Historian Tom Sugrue--who writes about social movements, civil rights, race, Detroit, and a host of other subjects--spoke at Wayne State this a.m. Here are some notes from his talk:
--Obama's white house emphasizes urban policy initiatives more than any administration since Carter's...this could have significant implications for urban centers in the "north"
--Historians often overlook civil rights struggles in the North to focus on the mythic "south," about which it's easier to craft a narrative of progress.
--North had its share of atrocities, eg crow's nests at movie theaters and "negro days" at city pools, and programs like the V.A. and various home loan programs systematically excluded African-Americans
--Public policy aided and abetted these systemic abuses through tax policy, movement of capital out of city centers, etc.
--Urban renewal programs sometimes ravagted black-owned businesses and failed to compensate them when instituting "changes" (which often focused/focus on downtowns, entertainment complexes and the like)
--In Detroit, "Black Bottom" serves as an example
--Mid-century, northern social movements resisted these problematics, often with aid of left-leaning Protestant and Jewish congregations and communities
--By mid-60s, more and more of the resistance shifted to electoral efforts (e.g., munie and state-level government)
--Two distinct strategies developed during this moment: metropolitan planning vs. community control.
--First, METROPOLITAN PLANNING: affinities with civil rights movement, but wanted to foster collaboration between cities and their regions (including suburbs). Fought to open up suburban housing markets and redistribute resources across metro areas. Objective was to disperse minorities, give them access to job markets and the whole marketplace as it shifted out of city center into wider area. This camp found the notion of "community" problematic and too boundary-oriented.
--Second, COMMUNITY CONTROL: They found "community" to be a good thing and valued the local, meaning the "city." Fought to maintain activity in city centers. Nurture and empower black communities from ground up. Rejected the MP's perceived top-down orientation and sense of compromise. looked at "micro" level communities, including poor and working-class. The vernacular presence of minorities, socio-economically disadvantaged. They worried the MP ideology would destroy black community by dispersing it. They preferred to mobilize power--not spread it around.
--These two camps were so polarized that they couldn't meet and draw on mutual strengths.
--HUD, from the start, had a regional ideology and resisted the community control paradigm which had become "orthodoxy" in the world of urban planning.
--Mainstream society distrusted the perceived "militance" of community control, but urban planning discourse community was just the opposite, rejecting compromise.
--Community control's hegemony was aided by connections to left student movements and, ironically conservative prez administrations like Nixon who had deep-seated fear of urban unrest and sought to empower city centers to keep city leaders satisfied.
BACK TO OBAMA
--Sugrue wants current administration to synthesize the best that both camps have to offer.
--Both have vision and consciousness and the potential to affect progressive change
--Disempowered won't benefit from further bickering
--Obama's rhetoric calls for "unity" and "metropolitan" cooperation...yet he's rooted in community organizing tradition, which emphasizes community control.
--Hence Obama's in perfect place to lead such a compromise.