Saturday, January 2, 2010

Bad articles at New Geography.

It's true that Portland, Oregon is not as diverse as most American cities. However, this article is quite stupid and really seems to be a simple attempt at contrarianism, and this one is anecdotal, condescending garbage that really doesn't merit reply.

However, I still feel the need to reply to both. I'll start with the second article, "Sushi Without Japanese". He points out that the majority of Latino immigrants end up working in the agricultural sector across the state, as if this phenomenon is unique to Portland and Oregon. I think it self evidently is not. The same with his complaint that new foreign immigrants tend to cluster in autonomous neighborhoods in Portland. Does he not think that this exists in other cities? Has he ever been to a Chinatown elsewhere? Little Italy? Japantown? Furthermore, these clusters likely actually help the new immigrants. They are surrounded by people who are familiar with the problems that immigrants face, people speak their language, and they are allowed to maintain part of their culture. I really don't see how this is a bad thing. Would he prefer that we require cultural assimilation of all new immigrants? Perhaps everyone should eat a double cheeseburger once a week? Fucking idiotic.

The second article has more data behind it, but it is just as historically ignorant. I'm going to assume that his goal is to call out Portland on our "self congratulatory" nature about how livable our city is because those policies have only been "enabled" by a lack of diversity.

But there's really nothing to call out. Portland is the way that is because there was never a diverse enough population to cause all the problems associated with diversity, so white people never fled the city and left it to decay. That is not something that Portland should be apologizing for, rather it is something that other cities should regret. Minorities, and particularly African Americans, never left the big American cities. The only people who did were white. This sentence in particular pissed me off:

Civic leaders in city after city duly make their pilgrimage to Denver or Portland to check out shiny new transit systems, but the resulting videos of smiling yuppies and happy hipsters are not likely to impress anyone over at the local NAACP or in the barrios.

First of all, does Aaron Renn think that the local NAACP or the residents of the barrios run other American cities? I'm pretty sure they don't. Other cities continue to suffer from underinvestment from the government because white people still run the fucking show. So maybe those videos of smiling happy hipsters with their pretentious lattes and blackberries aren't aimed at the people in the barrios. Maybe they are aimed at the suburban whites who still have most of the political power in this country and who may actually be convinced not to cut bus service because someone that looks like them might actually ride it.

Renn also says that "it's easy to have Scandinavian policies if you have Scandinavian demographics". True, but again, the problem in the other cities is not that Black people don't ride mass transit. Philadelphia serves as the perfect example here where almost all the mass transit riders were minorities (in my limited experience). So I think he is framing this wrong. Minorities ride public transit everywhere. Poor people ride mass transit everywhere. The issue is that, unless you have "Scandinavian demographics", white people choose not invest and not ride mass transit (or send their children to public schools, etc.).

Just to be clear: "progressive" things like investing in public transit do benefit poor people and minorities. The difference is that the riders in those other cities may end up being a different color than in Portland, but that doesn't change the benefits. White people don't ride mass transit in other cities, so they don't fund it because they don't see the benefits. So should Portland be called out because their investment in public transit has benefited the mostly white poor as opposed to the more ethnically diverse poor in other cities?

Lastly, his assertion that cities like Houston "welcomed Katrina victims with open arms" can only be spoken by someone who hasn't ever lived in Texas. I was living there, and there were exaggerated horror stories that circulated (mostly amongst whites) about the havoc that the refugees caused upon arrival. In the Texan white community, the refugees were largely seen as criminals, just like they were depicted on television.

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