My Experience with Housing Segregation

I grew up in a town segregated by race and social class. The first house that I lived in was emblematic of the American dream: a big suburban home on a hill just outside of the city. Although I felt a sense of freedom in exploring the woods surrounding our property and safety to do so whenever I pleased, I was extremely disconnected from my peers. My closest friend was almost a 10-minute car ride away.

Not only did the adults constantly chauffeur me, but my best friends were also almost exclusively just like me: white, male, Jewish, and upper-middle class. After years of working to understand and appreciate my identity, I have realized a few things. One is that it is extremely important for my peace of mind to spend time with people of similar backgrounds. My best friends from childhood, all straight Jewish men, continue to be very important people in my life. Another realization is that the street design and zoning regulations of my wealthy suburb created a damaging isolation from my peers and more importantly from people of different races and classes.

I find it truly liberating to talk about race from a personal perspective and think that we must examine where each of us is coming from so that we can form bonds across identities different from our own. What I find exciting about what I see happening today is that there is a surging desire to be in walkable neighborhoods in or near cities with good public transit. Although the displacement that has come with this demand is disheartening and unacceptable, the developers, city planners, city governments and architects have a unique opportunity at this juncture.

The demand for housing in walkable neighborhoods is high and the problem is that there is a dire shortage of supply. The market is not working! The history of segregation will continue in its ugly ways if we do not address this problem in a sufficient and timely manner. Currently, the most walkable neighborhoods, especially in our bigger cities, are wildly expensive and only becoming more so. What are we to do?!?

One solution is to increase density in places where people want to live the most and make these places accessible to everyone. The local or federal government could give housing vouchers to people depending on their income and the area’s market rate and effectively level the playing field. Although this may not work in all locations, it has been effective in the past and is just one of many ideas to create equitable housing opportunities. What do you think that we must do in order to create diverse and equitable housing?

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