Urban Segregation: What Next?

A Chicagoan never says they are from Chicago. They say they are from the North side, the South side or the Loop. We take pride in where we have come from. While living in New York, I plainly state that I am from Chicago, all the while knowing that the South Side is where I call home.

After viewing the documentary film “The Pruitt Igoe Myth” and learning about the public housing complex that was built in St. Louis is 1954, my classmates talked broadly about urbanization, segregation, housing, and education problems that plagued our nation. Note the tense of the word “plagued”. Throughout the film and the discussion I found myself wondering how many people realize that these are still major issues that plague our country.

Pruitt Igoe housing project destroyed. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I grew up in Homewood-Flossmoor, on the South Side of Chicago. When the city and the powers that be determined that the housing projects in my city should come down, my community began changing rapidly. My parents had to make a decision – move to the North side and follow the rest of the white flight or stay in the place that they call home. Growing up in the diverse community that I did has made me the person that I am today. And yet, how come one of the elementary schools in my district was 95% white when another was 95% black? How come people have the need to run away from differences instead of embrace them? How are we doing anything to fix this?

As an emerging museum professional, I have continued to keep these larger social issues in the forefront of my thinking. I want to be able to take what we can learn from Pruitt Igoe in the twentieth century and apply to the way we treat our cities and the people that call them home today.

So here is my question – what next? What can museums and other cultural organizations do to combat the ongoing segregation, racism, and ignorance in our country? What can you and your institution do to make a difference?

3 thoughts on “Urban Segregation: What Next?

  1. I’ve said this before, but I really think that part of the goal of history museums should be to show the history of these ideas. If we show people why we hold racist, classist, and gendered stereotypes, where they came from, we can work to eliminate them.

  2. First of all, Homewood-Flossmoor isn’t even on the Southside of Chicago. It’s in the South Suburbs of Chicago. Secondly, the demolition of public housing in Chicago did not have a direct effect on Homewood, Flossmoor or most communities in the South Suburbs. Most Blacks from the Southside didn’t move to the Northside; most of them moved to the South Suburbs where homewood and Flossmore is located.

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