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The poverty is more evident a few blocks away, where families are crowded into public housing near the overpass of I, an elevated highway that cuts through the heart of the city.
There are no supermarkets here, just small convenience stores that advertise that they sell cigarettes and accept food stamps. Across the street from one store, men and women sit in an empty lot, some in rolling office chairs, others leaning on cars or rickety shopping carts. Poverty under most circumstances causes hardship and suffering.
But being poor and surrounded by other poor people has particularly rough consequences: Those raised in such neighborhoods what academics tend to call areas of concentrated poverty and everybody else calls slums or ghettos are far less likely to graduate from high school, attend college, and put off having children.
Additionally, the neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of poor people tend to have worse schools, fewer businesses there not being enough consumers with disposable income to sustain themand more violence.
In Syracuse, almost two-thirds of the black poor live in high-poverty neighborhoods, defined as areas where 40 percent or more of residents live below the federal poverty threshold, according to an analysis of census data by Rutgers professor Paul Jargowsky for The Century Foundation. Sixty-two percent of Hispanic residents live in concentrated poverty in Syracuse, according to Jargowsky. Syracuse has the highest rates of both black and Hispanic concentrations of poverty in the nation. The more worrying part, however, is not the current situation but the direction things are going: Over the past decade, the concentration of poverty in Syracuse and other American cities has increased, even as the nation has become wealthier and pulled itself out of a damaging recession.
The of high-poverty census tracts in Syracuse more than doubled to 30, from 12, between and Hispanic concentration of poverty actually dropped in Syracuse during the recession, from 50 percent of Hispanics living in poverty in to 38 percent inand then jumped up again. Nationwide, the of people living in high-poverty areas nearly doubled, reaching Sanford remembers walking to the black-owned small businesses that lined the streets here when she was a girl, but most of them have disappeared.
A few weeks ago, she had to call after a man living next door was targeted in a drive-by shooting, just after Sanford had put the younger kids in her care down for a nap. She no longer leaves her house at night. The week before I visited Syracuse, seven people had been shot in four days, including a public-bus driver whose cell phone blocked the bullet.
Search for Syracuse in the rankings of cities with the highest poverty rates in America, and the city has moved up every 10 years like an underdog racehorse gaining on the winner or in this case, the loser. Byit had snuck up to 44th, with a poverty rate of 18 percent. Byit was tied for 26th with a poverty rate of 23 percent. The story of how poverty became one of the defining characteristics of Syracuse is specific to the city and the region, but in some ways it is illustrative Single black in Syracuse the many policy decisions that have made all American cities more segregated by race and income over the last 15 years.
Like many cities in the north, Syracuse became home to a growing African American community in the post-World War II years, as migrants fled persecution in the South and came north looking for jobs. Many settled in the 15th Ward, a neighborhood adjacent to downtown. There was poverty then, he told me, but he remembers that time fondly, largely due to the existence of a close-knit black community that socialized around Wilson Park, a square of green grass and trees in the center of town.
DiMento, who was born and grew up in Syracuse and is now a professor of law, planning, and policy at the University of California-Irvine School of law. At the same time, the city was working to get a piece of some of the money made available in the Federal Highway Act, which authorized money for the construction of the Interstate system. A strong highway network, city leaders argued, would make Syracuse one of the largest cities in the country because people would be able to easily commute to downtown from outlying areas.
That this construction would destroy a close-knit black community, with a freeway running through the heart of town, essentially separating Syracuse in two, did not seem of much concern to local leaders. They wanted state and federal funding, and were willing to follow whatever plans were proposed to get it. Today, I runs north to south through the city; its most prominent part is a 1. Underneath the elevated Single black in Syracuse, the streets are dark and clogged with cars trying to get on the road, and next to it are some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. It runs over Wilson Park, the place Dunham used to play asand over the blocks where he and his childhood friend Manny Breland used to collect scraps to take to the junkyard for extra money.
Black residents moved to the South Side when the 15th Ward was demolished, which in turn motivated white residents to move to the suburbs. It was easier for them to do so because of the new highway, I, which provided a quick route from the center city to outlying areas.
The white population in Syracuse fell 20 percent between andand then dropped 50 percent more between and Over the same time, the black population in the city grew tenfold from 4, to 42, Another family friend applied to go to medical school in the s and was rejected everywhere, despite top grades. Breland and Dunham were two of the 13 black students in their high-school class of roughly —other students were steered towards vocational high schools, Breland told me.
Had a science teacher not encouraged Breland to go to Central High School, he likely would have gone to vocational school, too. Although whites were moving out of Syracuse, black families still largely could not get loans to buy homes, and were often prohibited from renting in certain neighborhoods.
Emma Johnston, also 81, remembers calling a landlord about an apartment rental in and being told to come take a look; when she showed up a few minutes later and the landlord saw her skin color, she was told the apartment had been rented. Even to this day, only about 30 percent of blacks in the Syracuse-metro area own homes, while 71 percent of whites do.
White homeownership is largely concentrated in the suburbs. Although the size of the population of Onondaga County has remained relatively stable sincebuilders have continued to put up new homes farther and farther from the city center. Onondaga County added 61 miles of new road sinceand 7, new housing units sinceeven though the population was not growing.
The county also added miles of new water mains between and and added 12, acres to the sanitary district even though annual water delivery was down 11 percent. As upper- and middle-class residents moved to the suburbs, the very poor remained in the city, and increasingly saw themselves surrounded by more poor people.
Many of the census tracts that have seen jumps in concentrated poverty in the past decade have one thing in common: They have experienced outmigration of middle-class, often white, residents. One census tract, in the north side of town, went from 64 percent white in to 34 percent white in About white people moved out, about 79 percent of whom had incomes above the poverty line. In another nearby census tract that also has a high rate of concentrated poverty, about whites moved out, most of them non-poor, and the white population dropped from 71 to 26 percent.
Joey DiCarlo has lived in one of the high-poverty neighborhoods in the north side of Syracuse sinceand owns 21 units that he rents out to families. His bottle-return business has gotten busier, proof to DiCarlo that there are more needy people in the area now. Staying often means being exposed to more and more poverty and all the problems associated with it. In some of the highest-poverty census tracts in Syracuse, for example, the unemployment rate is above 30 percent. School districts in suburban areas are majority white, and in the 17 other school districts in the county, only 21 percent of students are eligible for Single black in Syracuse and reduced lunch.
Only about 50 percent of students in the city graduate from high school, compared with 98 percent for one of the wealthier suburbs. But for many low-income families, there are major obstacles to moving out of the high-poverty areas. Some depend on public housing for an affordable option, others use Section 8 vouchers and know they could have trouble finding landlords who accept vouchers in the suburbs. Zoning rules, too, have kept the poor out of some of the wealthier suburbs.
Towns create their own zoning rules, and to attract a certain kind of homeowner, they often implement minimum lot sizes. The town of Skaneatelesfor example, which is one of the tonier suburbs in the region, allows no multifamily dwelling with more than four units per acre.
This all causes prices to rise and makes the suburb out of reach for anyone struggling financially. The region has not concentrated on building affordable housing in outlying areas. About 8. Genea Coston tried it. She had hoped the north side would be better for her kids—particularly her teenage son who was falling in with a bad crowd. But she unwittingly moved into one of the areas becoming as high-poverty as her old neighborhood. Now, she fears that her son has fallen in a different bad crowd.
She spends much of her day going to his school to respond to calls from Single black in Syracuse principal, or getting on the public bus to drop her younger kids, ages 2 and 4, at a Hetart in south Syracuse, and her 5-year-old daughter at school. Both the mayor of Syracuse and the county executive told me that they wanted to fight concentrated poverty in Syracuse, but no one seems quite sure how to do so. Single black in Syracuse barriers are enormous. Some of the challenges children face in these neighborhoods would be unimaginable to many outsiders.
Heberle, with Hetart, told me of going into a house when she was a caseworker to help a family deal with an infestation, and having calmly flick a cockroach off her shoulder. Children regularly see or are aware of drive-by shootings and other murders. Reed was sitting on her front porch in one of the north side neighborhoods that has seen an increase of poverty in the past decade.
Her daughter moved to the house recently because the landlord accepted Section 8 vouchers, but Reed is skeptical about the neighborhood. They were drug dealers, she told me, and they made no effort to conceal it. People pick themselves up by the bootstraps all the time.
The city and the county in also renegotiated a tax-sharing agreement so that towns and villages receive less of the money collected county-wide in taxes and the city receives more. More jobs in the region could help; Syracuse lost nearly 10, factory jobs between andand the closing of Carrier Corp. Now, the only remnant of Carrier, the air-conditioner manufacturer that moved its operations to Asia, is the Carrier Dome, the home of the scandal-plagued Syracuse University basketball team.
The city says it will train potential employees through the Say Yes to Education program, Single black in Syracuse allows people who attend Syracuse High School for at least three years to receive free college tuition to certain colleges and universities. But bringing together the city and suburbs, after decades of disinvestment, could be a tall order. What Syracuse needs, more than anything else, is a way to knit back together a region torn asunder by the construction of an urban highway and the outmigration that followed. That means more affordable housing in the suburbs, more access to transportation to outlying areas, and better jobs and housing in the urban core.
An opportunity to try and reverse some of the decades of decay has recently presented itself. The state of New York now says that I, the highway that was built in the s and displaced the 15th Ward, is reaching the end of its useful life. The state and region are currently debating proposals about what to do with the road. The elevated highway will almost certainly need to be torn down, because the overpass is narrower than current federal highway rules allow. Proposals include building a tunnel under the city, turning the road into a boulevard that runs through the city, and rebuilding the highway in a sunken corridor.
But a group of planners and residents called Rethink 81 are urging the region to think more imaginatively about planning decisions that will have a long-term effect on the community. I should never have been built, they say, and the city should not make a similar mistake again. The city now has a chance to revisit its past mistakes, or to do things again, almost exactly as it did before. Popular Latest. The Atlantic Crossword. In Subscribe. Manny Breland was also the quarterback of his high school football team Richard Breland.
Recommended Reading What Is a City? Katherine Wells. David Frum.Single black in Syracuse
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