Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Kids, cities, diversity and social trust

Update on Thursday, Aug. 27: I have a request from reporter Ann Doss Helms: She's trying to find parents of kids who'd be switched from the Myers Park High School attendance zone to East Mecklenburg. Would the person who left the comment on that effect - or anyone else in that category - please contact her at or at 704-358-5033? She wants to hear from people on all sides of the issue.

The comment thread about Best Cities for Kids took an interesting turn last night and this morning. Take a look (link).

Several commenters made the valid point that the U.S. News & World Report rankings appeared to favor relatively affluent, mostly white suburban-ish areas with well-funded schools and low crime. "White flight" someone said, shouldn't be rewarded.

Indeed, I believe a community with many different ethnicities is a lot more interesting, and I agree that the rankings look as if they hadn't taken into account the reality that an affluent suburb is probably going to compare well for schools and crime stats. One commenter said, "Diversity is a city like Charlotte that has a 33% black population, a large Hispanic population, and a large white population. That in itself presents quite a challenge."

Then faithful reader/commenter "Cato" brought up Robert Putnam, a Harvard professor. His recent studies have shown that as ethnic diversity in an area rises, social trust goes down. This is true, he says, for all races and ethnicities. I've heard him lecture on this phenomenon several times, and each time he said he didn't like getting those results and kept double-checking his data and coming up with the same result.

So whoever thinks Cato is misquoting Putnam is off-base.

But I think Cato, too, is off-base in saying, "Why is this [less social trust] a desirable trait in a city? Especially if you get more crime and worse schools in the bargain? Or is it that the intangible benefits of white liberal self-congratulation are enough to coutnerbalance it?"

Putnam thinks it's a good idea to be aware of the tendency toward lower social trust and figure out how to counteract it. To say, "Especially if you get more crime and worse schools in the bargain," seems to me to ignore some realities:

One: Bernie and his hedge fund ilk as well as all the toxic loan purveyors and mortgage fraud perps have proved there's plenty of crime in rich areas too, and it's certainly not "victimless." It's not someone taking your CD player. They're taking your investments, or driving up your taxes by not paying theirs, or destroying the companies in which you own stock. I'd rather have my car stolen than the worth of my 401(k).

Two: Poverty correlates with higher crime, no question. Yet to say that you get "more crime" when a city area is more ethnically and economically integrated might really mean "more crime where I live in what used to be an all white, all middle-class area." The crime is already there, and many low-income people suffer horribly from it.

Three: "Worse schools." Again, the kids with the bad teachers, crappy home lives and falling down schools are already out there, so racial and ethnic and economic mixing doesn't cause those problems, but rather brings them to the attention of people heretofore not having to deal with them.

White flight – or to be more accurate, wealthy and "bright" flight – makes public schools worse, as parents with time, means and enthusiasm to help the schools disappear from the support base. That leaves schools with disproportionately more kids from bad situations, and fewer parents able and willing to fight for better resources. So more of the parents who care about their kids' school then leave, which causes a downward spiral. But it isn't as if racial/ethnic diversity by itself "causes" bad schools, rather the effects of people fleeing the effects of poverty can cause schools to start spiralling downward.

But Cato's right in saying that an economically and ethnically integrated city will indeed have to deal with those problems more than a bedroom community of affluent educated residents.

And for the record, I'm a proud parent of a high school senior who's been at CMS since kindergarten and has top-notch schooling at Charlotte's racially and ethnically diverse public schools. Many CMS schools are excellent, safe and well-run. And yes, some aren't. But just because you see some brown faces doesn't automatically mean the school's a bad place for your child.


Anonymous said...

By far one of the best written articles that I have seen from the CO. Problem is this is the kind of truth that narrow minded people get emotional about and do not want to hear or read.

Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

The trouble with these city versus suburb discussions is that they so often disintegrate into subtle (or not so subtle) accusations of racism or classism. In the series of comments on your last post one commentator seemed to be repeatedly arguing that cities have higher numbers of minorities and poverty and thus more crime. Apparently though he believed that, as a city dweller, he was a better person because he chose to live with those issues rather than "escaping" to the suburbs to live in a lily white world with no crime. In this situation who is actually claiming that high poverty and minorities are the causes of crime?
As for the lily white suburban world, times have changed considerably. Next time CMS award winners are listed in the paper check out the names of some of the suburban schools' highest performing students.
I think it is wrong to assume that everyone would like to live in the city if there just wasn't that crime and poverty issue. Many people of all races and ethnicities like living in a suburban or small town environment--"white flight" has nothing to do with it.
We've seen this attitude so often in the past with school assignment issues--the pro-busing crowd is so sure that anyone who wants their child to attend school close to home is a closet racist or "afraid of diversity". They decry anyone who doesn't choose to live in an area they deem suitably diverse. Talk about lack of social trust--starting from that position is no way to have a conversation.

Anonymous said...

Mary said...

More affluent places are nicer places to live. Clean running water and electricity are great.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 12:32 - Very good / intelligent post.

I moved from an ethnically diverse neighborhood to a "lily-white" neighborhood a few years ago. It was coincidence. I didn't go drive through neighborhoods and count each race to determine if I would live there. I lived in high crime area, I had an toddler with 1 on the way, and the local schools were ROUTINELY at the bottom of the list. As a responsible parent, and fiscal conservative, I researched my move.

I determined a reasonable price that I could afford monthly on my salary, but still allow me to save.

Then I found neighborhoods that met that price range. Of those neighborhoods, I researched school ratings, and crime rates, and property values. That narrowed the list to a few neighborhoods. Then I looked at houses, found one I like and bought it.

From a financial perspective. I lived in an ethnically diverse neighborhood for 5 years and took a loss on my house. I sold it BEFORE the housing market crashed. I bought my current one BEFORE the housing market crashed. it has held its value(same floorplan down the street just sold for about 3% less than we bought ours).

Race didn't play into it for me. The crime rate, school scores, property values did.

If you want to call me racist because I chose not to live in an area with shootings (several on my street alone), open drug transactions, and regular B&Es. Fine. I'd rather be called racist and provide a better life for my family than live there any longer.

Anonymous said...

brown is bringing us down

good article

Anonymous said...

"white flight communities shouldn't be rewarded?". What about "slack black communities that do nothing to better themselves or their community???". Shouldn't they be penalized?

Anonymous said...

Bottom line: I can afford a nice home in the 'burbs and private schools if necessary and I'm not sacrificing my child's future for someone else's utopian ideals.

Anonymous said...

The last 4 comments hit the nail on the head.

Anonymous said...

Call me a racist if you want, but I want my children to go to school with others that look, act, think, and speak similar to my family. I don't want them going to a school that looks like the general session of the United Nations. I want them to live, work, and go to school where they share similar traits, dress, language, and culture. Unfortunately race almost always coorelates with all these attributes.

Diversity is a load of garbage sold to us by the liberal elites who usually have the money to avoid the interactions they force upon the rest of society.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that that most suburban development is unsustainable. They consume far more resources vs dense urban developments.

They force us into a destructive addiction to oil - a finite resource coming to and end - and pollute our region and poison our air because they have no alternative other than to drive everywhere.

As we enter a post-oil era, and are forced to clean up our air so that our children and grandchildren will be able to breath outside, the sprawling, car dominated suburbs are coming to an end.

consultant said...

slavery-1619 to 1865 (246 years)

segregation (America's version of South African apartheid)-1865 to 1965 (100 years)

post apartheid America-1965 to now (44 years)

If you're older than 50 you lived part of your life in a very racist America. A place that's difficult for people under 50 to imagine.

Poverty, poor schools, etc., are all traced to the discriminatory practices that still exist in this country.

Think about it, if you start from the founding of Jamestown, 85% of our nation's history has been in slavery or rigid segregation.

We have a long way to go until every American is free and "best places to live surveys" have real meaning for all of us.

Anonymous said...

There's nothing wrong with wanting to be with your own kind!

Anonymous said...

To Newsom's crowd, "diversity" is defined by black Malia and Sasha Obama going to the same $29,442* a year school as white Chelsea Clinton.

* Yes, I looked it up.

Anonymous said...


Even if you can accomplish that now, what about when your kids enter the real world? That world has people from everywhere. How will your kids learn to get along in a diverse world? You'll never be able to have them work in a world of cultural homogeneity. Plus, where they end up working isn't really up to you, now is it? They'll be adults and make their own decisions.

I don't blame you at all for wanting the best schools. However, your desire for cultural homogeneity strikes me as fearful as well as an impossibility. Don't forget, 80% of hip hop music is downloaded by white teen-age suburban boys. Not to mention their adoption of street fashions.

Anyway, good luck with all that. I think you're setting yourself up for heartache.

Anonymous said...

I am really getting sick of the word diversity. I wish it would go away.

Anonymous said...

What a dumb article.

Anonymous said...

I see two versions of America being discussed here:

The United one, and the "I've got mine and I don't care if you get yours". What a great nation of caring people.

Let's see, I'll give it to about 2020 to exist the way it is, before class warfare breaks out, or the lower classes refuse to serve in the military to protect the "haves".

You think Israel has problems? You in this nation haven't seen anything yet.

Anonymous said...

We do have two America's. The taxpayer and the tax spender.

Anonymous said...

Diversity in schools and colleges is very important because it prepares students for the real world.

Ongoing globalization means more diverse workplaces, economies, and markets. Those who are not prepared to work and participate in a globalized world will fall behind or fail.

Anonymous said...

I think we should urge our Congresspersons and Senators to end Social Security for any new applicants after Jan. 1, 2010.

Hey, I've got mine.

Anonymous said...

Suggestion for the 48 million or so not covered by Medicare or Medicaid, and for whom COBRA is running out:

Throw blankets containing influenza and other viruses into suburbian yards.

It got rid of the Indians. Maybe it will get rid of the bright-flighters who oppose a national health care plan.

Anonymous said...

Mary, by using the term "Bright Flight" you may be giving the yo-yos who move to the far reaches of Union, Lincoln, York and Gaston counties too much credit. I fail to see the smartness in driving 45 minutes to get to work, given that gas prices will only go up, just to save a few dollars in real estate taxes - which will also go up out there to pay for the infrastructure necessary to support the overflowing 'burbs. I think the smart people are in Myers Park, University City, SouthPark, NODA, Dilworth and "inner" Ballantyne.

(But those places are inside the city. That means you might actually have to see, ride with, or school with a black or Hispanic. Heaven forbid.)

Secondly, great comment about the affluent getting ripped off by their own kind. It's strange that folks pay $5,000 or so in management fees to their brokerages yearly under the guise that the financial gurus are the reason they are getting a return on investment. Why can't the affluent brokers live on $1,000 fees insteaad, and allow the $4,000to remain invested and earn?

You'd think that folks only can drive so many Rolls Royces at a time, or vacation in only one Kiawah Island beach house at a time. Apparently not. Those brokers need more. They are really essential to our economy, as those of us who lost 20-25% of their retirement nest eggs can verify. LOL.

Anonymous said...

"Race didn't play into it for me. The crime rate, school scores, property values did."

Which race do you think is the primary culprit for the crime rate and for the poor school scores? The white kids?

Yep, you are a racist, you liar. It's all about you getting ahead, isn't it? Let's hope someone doesn't step on you somewhere in the future.

Anonymous said...

"Call me a racist if you want, but I want my children to go to school with others that look, act, think, and speak similar to my family. I don't want them going to a school that looks like the general session of the United Nations."

You ought to print that, take it to your kids' school, and ask the teacher to post it just below the Pledge of Allegiance and the Flag.

Then you need to join an Aryan Brotherhood in Idaho and get raped in prison.

consultant said...

Multi-tasking while writing a post only works sometimes.

Actually, 89% of our nation's history has been in slavery or rigid segregation.

Our country doesn't have a lot of experience being a "free people".

This question of "the best cities for kids" will have to be posed by some future reporter, long after we've gotten past our post segregation phase. I'd say another 200 years will do it.

Until then, the birthers and John Birchers will hang on to a past that is not yet past.

Realist said...

Blacks, Hispanics, and other non-White minorities simply are not as advanced socially, culturally, and economically as Whites, Jews, and some Asian groups.

It doesn't matter how much money we pump in to "urban" (i.e., non-White) problems here in the USA, because in a worldwide sense Norway will ALWAYS remain more advanced than Nigeria. It's a fact of nature, folks. "Equality" is a myth, and a dangerous on at that.

consultant said...


Please, read a book. Actually, read several. You've got a lot of learnin' ahead of you.

Your local library is a good place to start. You know that place that people pay taxes to support.

Anonymous said...


So Jews are a separate nationality? I don't think so. There are white and black Jews, Jews of European, Middle Eastern, Asian and African origin, etc.

So Episcopalians will also be more advanced than Baptists?

Hitler and the racial-ethnic-religion profilers would be proud of you.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

TRUST? How can we have rust when Charlote seems hell-bent on running "the bright" as you put it out of town? the CMS school board is RUINING the CITY of Charlotte. Having totally screwed over Mathews, they are now coming for Cotswold. These nine people have a stranglehold on this town – they have more power than the city council, the county commission, the mayor and, for that matter, Obama. In one fell swoop they can render my home and only asset worthless, and conscript my children into a war they should not be expected to fight.

Cotswold is one of the few remaining inner ring middle class neighborhoods, and this will decimate it. If you think this struggle is just a neighborhood/school issue you should think again…I think this may be the final nail in Charlotte’s coffin. It is this type of action that causes sprawl, that causes folks to withdraw from Charlotte and eventually North Carolina both physically and mentally – if you run off every last middle class family, you are left with the very rich , and the very poor. The poor cannot provide the tax base for trains and schools and parks, etc. and there are not enough of the rich to do it. Can Charlotte afford to lose this tax base ( not to mention the enthusiasm they bring to bond votes,etc.) in the middle of a recession?
For the first time in 26 years of living in and loving Charlotte, I am ready to leave. With four children, we have been enmeshed in AG/MP for more than 15 years…My kids have known their DIVERSE set of friends friends since birth – they play sports together, worship together, we shop the same neighborhood stores, eat at the same local restaurants and attend all of the MP high school games together…the unifying thread thru their lives is AG and MP – it is our whole life. Nine people should not be able to come in and take away our life. And the thing is, if they really think this will"help" East Meck, they are crazy. We, like almost all of our neighbors, will move or go to private school.
It would be heartbreaking for Charlotte to become a Chicago, or a Cincinnati or a New York or even Atlanta where only the poor attend public schools, and the inner city is crumbling. I want to stay in Charlotte. I want my kids in public schools with a dierse population. But I am not sending them into a war zone.

Anonymous said...

anon - 8/26 @ 8:55 -
so what is your recommendation for providing a safe environment for someone's family.

If looking at crime rates, education possiblities, and property values makes the person who moved away from shootings a racist, what's a person to do?

Since when does moving become the equivalent of "It's all about you getting ahead" and stepping on someone?

Seriously - what is the appropriate Non-Racist method for determining a place to live? Should he/she have taken a census of the neighborhood and only bought where the diversity matched the Country / State / County / City / Town? Please enlighten everyone on how to buy a house and not be a racist.

Mary Newsom said...

I have a request from reporter Ann Doss Helms: She'd like to interview parents of kids who'd be switched from the Myers Park High School attendance zone to East Mecklenburg. Would the previous commenter - or anyone else in that category - please contact her at or at 704-358-5033? She wants to hear from people on all sides of the issue.

Anonymous said...

The Cotswold poster expresses so well what has been the underlying problem with assignment issues here in Charlotte for many years. For so long the idea of families being attached to one particular school has been considered by some as a sign of "not caring for what's best for the community at large". In other words you are selfish--the bad guys--the problem. I am fairly certain that several members of the school board agree with the poster and understand her anguish--they've been hitting their heads against a wall over this for a long time. But, as long as influential members of this community continue to promote the idea that we must return to some sort of busing to make our school system fair and the majority on the school board buys into that, no neighborhood is safe from unexpected reassignment.
Perhaps because this poster lives in the more urban part of Charlotte she will get a bit more respect for her opinions. You can bet that if she lived in the far out suburbs she would receive no sympathy at all--would be told she was only proving how selfish suburbanites were.