Michael T. Maly, Beyond Segregation: Multiracial and Multiethnic Neighborhoods in the United States.
A number of the plays in August Wilson's cycle on African American life in the 20th century carry memorable images of urban decay, geographic isolation of the African American community, and the impending negative impacts of gentrification. These images appear normal--congruent with what we know about race, culture, ethnicity and neighborhood life. The neighborhood case studies of Uptown Chicago, Jackson Heights New York, and San Antonio-Fruitvale Oakland in Michael Maly's well written book Beyond Segregation: Multiracial and Multiethnic Neighborhoods in the United States counter these desolate scenes with surprising examples of successful unplanned neighborhood integration.
Maly suggests that instances of successful unplanned neighborhood integration go almost unnoticed in the research literature. The resulting central message of the book is that exploring these atypical cases offers valuable insight into a variety of grassroots methods that can help to generate stable neighborhood integration. In this light, Uptown, Jackson Heights, and Fruitvale should give pause to those who believe that people of different cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds, and countries of origin cannot successfully live together via naturally occurring integration. As one of the key informants says about the development of stable integration in Uptown: "I think there is less us versus them. Some people are trying really hard to maintain the us versus them ... but I think less and less, in reality people are permitting themselves to be pitted against the other." (p. 94).
The book consists of five chapters. The first two chapters give a concise history of racial and ethnic segregation and integration in urban United States and examine how changing demographics can impact neighborhoods in various ways. The chapters contrast the powerful external mechanisms that created segregation with the internal grassroots actions of individuals and citizen groups that prevented it and provide a sufficient theoretical underpinning for the three cases studies that constitute the last three chapters. Separate from the five main chapters are a conclusion, which revisits many of Maly's main points, footnotes, and references.
The case study chapters begin with a story told by one resident who in some ways symbolizes the neighborhood experience of integration, which Maly details by using secondary data and interviews with key informants. He does an adept job of leaving the reader to interpret the meaning and interplay of the individual interviews with the larger trend data. Each of the neighborhood cases demonstrates how the organic process of integration varies in terms of what factors are essential and to what extent those factors interact with the contexts of time and place. An eloquent example is how active conflict between groups in the Chicago neighborhood of Uptown played an important role in creating and maintaining stable integration where as in Fruitvale and Jackson Heights, the conflict between neighborhood groups was on a much smaller scale, had different dynamics and was significantly less important.
Several salient themes emerge from the five chapters. These include firstly that racial and ethnic diversity need to be understood in more complex ways; and secondly, that racial and ethnic integration should be combined with socioeconomic integration and that one does not readily exist without the other. Another theme is that immigration is often the life blood of integrated neighborhoods. The final and principal theme is best expressed by another of Maly's key informants: "I mean, it [neighborhood integration] happened because nobody obstructed it, not necessarily because somebody nurtured it." (p. 66).
The one complaint is that the key informant interviews are from 1995-1996, a decade ago, before the current boom in urban housing ownership. The changes in housing prices may have considerably altered the level of integration in all three neighborhoods and therefore current perceptions of residents may be dissimilar to those held in 1995. For example, Maly notes that the median price of a one or two family house increased from $183,000 to $240,000 between 1995 and 1999 in Jackson Heights. The December 9, 2005 Weekly Thikana, a Jackson Heights neighborhood newspaper, states that the average cost of a two bedroom apartment is $380,000 and a New York Times online profile of the neighborhood pegs the beginning prices of single family homes at $400,000 and two family homes at $600,000. Even a cursory nod to the possible impact of these sizeable increases in housing prices would have sufficed. A separate prologue would have been even better.
Michael Maly articulates a number of important insights into neighborhood functioning, stable unplanned integration, and the roles of grassroots movements that should interest a wide variety of scholars. Beyond the book's value as a piece of research, it is a joy to read and it is highly recommended.
Christopher R. Larrison
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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|Author:||Larrison, Christopher R.|
|Publication:||Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2006|
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