority bloc, though the twenty-nine constituted fifty-eight percent of the city's fifty aldermen. [Fast Eddie] Vrdolyak's Tenth Ward was in line for more money than thirty-nine other wards. Three of the four wards slated to receive the most money were represented by an alderman aligned with Vrdolyak.

"Sure it's a good proposal, [Mell] said, fair and equitable. 'But the sad situation is, in fact, it is naive to ask why this isn't being done or why isn't that being done just because they're good-government positions. There are some who believe that to get rid of Harold Washington is good government because we simply can't take four more years of him. Maybe... two years of not having this [bond] is worth ten years of political stability in this city....'"

3. Segregating wealth and power segregates media attention, both because the media is drawn to where the sausage is made within city government, and because the media is drawn to advertiser-friendly audiences which, obviously, tend to be wealthier.

And, thus: Chicago and Chicago media. Awhile back Michael Miner asked whether Chicago is more complacent than other cities: "Where are Chicago's agitators?" If it is, I think this has a lot to do with it.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Whet Moser

  • —30—

    A farewell, and some favorite pieces from the Reader.
    • Jan 14, 2011
  • The Very Political Life of Bill Daley

    Bill Daley: lifetime centrist
    • Jan 14, 2011
  • The Hidden Hands

    The Hidden Hands

    In every successful campaign—and every dud—pros are masterminding and organizing from offstage. Meet the people behind six mayoral candidates.
    • Jan 13, 2011
  • More »

Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
Dirty Butterfly Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church
November 03
Performing Arts
Finding Neverland Cadillac Palace Theatre
November 29

Tabbed Event Search

The Bleader Archive

Popular Stories