Monday, February 4, 2008

Dialogue between Sudhir Venkatesh and Alex Kotlowitz

In my daily perusings of online news sources, I have come across a thoughtful and very important discussion betweeen Sudhir Venkatesh, a blogger for the Freakonomics blog on the New York Times online, as well as the author of the recently published "Gang Leader for a Day," and Alex Kotlowitz, author of various works depicting issues in our public housing and education systems, to name a few (probably his best known work is "There Are No Children Here"). Both Kotlowitz and Venkatesh have strong ties to Chicago and are well-versed in the crises that have surrounded the breakdown of the public housing system. In this discussion they touch on many of the issues that Venkatesh raises in "Gang Leader for a Day." However, the discussion takes an interesting turn when Kotlowitz and Venkatesh debate over how academic researchers should compensate their subjects for the information that they have gleaned from them.

What makes the discussion especially interesting to me, though, is when the discuss the breakdown of the public housing system in Chicago and talk about the flight of the urban poor to the nearest surrounding suburbs. I have discussed this before in my blog, talking about how gentrification pushes the poorest people out of the city, and out of many people's consciousness. Kotlowitz and Venkatesh both compare this phenomenon to what has happened in many European and Latin American cities where the affluent center of the city is literally ringed by poverty.

This is something that I know very well, because I witnessed it first hand living in Paris for a year. I get a lot of quizzical looks from people who I meet through Cabrini Connections when I tell them that I was a French and International Studies major in college. However, I believe all paths eventually connect and this is an instance where I find myself seeing the same phenomenon of urban poor being pushed from the inner city to the outer suburbs. This is especially the case in Paris, where the poorest of the poor, mostly North and West African immigrants live in high-rise building blocks, that don't look much different from the Whites of Cabrini-Green. In my brief encounters with people who lived in these areas (a lot of them were cab drivers who were delighted to talk to an American who spoke fluent French about their lives), these people intimated a similar sense of hopelessness, frustration and anger with authority that I encounter at Cabrini Connections. Although, it almost seems to be worse there in certain ways because, as a cab driver who was of Algerian descent put it, "In America, they may hate you because you're black, but they never challenge that you're an American. In France, they not only hate you because you're black, but also because they tell you that you're not French, even if your family has lived in France for generations."

What I'm trying to get at, is in both France, America, and other places, the urban poor are being forgotten, and that's not a good thing. Fortunately, there are people like Sudhir Venkatesh and Alex Kotlowitz who are making sure that these people are not forgotten.

1 comment:

Beauty Turner said...

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About Me
Beauty Turner Chicago, cook, Illinois, United States Minor Outlying Islands
Beauty Turner lived in the Robert Taylor Homes, one of the nation's most infamous public housing high-rise for sixteen years . She once worked for RJ now serves as Assistant Editor, South Street Journal writing award-winning investigative articles and commentaries and co-directing the Advocacy and Outreach Initiative. Beauty is a well-known community activist as well as a regular columnist for the Hyde Park Herald and other community newspapers. For the last several years, Beauty has worked as a research assistant for Professor Sudhir Venkatesh, a sociologist at Columbia University. Beauty is now a National award winning Journalist recognized by her peers with the First New America Award of it kind by the National Society of Professional Journalists, also a Winner of a Studs Terkel, Peter Lisagor, Associated Press award, Chicago Association for Black Journalist award, Courageous voice award for her activism, Black Pearl award, Woman of the Century award, and a Shero award from the Empowerment Zone Committee. Turner has been feature on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, Tribune (773)297-5619
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