Cover image for The old neighborhood : what we lost in the great suburban migration, 1966-1999
The old neighborhood : what we lost in the great suburban migration, 1966-1999
Suarez, Ray, 1957-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Free Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
viii, 264 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
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HT121 .S83 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
HT121 .S83 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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"Life in the city, for the millions who lived it, was once something less than the sum of their lifestyle choices: they woke up, they ate, they shoveled coal, loved, hated, prayed, mated, reproduced, died. For most, the home was not a display object but a place to keep the few things they had managed to hold on to from the surpluses produced by their labor. Their material life was made of the things they didn't have to eat, wear, or burn right this minute. A concertina maybe? A family Bible? A hunting rifle?"
This life in "the old neighborhood," so lyrically captured by Ray Suarez, was once lived by a huge number of Americans. One in seven of us can directly connect our lineage through just one city, Brooklyn. In 1950, except for Los Angeles, the top ten American cities were all in the Northeast or Midwest, and all had populations over 800,000. Since then, especially since the mid-60s, a way of life has simply vanished.
Ray Suarez, veteran interviewer and host of NPR's "Talk of the Nation®," is a child of Brooklyn who has long been fascinated with the stories behind the largest of our once-great cities. He has talked to longtime residents, recent arrivals, and recent departures; community organizers, priests, cops, and politicians; and scholars who have studied neighborhoods, demographic trends, and social networks. The result is a rich tapestry of voices and history. The Old Neighborhood captures a crucial chapter in the experience of postwar America. It is a book not just for first- and second-generation Americans, but for anyone who remembers the prewar cities or wonders how we could have gotten to where we are. It is a book about "old neighborhoods" that were once cherished, and are now lost.

Author Notes

Ray Suarez is the longtime host of NPR's "Talk of the Nation," heard on more than 120 radio stations around the country. His career in journalism has included time on radio and television, and in magazines, and has taken him to postings in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, London, and Rome. He currently lives and works in Washington, D.C.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

In a lively guided tour of America's once mighty, now imperiled urban neighborhoods, Suarez, host of NPR's Talk of the Nation, searches for clues to "the great suburban migration" of the past 30 years. Using his formidable skills as a radio producer, Suarez seeks out the person in the street as he steers through the desolate inner-city neighborhoods of Chicago, by a new housing development in Cleveland or past a derelict public schoolyard in Washington, D.C. Amid ample evidence of the larger, structural issues fueling "white flight" (redlining mortgage banks, plummeting property values, crumbling public schools), his interviews with longtime urban residents add specificity and character to the great urban debate. Senior citizens proudly resist the violence flaring up around them, while black kids elsewhere describe their suffocating lack of opportunity. Suarez dutifully cites experts on urbanism, but their broad statements don't shed much light on the issue. What the book reveals, it reveals through anecdote, not analysis. Suarez seems determined to probe a simple lack of honesty he finds in many Americans' retreat to the 'burbs. Even as we tell ourselves we're moving to escape crime or find better schools for our children, he writes, we're "consuming our way into little customized worlds, as individual as a thumbprint, yet as interchangeable as shoes in a shoe store." (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

Suarez offers new insights into an old problem: the depopulation of U.S. cities caused by racially changing neighborhoods. Suarez, host of National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation, asks a poignant question: "Can you assign culpability to a crime with ten million accomplices?" He examines racial changes in neighborhoods in such cities as Chicago, Brooklyn, and St. Louis that can be attributed to practices such as redlining of predominantly minority neighborhoods and the official withdrawal of services that ultimately hastened their decline. Suarez interviews residents of changing neighborhoods, real estate experts, and sociologists, and he offers piercing analysis of what happened to trigger the migration from the cities to the suburbs. The shifts have shaped the political and social landscape of the U.S. since the 1940s. Mixing statistics, interviews, and commentary, Suarez portrays the startling decline of northeastern cities, which has left deep, unacknowledged scars on the American psyche. He notes the failure to be honest about what happened to U.S. cities, and why that failure continues to threaten race relations. --Vanessa Bush

Library Journal Review

Suarezessayist, journalist, and longtime host of National Public Radios Talk of the Nationpresents an account of the devastation wrought on American cities when families moved to the suburbs. Although he touches on the emptiness at the heart of suburbia and the lack of a sense of place, his main focus is on the continually weakening cities that have been left behind. Suarez gathered much of his data by walking through the neighborhoods of this countrys largest cities and talking to mayors, city planners, longtime residents, and clergy. He intersperses this with policy analysis and relevant statistics to make his case that Americans urgently need to deal with the issues of race, education, housing, and employment to save their cities and the treasures therein. Suarezs work complements John O. Norquists The Wealth of Cities: Revitilizing the Center of American Life (LJ 5/1/98), and Fred Siegels The Future Once Happened Here: New York, D.C., L.A., and the Fate of Americas Big Cities (LJ 8/97).Deborah Bigelow, Leonia P.L., NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter 1 What We Lost The fix was in. The whispers rasped over a million dinner tables and the numbers were crunched over a thousand conference tables as another family decided, "That's enough," and cities continued to slide down the population tables. Maybe you've heard of cities as the hole in the doughnut. Or maybe you've heard of chocolate cities and vanilla suburbs. Perhaps you've heard a recent speaker of the House denounce the cities as parasitic bodies living off their hardworking American host. They now speak with an accent. Their plaster is shot. Their windows rattle in the sash. We eat in their restaurants, wondering if the car is safe. We listen to their symphonies and regret that long drive home. We remember a million years in ten million childhoods. We feel a mixture of sadness, nostalgia, and relief when we take that final turn and swing onto the freeway entrance ramp. We head home: to a place where we can choose our neighbors. When you talk about the city, the conversation ends with an exasperated litany. In the city, the kids don't learn to read and still want more and more of our taxes to pay for their crumbling buildings, and to pay the salaries of the members of the teacher's unions. Violent young men commit random acts of mayhem. The cities satisfy America's craving for drugs, cheap labor, and expensive entertainment. In front of the late TV news we shake our heads in disgust over their comically corrupt politics, goofball racial agitators, and the parade of black and brown suspects into the back of squad cars. Starting in 1945, one of the Great Migrations of American history took place, and it continues to shape the country to this day, politically, economically, and socially. Unlike the nineteenth-century flow of Conestoga wagons through the Cumberland Gap and on to the West, and unlike the early-twentieth-century black migration from the Jim Crow South to the urban North, this was a choreographed combination of mini-migrations: white migrants left the old neighborhood behind and left the very idea of "neighborhoods" behind. They left the old giants -- New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit -- and the industrial centers -- Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo, and St. Louis. While the settlers a century ago, and blacks earlier this century, left all that was familiar to start again in a strange new world, these modern migrants sometimes headed just a little past the city line. Their old world was not "gone" but now just a car ride away. But the force of each small journey combined to slam the old cities of America like a hurricane. While those earlier migrations survive in family stories and fading photographs, this last one lives vividly in present memory. Maybe you or your parents were part of it.... Nostalgia, mixed with geographic proximity and racial resentment, creates a toxic potion. The pioneers of the postwar urban migration are convinced there was once a better city than the one we see today. We know there was because we used to live there. The old city lives on in the speeches of politicians and in flickering black-and-white reruns on a hundred cable channels. There's Chester Riley. And Ralph Kramden. And Lucy Ricardo. And Lou Costello. And Mrs. Goldberg. Urbanites all. They walk to the grocery store. They know their neighbors. They may have even walked to church (or shul). It's not hard to get people to tell the stories of that good, gone life. In Cleveland's Buckeye neighborhood. In Philadelphia's Mantua on the west bank of the Schuylkill River. In Miami's Opa-Locka and the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. Back on Ninety-first Street in Chicago. Maybe you lived there. You may even drive by every now and then. Or maybe you find you want to less and less. It doesn't look like the place where you stood after your first Holy Communion, hair slicked into place, smiling through the gaps in your teeth. There was constant talk during those years: Who was going? Who was staying? I think it made me cynical beyond my years. People would say, "We are not moving! We are not going! We are staying here forever!" Then they'd move at night! When the chips were down they would leave. Bob Hartley, on Chicago's Austin neighborhood in the 1970s Everybody's got a story. Some are bathed in sepia, others filled with "begats," like an Old Testament book. The alibis are short, starting with, "Well, you know," and ending with "the schools," "the crime," or "the neighborhood." Where does folktale stop and reality begin? Now that the damage is done, and the cities are hollowed out, it still matters enough to you to point fingers, though you may not always be sure you're pointing them in the right directions. Can you assign culpability to a crime with ten million accomplices? The year 1950 was the last full cry of urban America, at least on the surface. It was the year many of the cities visited in this book reached their historic peaks in population. Everybody was working, in folk memory, and in fact. Armies clad in overalls poured out of plants at quitting time or watched as the next shift filed in. Houses cost a couple of thousand bucks, or in high-cost cities some fifteen thousand. The mortgage was often less than a hundred a month. The teeming ethnic ghettos of the early century had given way to a more comfortable life, with religion and ethnicity, race and class still used as organizing principles for the neighborhood. The rough edges of the immigrant "greenhorns" were worn smooth, and a confident younger generation now entered a fuller, richer American life. Grandma and Grandpa had their accents and old ways intact, and still mumbled sayings in the language your parents used when they didn't want you to understand. You could still find Il Progresso, Freiheit, Norske Tidende, and Polish Daily Zgoda on the newsstands, but the neighborhoods themselves were no longer alien places. It was the ghetto, yes, but made benign by assimilation. It was this world that the first surge tide into the suburbs left behind. They were people for whom the city had done its work, making Americans out of families from Dublin to Donetsk. America had given the urban young educations, and expectations. For many, those expectations had been nurtured through world war and economic depression. Something better was needed for the baby boomers. Charles and Anne Marie Manelli both grew up in St. Louis neighborhoods. When they came back to the Midwest from a stint in Denver, young son in tow, they headed right back to Anne Marie's neighborhood on the far north side, not far from the city line, and now found something lacking. "I don't think we would have stayed in the city even if we could have found a big enough house on the same block where we were living," Anne Manelli says. "We wanted change. The neighborhood was getting older, though I guess at that time it wasn't really that old, maybe twenty-five years old or so." Charles Manelli recalls the spirit of the times. "People our age at that time all wanted to buy houses, and there just weren't any houses available in the city of St. Louis. So they all moved, and bought homes out in the county. The city was really emptying out quickly at that time. So sure, there were houses, but they were not the houses that the young people would have wanted. There was a lot of old real estate in the city, and the new subdivisions was where the young people wanted to go. "We bought our first home on the GI Bill, that's the way everyone was going then. You had two bathrooms, three bedrooms, it was different. And you could buy these houses for twenty thousand dollars, eighteen thousand dollars. That's what the young people wanted. They didn't want the big brick bungalows." The Manellis were not alone. Millions moved from central cities to newly created suburbs, and from the northeast quarter of the country to the south and west. In 1950, the populations of New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, Boston, Cleveland, St. Louis, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore reached their historic highs. Some, like Detroit, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Cleveland, would soon enter free fall, shrinking by 50 percent or more. Others, like Boston, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, had simply grown as much as the economic realities of the day would allow, and entered a phase of slow and steady population decline, while the suburbs around them grew. New York - 7,891,957 Chicago - 3,620,962 Philadelphia - 2,071,605 Los Angeles - 1,970,358 Detroit - 2,000,398 Baltimore - 949,708 Cleveland - 914,808 St. Louis - 856,796 Washington, D.C. - 802,178 Boston - 800,000 San Francisco - 775,357 Pittsburgh - 676,806 Milwaukee - 632,392 Houston - 596,163 Buffalo - 580,132 New Orleans - 570,445 Minneapolis - 521,718 Cincinnati - 503,998 Seattle - 468,000 Kansas City, Mo. - 457,000 Take a look at the list of America's twenty largest cities in 1950, shown above. With the exception of Los Angeles, every city in the top ten is on, or east of, the Mississippi River. Among the top twenty, only Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, and Seattle fall out of the nation's northeast quadrant, running from Minneapolis in the north, along the Mississippi, to St. Louis in the south, east to the Atlantic Coast and north to Boston. Almost half of the top twenty had been sizable cities by the middle of the nineteenth century. Only five cities had populations of over a million, and only one city west of the Mississippi had reached that plateau. These were the top twenty cities for 1960: New York - 7,781,984 Chicago - 3,550,404 Los Angeles - 2,479,015 Philadelphia - 2,002,512 Detroit - 1,670,000 Baltimore - 939,024 Houston - 938,219 Cleveland - 876,000 Washington, D.C. - 763,956 St. Louis - 750,026 San Francisco - 740,316 Milwaukee - 741,324 Boston - 697,197 Dallas - 679,684 New Orleans - 627,525 Pittsburgh - 604,332 San Antonio - 587,718 San Diego - 573,224 Seattle - 557,087 Buffalo - 532,759 By 1960, Los Angeles had surged ahead of Philadelphia, growing by almost a third in size. Houston, through rapid growth and significantly, by annexation (it more than doubled from 160 to 328 square miles in area), jumped seven places. San Antonio and San Diego joined the top twenty, giving Texas and California three cities each on the list. The exodus from "old" urban America to the suburbs and the new cities of the Sun Belt was on. Cities like Philadelphia and Detroit were shrinking in overall population, but the urban cores of metropolitan areas were still growing. Washington and St. Louis were already showing the early signs of their long, slow declines, while their metropolitan areas grew, and towns once little more than names on a map began to grow with increasing speed. By 1960 it is clear that the axis of growth in the country was moving away from the North and East toward the South and West. The twenty largest cities in 1970: New York - 7,894,862 Chicago - 3,366,957 Los Angeles - 2,816,061 Philadelphia - 1,950,098 Detroit - 1,511,482 Houston - 1,232,802 Baltimore - 905,759 Dallas - 844,401 Washington, D.C. - 756,510 Cleveland - 750,903 Indianapolis - 744,624 Milwaukee - 717,099 San Francisco - 715,674 San Diego - 696,769 San Antonio - 654,153 Boston - 641,071 Memphis - 623,530 St. Louis - 622,236 New Orleans - 593,471 Phoenix - 581,562 By 1970, as your late-night local news weatherman would say, the map is really in motion. Houston nearly doubled in size since 1960, again through annexation, but also through robust population growth. The populations of Philadelphia, Detroit, Washington, Cleveland, St. Louis, and Boston are heading to the new suburbs surrounding those old cities. Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, San Diego, and San Antonio continue their steady growth. Indianapolis (another product of suburban annexation) jumped from nowhere to eleventh on the list. Here's 1980: New York - 7,071,639 Chicago - 3,005,078 Los Angeles - 2,966,848 Philadelphia - 1,688,210 Houston - 1,595,167 Detroit - 1,203,339 Dallas - 904,074 San Diego - 875,538 Phoenix - 789,704 Baltimore - 786,775 San Antonio - 685,809 Indianapolis - 700,719 San Francisco - 678,974 Memphis - 646,356 Washington - 638,333 Milwaukee - 636,212 San Jose - 629,442 Cleveland - 573,822 Columbus - 564,866 Boston - 562,904 The dynamic we saw at work in 1970 had taken hold more fully by 1980. New York City lost more than eight hundred thousand people in the 1970s. Think of it: a loss larger than the entire city of Phoenix at that time. Factories continued to close. Fortune 500 corporate headquarters continued their steady flight from the city. New Yorkers left for other regions of the country and for the burgeoning suburbs of northern New Jersey, Westchester County, and Nassau and Suffolk counties, which the census bureau would soon classify as a separate metropolitan statistical area -- no longer an appendage of the city. The economic decline of New York's bread-and-butter industries, like clothing, printing, and shipping, landed heavily on all New Yorkers. The poor saw themselves as stuck. The rich could surround themselves with physical barriers, continuing to live a charmed life in a declining city. The middle class lacked the cash to insulate themselves from the diminishing quality of services, but they had one thing the poor did not: mobility. In the 1970s, large-scale population loss continued in Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Baltimore, while the metropolitan areas of all these shrinking big cities continued to grow. Columbus, its economy built on state government and insurance, was on its way to becoming the largest city in Ohio, while metal-bashing, blue-collar Cleveland continued its decline. In just ten years, Phoenix jumped from twentieth place to ninth on the list. San Jose, a small city of just ninety-five thousand in 1950, living in the shadow of nearby San Francisco, was now nipping at its heels (in part by growing from 17 to 171 square miles). This was Cleveland's last appearance in the top twenty, and St. Louis had already dropped from it, never to be seen again. By 1990, America's urban future is more clearly visible. The 1990 census is the last time any city with fewer than one million inhabitants will appear on the list of the largest American cities. But at a time when magazine covers and conferences bemoan the "decline of urban America," not all of urban America is in decline. Just the old one. Los Angeles, Houston, San Diego, Dallas, Phoenix, San Jose, and San Antonio continued their rapid growth in the 1980s. Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Washington, and Boston continued to shrink. From an urban population concentrated in the northeast quadrant of the country in 1950, America's biggest cities have become a far more diverse group, now straddling the coasts and the southern tier of states. The Metropolis of the Prairie -- Chicago -- will be the only city of the ten largest cities outside the Old South and the coasts in 2000, but it will have lost nearly one million people since 1950. Philadelphia, according to census estimates, will have shrunk by a third. Detroit's population will have dropped in half, that of St. Louis by almost two-thirds. Washington continues its rapid decline and may be down to half a million people by the turn of the century. In other words, the capital of the world's remaining superpower will be home to fewer people than the capital of Ohio. Sparks, smells, the hum of the mill, and the clank of the machine are out. "Clean" industry, government employment, retirees, and service industries are in. The twenty largest American cities in 1990: New York - 7,322,564 Los Angeles - 3,485,498 Chicago - 2,783,726 Houston - 1,630,553 Philadelphia - 1,585,577 San Diego - 1,110,549 Detroit - 1,027,974 Dallas - 1,006,877 Phoenix - 983,403 San Antonio - 935,933 San Jose - 782,248 Baltimore - 736,014 Indianapolis - 731,327 San Francisco - 723,959 Jacksonville - 635,230 Columbus - 652,910 Milwaukee - 628,088 Memphis - 610,337 Washington - 606,900 Boston - 574,283 Hidden in the raw numbers, there is another math at work dictating the fates and fortunes of the country's big cities: Race. As the cities that have become the home to the largest minority populations are consistently described as places of "blight" and "decay," the largest and fastest-growing cities, with few exceptions, are inhabited by whites in percentages higher than that of white people in the overall national population. Some cities now face declines in their overall black population as well: In Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Cleveland, for example, middle-class blacks can use the same mobility wielded by their white counterparts twenty and thirty years ago to head for the suburbs. I felt kind of threatened that my neighborhood was being invaded by these people. It proved difficult for one kid, that moved in that was a new pupil, and his name was Andre Baker. I really made it rough. We had a big fight, it came to blows. I really beat the crap out of him, and that was it. And then, as time went on, we became best friends. We got together, we were friends all the way through high school. As the neighborhood started to change the first black families moved awayjust like the white families did, and they started to be replaced by a lowerclass of black people, and it started to get rough. I really got beat up a lot.Then the reverse happens. They become very aggressive, and I was the littlewhite kid. I was really intimidated. And all my friends were gone. I felt veryalone. My only friends were at high school. It was really rough. I had to ridethat bus and walk from the bus every clay. Walt Zielinski, Cleveland American Latinos, too, are a highly urbanized people. Their presence has grown markedly in the obvious places, like Southern California and Florida, and in the not-so-obvious places, like Milwaukee, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. When you compare the gross population data from the census counts, from 1950 to 1990, and break down those figures by racial composition, a striking number of figures emerges. Cities that appear to have maintained their populations end up occupying a very different place in the imaginations of the largest single population group in the country, the white middle class. While population plateaus or gentle decline from historic highs give the appearance of a certain viability, another look at the statistics illustrates a verdict pronounced by the white middle class. Between 1950 and 1990, the population of New York stayed roughly level, the white population halved, and the black population doubled. As Chicago lost almost one million people from the overall count, it lost almost two million whites. As the population of Los Angeles almost doubled, the number of whites living there grew by fewer than ninety thousand. Baltimore went from a city of three times as many whites as blacks in 1950 to a city that will have twice as many blacks as whites in the year 2000. All this has happened while the number of blacks in the United States has stayed a roughly constant percentage, between 11 and 13 percent. By contrast, here are the breakdowns for some of the fastest-growing cities in the country during those same forty years. The population of whites declined as these cities moved in the years after the war from small and midsized regional population centers to major national players. Though the overall percentage of white population has declined in all of them, the number of whites has more than doubled in San Jose and grew by almost four hundred thousand in Houston. Latinos in large numbers -- almost half a million in Houston -- don't yet seem to scare off a growing and stable white middle class. It's no longer worthwhile to ask, "What do Americans want?" There are too many of them who want too many different things and are simply too different from one another to get an answer that makes any sense. But it is valid to say tens of millions of Americans -- tens of millions of white middle-class Americans -- don't want to live in cities at all. Millions more don't want to live in cities with large minority populations. Scott Thomas, author of The Rating Guide to Life in America's Small Cities, found that many of the fastest-growing small cities, where the residents report a very high quality of life, are also some of the whitest places in America. "I was looking at 219 different areas, and only about a quarter of themhad the proportion of black population comparable to what you find inthe country as a whole. With the Hispanic population, there are very fewsmall towns, most of them near the Mexican border, with anywhere neareven the national average." Thomas says that looking at these "micropolitan" areas demands a wider set of variables when assessing people and the way they live. "Diversity is something that goes beyond some of the simple racial categories. I think adults are generally less educated in the communities I profiled. You're going to find less depth of experience or fewer adults who have gone beyond college degrees, and if that's something that's important to you you're not going to find it except in the college towns like Pullman, Washington, or Ames, Iowa, or Ithaca, New York." Thomas points out that the populations of these small cities, many now enjoying robust growth, are almost entirely native-born. New York and Los Angeles, meanwhile, the two largest cities in the United States, are now home to millions of foreign-born and first-generation Americans. When discussing their own family's history in America, many people plead "not guilty" to the charge of being an accessory to the postwar meltdown of many older cities. "We just wanted a better life," they say, "and this was the only way to get it." It is easy to forget how many people made their first class adjustment by moving up, but not out: the west side of Cleveland, the neighborhoods along City Line Road in Philadelphia, a string of neighborhoods at the south end of Brooklyn. For hundreds of thousands of families, these neighborhoods became the waiting room for getting out. Getting out didn't have to be the only choice facing a family, since many cities offered a wide range of housing stock and a wide range of lifestyle options. When your family's fortunes began to improve, you could live with people at roughly your own income, without leaving the city. There was crime in the old neighborhood, but not the kind of crime that's launched ten thousand nightly reports "live, from the scene," on your eleven o'clock news. The unlocked door is a potent symbol in the collective memory of the white-flight generation. As if you've never heard it before, or perhaps knowing you've heard it a million times, as a rhythm of ritual and truth builds during your second decade on the rosary. "We never had to lock our doors. Everybody knew everybody. We weren't afraid." Afraid was later. Afraid was coming. Schools were far from perfect back then. Before 1940, only a minority of the fresh-faced ninth graders who walked in one end walked out as eighteen-year-olds with a high school diploma in their hands. There was teenage pregnancy, but it ended in marriage more often, which helped camouflage its presence in the neighborhood scene. For all its shortcomings, life worked. Millions in the American middle class stand on the shoulders of urban America and its public institutional life. The parks and their leagues and summer camps. Varsity teams and school bands. Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Camp Fire Girls, Girl Scouts, and Brownies, in units sponsored by public schools and PTAs. Public libraries. Public schools. Public universities that extended the privilege of higher education to an academic elite rather than one created by "good" families and fat bank accounts. Today, at the other end of the migration, the change is palpable. The era of American urban decline tracks nicely with the decline of a consensus culture. There was a time when the broad American masses all "knew" the same things. Colliers, Life, Look, and the Saturday Evening Post didn't deliver wildly different versions of America in their pages, nor did any of those magazines drop a very different America into the mailbox from the one you heard about on the big radio and television networks. There was a widely shared set of norms in the 1940s, 1950s, and even the wildly oversold "counter culture" 1960s that gave Americans very definite instructions about what to think. These instructions could be a straitjacket, and they could be merciless to those who colored outside the lines; but the broad consensus culture for white, economically active Americans made community life more reassuring than confining. For all the wild racial mythology that marked these same decades -- the deep separation that actually existed between Americans -- those outside the white mainstream bought into the same bourgeois dreams as their distant neighbors. Black workforce participation, marriage, divorce, single parenthood, and other rates far more closely resembled that of the national average than they do today. I've spoken to hundreds of white city residents who see their lives as conditional, temporary, and fragile. "We can only stay until Jenny hits third grade, then we're out of here," says one. "As long as my son is small, and I can keep an eye out, we're fine. Once he starts moving around by himself more, we can't really stay," says another. The examples are legion: we're staying as long as..., we can only stay if..., we're only here until..., if we couldn't afford private school, we'd be gone. Implied in each qualifier is the assumption of mobility, the understanding that the moment a family wants to pull the plug on urban life, it can. It's an option not as easily invoked across the racial divide or lower down the economic scale. Eventually, goes the story for today's urban sojourners, "compensation fatigue" sets in. The strain of having eyes in the back of your head, higher insurance, rotten local services, and the day-upon-day-upon-day stream of bad news finally carries you across a line you were inclined to cross one day anyway. Your parents are already "out there"; so are your brothers and sisters and your friends from high school. The bragging rights of the hardy urbanite are trumped by the brownie points of "doing the right thing." Back in the city, choices for thousands of other families were already narrow and kept on narrowing. The white working class could head to the new blue-collar suburbs just over the city line, but those new communities would be effectively closed to black home buyers for years to come. In the cities being abandoned, lower-middle-income and poor city dwellers lost the political clout of their middle-class neighbors, who had held institutions like public schools to an acceptable baseline of quality; at the same time, they were losing the kind of economic opportunities that might have allowed them to choose private or parochial education for their children, as businesses followed their owners and their middle managers to the suburbs. There was a period early on, when it was mixed half-and-half maybe, and you could see that it was working, and it was fine. Then all of a sudden there was a big rush and it was totally changed. But there were so manythings...the principal at my old school, at Louella, he was a bastard! Hehad been kicked out of another school, I think by the community, in a blackarea. I remember him saying to us at meetings, "There's a monster out therewaiting to devour you and you better stick together." He was talking aboutthe changes in the community! Metta Davis, on the Chicago public schools in the early 1970s After taking a ferocious pounding in the 1960s, the bottom was dropping out of America's shared assumptions in the 1970s. We no longer "all knew" the same things. The further we moved from each other in distance, in racial segregation, and in class stratification, the more different our various Americas became. By the 1980s, along with the steady erosion of the consensus culture there came a lack of affinity and empathy for all those who couldn't share our assumptions. That lack of affinity for those over the line dovetailed nicely with the fiscal realities of new suburban life. The suburban homeowner could target his spending in a way no urban taxpayer ever could: he could decide to send his money to the things that mattered to him -- his own kid's school, his local public park -- and deny money to things he wanted no part of -- urban school systems and public libraries. It might have been a comforting illusion to believe there was once an America where we were "all in it together." To the extent that it was ever true, the myth was shattered in the thirty years from 1950 to 1980. By the 1980s, not only was it crystal clear that we weren't "all in it together," nobody even had the desire or the energy to pretend it was true. A feedback loop was established that destroyed the heart of some of America's great cities: Those Americans given a leg up in the new economy -- arbitrageurs and software writers, intellectual property lawyers and plastic surgeons -- pulled up stakes from shared institutions, weakening them, and took their presence, influence, and money elsewhere. For each family that decided to stick it out, the decision to stay became harder and harder to make as the quality of common life sagged. The migrants were the Americans most likely to demand solutions for municipal problems, most likely to vote, and most likely to get attention. The more this group left its fellow Clevelanders, Philadelphians, New Yorkers, and St. Louisans behind, the more those left behind needed them. When we no longer lived and worked in proximity to one another, we no longer knew the same things. Once we no longer knew the same things, we no longer had a need for cultural cohesion. Once we no longer had cultural cohesion, it was easier and easier to draw circles of concern more and more narrowly around one's own doorstep.... Let me explain what was happening in Louisville at the time. Urban renewal had come and torn down half of downtown, and blacks started moving west. The minute that happened you could hear people saying it, adults, children repeating what they had heard at home, "The niggers are coming. The niggers are coming," as if it was the plague or something. The questions people asked revolved around it: "When are they going to get here? What does it mean for me?" Regina Lind, on Louisville in the 1960s This latest Great Migration has left deep, unacknowledged scars in the lives of millions of families. They were obeying the American siren call to mobility; they were only doing the best thing for their children; they were spending new money in search of space -- but the scars were Chapter 6 The America Factory, Brooklyn, N.Y. It covers just seventy-one square miles on the western tip of an offshore island of the United States. It hasn't been a city in its own right in one hundred years. It hasn't had its own daily newspaper since the Daily Eagle folded in the 1950s. It hasn't had its own major league baseball team since the last day of the 1957 season. These few square miles loom large in the American mind. Though a little less than 1 percent of all Americans live here -- when John Travolta crossed the disco floor in Saturday Night Fever and Thomas Wolfe wrote, "You can never go home again," and Jackie Gleason growled, "To the moon, Alice!" and Neil Sedaka sang, "Breaking up is hard to do ..." and Walt Whitman wrote, "I hear America singing," and Spike Lee brought us inside Joe's Bed-Stuy Barber Shop, into pizzerias and brownstones, and Woody Allen drove Annie Hall across the bridge to show her Coney Island -- that was Brooklyn talking to you, America. Excuse me if I break the bounds of journalistic restraint and rhapsodize a little. Brooklyn is my hometown. Within its watery boundaries live some two and a half million souls, making it larger on its own than most of the ten largest American cities. It was once a mighty factory town. It made everything, employed prosperous, overall-wearing masses, and turned people from everywhere into Americans. The factories are for the most part gone. Like members of a vanishing species, some hang on in tiny ecological niches, near the canals and expressways and docks. You'll see places that once provided work and money and new shoes and Catholic school tuitions for generations of families still standing in clusters, gently tumbling down the economic evolutionary scale....Heavy industrial plants now house "assembly" operations of components from other places, factories now serve as warehouses...warehouses become empty and gutted. New York is the biggest mouth in the world. It appears to be the prime example of the survival of the herd instinct, Leading the universal urban conspiracy to deprive man of his birthright (the good ground), to hang him by his eyebrows from skyhooks above hard pavements, to crucify him, sell him, or be sold by him. Frank Lloyd Wright, 1958 Perhaps the crusty Mr. Wright would have been softened by some time in Brooklyn. Let's start the story on my street -- Pacific Street -- in the late fifties. The apartment was on the top floor, cost fifty dollars a month, and had 750 square feet of living space. The building was completed in 1908. Along both sides of the street were similar big, boxy apartment buildings with small front staircases that ran right out to the sidewalk, without the buffer of a lawn. The apartments had big rooms and many of the amenities that now turn up in the real estate section of a big-city paper as "details": French doors, ornamental door frames, moldings, parquet floors. Not much of a place for gardens, this part of Pacific Street, on the edge of the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. From the stoop you can hear the rumble of the New York subway, climbing out of a tunnel onto elevated tracks that ran west through Brooklyn and into Queens. Today the block itself is quiet, even desolate. Many of the windows of the apartment buildings are bricked up after fires. Some of the buildings without fire-scorched brick aren't fully rented. Here my mother used to roller-skate and walk home from school. My father delivered the Eagle and met my mother on his route. He had arrived from Puerto Rico just a few years before. She was a Yankee, a Brooklyn native. They married in the mid-fifties. He headed off to sea, and she took the train to Wall Street. I started life on the same block where my mother grew up. When the 1960s began, my mother was pregnant again, and the family concluded that the long-term prospects for the area were not good. The people you saw shopping, in school, and at the church on the corner all your life were disappearing. The elderly were urged by their children to come to other parts of Brooklyn, to Long Island, to New Jersey, and to the fancier sections of the Bronx. The impact of all those people making their decisions, in effect, forced you to make your own. We moved from Crown Heights to Bensonhurst, also in Brooklyn. Both sets of grandparents also left white-flight areas of northern Brooklyn and settled in new neighborhoods, Bensonhurst and Flatbush. The new neighborhood was much like the old one physically -- apartment buildings and row houses and nearby blocks of single-family homes. But everything in Bensonhurst was newer. Once home to a Dutch settlement and, later, truck farms, this part of Brooklyn only revved up and developed after the streetcars and subways had extended out to the rest of the borough from its historic heart near the Brooklyn Bridge. Unlike other national foundry towns -- Youngstown, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Cleveland -- Brooklyn did not shrink. Somehow this vast world of apartment houses, parkways, docks, and elevated trains has remained full, dense, bustling. Today the borough's population is not far below its historic high. One of the best places to see Brooklyn is from the elevated trains. From where I grew up in Bensonhurst, the distant vista of the Manhattan skyline floats just above the tops of apartment buildings in the foreground. The shrieking rails are your Yellow Brick Road, the skyline your beckoning Emerald City. Today, I'm heading toward Coney Island. There, I'll change trains to ride through the heart of Brooklyn for a look at what recent decades have wrought. I've ridden this line nearly all my life and rode it daily from the time I started high school to my mid-twenties, when I got married and moved away. What I left in 1980 was old Brooklyn. What was waiting for me on the train was new Brooklyn. Chinese have moved by the thousands into the south and west of the borough, Hasidim have spread out of the small enclaves in Borough Park and Crown Heights and made the sight of men in long black coats and side locks (peyes) more common throughout the city. Two men huddle in one corner, having an argument in Russian, and right across from them a young Puerto Rican woman locks her stroller wheels and smiles at her baby as the train jerks into motion. At one time all these people would have called vastly different parts of Brooklyn home. Now, the lines of demarcation are fainter. Fewer areas are ethnic ghettos where different kinds of people are unlikely to set eyes on each other or hear another language. We rumble along above Eighty-sixth Street, the main street of Bensonhurst. The din inside the train is exceeded only by the roar on the sidewalks. This was once a family shopping district, a place where a car was unnecessary. The boom families of the 1960s strolled Eighty-sixth Street on the prowl for kids' shoes, baked goods, jewelry, and ladies' clothes -- "popular" and "better" in the jargon of the garment district, where many of the men in the neighborhood made their living. The train passes over busy stores, over the "two-up, one-down" three-family brick houses (buildings with two apartments stacked at the top of a flight of stairs, with a garden apartment at ground level next to the garage) that rose all over this part of Brooklyn during the 1970s and 1980s. The homes are in orderly rows along the side streets which end in huge apartment buildings on the main streets. The "nicer" part of Eighty-sixth Street had always been known as "The Avenue," and the discount stores, odd lots, and fruit-and-vegetable stands that start on Bay Parkway were called "the Market." I'm above the Market now. The Italian-born greengrocers have now given way to Korean families with Mexican employees. In the distance I can see K Mart, inside what was once EJ Korvette, a middlebrow retailer for a middlebrow neighborhood. It was predicted, in the sixties, when Korvette's opened its doors, that it would destroy Eighty-sixth Street. Family-owned businesses catering to shoppers on foot had been hurt by the opening of department stores in many other parts of New York City. But it didn't happen quite that way. What brought down Eighty-sixth Street was the same change that eventually brought down Korvette's itself: the transformation of consumer taste -- the "un-middling" of retail, as merchants were forced to head way up- or way down-market or close their doors. Macy's thus transformed itself in the late 1970s and early 1980s from a middle-class department store to a high-end emporium, devoted to meeting the needs of that newly emerging person created by the baby boom and a few decades of steady economic growth: the yuppie. Korvette's, Alexander's, Abraham & Straus, and many other department stores that neither followed Macy's up nor remade themselves as discount marketers eventually closed their doors. Sears and JC Penney, faced with many of the same pressures created by the evacuation of the middle range, held on only because of their huge size, market penetration, and, eventually, their aggressive, creative management. Though a shopper strolling Eighty-sixth Street's market would be less likely to hear the Italian and Yiddish of the 1960s than today's Russian, Chinese, Korean, and Spanish, there are still plenty of cues to indicate that the Italian presence remains strong. Italian social clubs proclaim their allegiance to a particular town or province in Italy. You can buy a first-rate espresso on Eighty-sixth Street, and it's unlikely Starbucks will ever open anywhere near here. If you're wondering why you know that name -- Bensonhurst -- there may be many reasons. Most benignly, I suppose, is its fictional role as the home of The Honeymooners. (Though the neighborhood was and is home to many Ralphs, Eds, Trixies, and Alices, the real Chauncey Street, television home to the Nortons and Kramdens, is clear on the other side of Brooklyn, in Jackie Gleason's own neighborhood of Brownsville.) Bensonhurst also served as the set for Saturday Night Fever on the big screen and Welcome Back, Kotter on the small one. When the Italian-American woman who falls for a black colleague in Spike Lee's Jungle Fever heads home, she takes the very same train I'm riding through Bensonhurst. When The French Connection's Popeye Doyle made his terrifying high-speed run under the elevated tracks in Brooklyn, he was screaming up Eighty-sixth Street, and when a drug dealer met his end, shot in the back while running up the stairs to the elevated track, he did that at the front entrance of my own alma mater, John Dewey High School. Less benign is Bensonhurst's membership in a litany of names that includes Montgomery, Selma, Birmingham, and Howard Beach, where particularly shocking race-based crimes, or racial confrontations, have made it possible to invoke outrage by using one loaded word. Bensonhurst. In 1989 a black teenager, Yusuf Hawkins, was shot to death by Bensonhurst teens when he and some friends came to the neighborhood to look at a used car. The crime set off months of racial confrontation, with that professional protester, the Reverend Al Sharpton, leading marches through the streets of the neighborhood, jeered at and baited by local boys and men. Much of the reportage at the time, in local papers and from national networks, portrayed an all-white enclave where strangers and minorities were rarely seen. Those reporters may have been working from memory; that Bensonhurst was already gone. Today quiet young Muslim women in hijabs (head scarves), Indians in electric-colored saris, and Caribbeans of various complexions are searching the bargain bins in "the Market" for a good buy, jostling newly arrived Russians who've traded in their old lives, never-ending scarcity, and food lines for a streetscape promising endless "Sales!" Yet the killing of Yusuf Hawkins did tell the world of an angry and unreconstructed racial bias that still exists on many streets. But the lily-white Bensonhurst of newspaper reports and TV documentaries, where a lone black teenager could count on an invigorating sprint to the train station with white boys hot on his heels, is gone and has been for a long time. At a late-night pizza parlor in Westchester County, I recently observed a young Italian man from Bensonhurst asking for directions for home. The pizza maker asked how things are going in Bensonhurst, and the young man answered, "It's totally gone. All we got left is Eighteenth Avenue." Brooklyn's white underbelly, which ran all the way from Sunset Park, overlooking Upper New York Bay, along the waterfront past Coney Island, Brighton, and Manhattan Beach, to Bergen Beach, Mill Basin, and the border with Queens, is no longer very white. Over the decades the Finns, Norwegians, Irish, Italians, Jews, and Italians who inhabited the broad crescent of southern Brooklyn have moved in the hundreds of thousands, and in doing so made room for the Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, American and West Indian blacks, Russians, Pakistanis, and Indians, who quietly infiltrated once-closed parts of Brooklyn. A piece of folk wisdom has grown up in many of these neighborhoods in the decades since World War II, often repeated as a boast or an indictment. "Jews run," Italians can still be heard to say, "but we defend our neighborhoods." But the zeal for battle appears to be sagging. Nowadays, as our man in the pizza shop would indicate, many Italians see themselves locked in a war of attrition. Many of the streets where "we" once held sway are, alas, "gone." But from my perch on the B train, I can still see the backyards where Italians grow grapes on trellises, and the front yards where delicate fig trees will soon be bundled up to weather another winter in a climate where they don't really belong. Continuing toward Coney Island, with the ocean now visible in the distance, we pass the town-sized public housing development -- acres and acres -- that make up the New York City Housing Authority's Marlboro Homes, while on the other side Bensonhurst's Lafayette High School, once virtually all white, now uneasily integrated, looms as large as the projects. People who grew up in school districts where a whole town, or sometimes half a county, would feed the local high school wouldn't be ready for Lafayette High. It is a huge, blunt building. Metal screens -- the kind you often see in factories -- cover the windows. The daytime home of three thousand students, its population is itself larger than hundreds of school districts in America. Lafayette is really three schools; one institution prepares the college-bound for higher education, another slaps the patina of education onto people heading out to work, and a third provides custodial care to young people who are in school only because it is required by law. Across the tracks, Marlboro did not use as its model for public housing the large, apartment-block towers so prevalent in other cities, and even in other parts of New York City. Perhaps because they had space to work with, perhaps because the surrounding community would not have supported them. Marlboro is built to human scale. The entryways to clusters of apartment buildings face each other. Built in 1958, the project is so old the trees are actually mature, and give one an idea of what the architects probably had in mind: small parks, shady trees, and lots of paths for strolling. But that sun-dappled vision, quickly built for a city in the midst of a housing shortage, has not exactly come to fruition. Once an integrated development, Marlboro is now primarily black and Latino. Once the home of middle-class and working-poor renters, it is now more uniformly poor; thus it is a frightening place to people who have never seen anything but the outside of the development, who drive by on the two main drags that border it and mutter about "the projects." Next to the projects sits John Dewey High, a public high school that draws its student body from all of Brooklyn. On a recent graduation day, you could see the changes in the borough, in flesh and bone, as a smiling queue of seniors, snaked its way to the risers set up on the school's front lawn to receive their diplomas. On this particular June morning, more than twenty years after my own long march to the platform, with many of the same teachers seated in folding chairs and looking on, came a fascinating parade of Indians and Pakistanis, Chinese and Vietnamese, Russian-born graduates, and young Muslim women who wore mortarboards over their head scarves, as tiny Asian grandmothers craned their necks for a glimpse of their own American Dream. The Latinos in line were no longer exclusively Puerto Ricans; they now had company from the Dominican Republic and the rest of the hemisphere. If you looked at my own yearbook you would have seen page after page of Jews of Eastern European extraction, Italians from two or three earlier waves of immigration, and scattered among the grandchildren of European immigrants, blacks (American-born and Caribbean), Puerto Ricans (island- and mainland-born), and Chinese (rarely children of American-born parents). Now the black faces were not scattered here and there but were a major presence in the class. In the hundreds of names in the columns of graduating seniors, only a few were Italian, Irish, and Jewish -- the names that had once formed the majority of the class. From my train car now, you can see Coney Island in the distance, a view bracketed by enormous apartment complexes wound in highway interchanges and elevated tracks. My train crosses reeking, stagnant Coney Island Creek and pulls into the station that millions before me have rolled into -- a bathing suit and a towel tucked under the arm -- ready for a day of swimming, the amusement park, fried clams, and Nathan's hot dogs and fries. You can still see, in the faded advertisements painted on brick walls, and in shuttered storefronts, what fun this place was thirty, forty, and fifty years ago. The bathhouses and the restaurants, the attractions and the Atlantic. After the war, with low unemployment and a winning ball dub, and the diversions of Coney waiting at the end of a short train ride, Brooklyn must have seemed like the best of all possible worlds for many of its residents. "It was a great place to grow up, and a good time for Brooklyn," says my mother, Prospect Heights High School, class of 1955. "Who knew about drugs? Who was afraid of being murdered on the street? We went everywhere, and we weren't afraid. Coney Island. Ebbets Field. The Fox. The Paramount. I saw Alan Freed at the Brooklyn Paramount, and I waited for hours in the freezing cold for a ticket." Today, the bathhouses are gone. George Tilyou's Steeplechase Park, granddaddy to today's theme parks, is gone. Ebbets Field is gone. The streetcars that my parents rode on dates are gone. So are the Fox and the Paramount. By 1998, much of the middle class had little interest in the attractions of Coney Island. In Coney's heyday, only a wealthy few could fly to places like Florida, California, or the Caribbean. The ancient, creaky rides can't hold a candle to modern theme park rides for gravity-defying terror, or to Disney and Universal for high-tech polish. Those who have grown up with the ability to fly to interesting places, who are not prisoners of this island for recreation and are not drawn by the gypsies offering to guess your weight, the Wax Musée, the cotton candy, or the fried dams, can find it hard to remember that Coney invented a form of beachside recreation, surf, and fun for the masses. The beach was a leveler, a democratic piece of public real estate where a young clerk or salesman could play handball with a garbageman or ogle a domestic or a shop girl. The swimsuit made them all equal. Barriers of neighborhood, social distance, the inhibitions of Old Country ways could be dropped in that strip of blocks between the subway and the surf. While the amusements sought might vary a bit according to education or income -- music halls for some, dance floors for others, hootchie-kootchie girls for still others -- it was all a nickel away by subway for everyone who needed a break from the sweltering streets of crowded, pre-air-conditioned Brooklyn. One of the last vestiges of the old "beach resort" shoreline has finally thrown in the towel. The Brighton Beach Cabana Club, the in-town vacation for generations of Brooklyn Jews, watched as its clientele slowly aged and departed this world. There were no longer leathery brown ladies in cat's-eye glasses kibitzing over mah-jongg tiles, watching children swim and play ball from the corners of their eyes. Their children are scattered to the four corners of the country. The people who once rented cabanas year after year have a much wider choice of entertainment open to them elsewhere. Flying is no longer only for the wealthy. The land where the Cabana Club's showers, courts, pools, and card tables once stood is now more valuable as housing: A high-rise, ocean-view condo complex is proposed for the lot, responding to the sudden demand for new housing. As my D train rolls into Brighton Beach, I can see the billboard and business signs in English and Cyrillic: There are more than a hundred thousand Russians in Brooklyn now, and Brighton is a locus for their community life. There are immigration lawyers and computer schools, nightclubs and smoked fish stores. If you stroll under the train tracks, above the din of Coney- and city-bound trains, you can hear women coo to their babies while pushing strollers, men talking business, and kids running along, all chatting in the new language of commerce for Brighton Beach Avenue: Russian. At the Brighton stop, whole families board the train. The children still look foreign -- sandals and socks, very short shorts, and smallbrimmed sun hats. The older children have quickly taken to American hip-hop wear: Nikes and baggy jeans, headphones around their necks, portable cassette players on their hips. The young women are more likely to be heavily made up, wear "done" hair, and have elaborately painted nails, than the other Brooklyn women on the train. One of the business niches now filled by Russian women in many neighborhood storefronts is the nail salon. With few capital costs and almost no overhead, a nail salon is the perfect immigrant business. The business gets its revenue from hundreds of hours of labor put in by young Russian women hunched over tables, squinting through tabletop magnifiers. The money to open the nail shops and other businesses comes from the pooled capital of family and friends, which blossoms into an array of businesses based on lots of sweat equity. There are many signs for PECTOPAH, that is, "restaurant" in Russian script, and plenty of signs reading MAGAZIN, the "grocery store" filled with Russian-style breads and canned goods from back home. This is the kind of neighborhood renewal that can never be created by urban planners or dreamed up by urban economic development commissions. Until the late 1970s, Brighton was on the wane, a largely Jewish neighborhood watching its children move on to greener pastures and its aging move on to retirement communities. But the thaw in Soviet-American relations, American pressure in the form of the Jackson-Vanick amendment, and the mobilization of American activists to "save Soviet Jewry" brought waves of Russian Jewish immigrants to Brooklyn. Once in New York, they found a long list of voluntary agencies ready to smooth their entry into American society: language classes, social workers to fill out food stamp applications, Hebrew schools to teach thousands an only half-remembered faith. Brooklyn's future has been built every bit as much by the State Department and the U.S. Congress as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the city's own government. When America threw its doors open wide in the early years of this century, Brooklyn filled up with people from Cork and Calabria, from Oslo and Oswiecim. When the Depression and a shrinking tolerance for open immigration slowed the flood to a trickle, these immigrants and their children assimilated, and the Old Country became a place in fading photographs. But in the 1960s suburbanization, changing immigration laws, and American involvement in places like Haiti and the Dominican Republic brought recurring waves of their people to Brooklyn. Think of Brooklyn as the America Factory. It finished with the children of Naples, Bialystok, and Bergen, and watched them move on. Today Brooklyn is fulfilling the same function for migrants from Gaza and Bangalore, Santo Domingo and St. Petersburg. The panic-peddling and blockbusting of the 1950s and 1960s, and the wholesale white flight and economic turmoil of industrial decline, have given way to something far more subtle than those brutal methods of bringing urban change. One day a new shop opens on Coney Island Avenue. It might have been a clothing store, or a kosher butcher. It might have sold car stereos or kids' shoes. Now it bears a business name in Urdu, while larger letters above it proclaim Halal Meats. Not too long ago it didn't seem as if there were very many Pakistanis in the neighborhood. You might have occasionally seen mothers in head scarves, loose trousers, and long, flowing tops talking to their children or getting into a car. Now there are enough to support a butcher for ritually prepared meat, and the clients don't come by car from far-off parts of Brooklyn but stroll through the door from the surrounding neighborhood. Little by little, the D train moved from having a few Chinese passengers, loaded down with groceries from Manhattan's Chinatown, to carrying entire cars full of Chinese traveling between lower Manhattan and what everyone has taken to calling "Brooklyn Chinatown." After making a long, lazy loop through Brighton toward Midwood, we begin our descent. For the next several stations, we'll roar through backyards and underneath street traffic. Kitchens and bathrooms look over the tracks. Sometimes you can catch a glimpse of a woman in a housedress watching a pot on the stove, or kids in pajamas hunched over a bowl of cereal. This part of Brooklyn is an odd mix, of gentrified housing, now included in a historic district, built early in this century as "suburban" housing, on beautiful tree-lined streets. These houses would look at home in Brookline, Massachusetts, or Scarsdale, New York. A few blocks away you then confront massive ranks of apartment buildings -- row on row, block after block -- an immense parade. I have never seen anything like them, in this number, outside Brooklyn. This density of construction, thousands of families housed in the space of just a few blocks, was why Brooklyn, not even the largest borough, is the home of almost one out of three New Yorkers. Many of these apartment houses suffered in the 1960s and 1970s as both tenants and landlords moved away. Farther east, toward the border with Queens, some Brooklyn neighborhoods have hit bottom. But these buildings have storm windows and working intercoms, clean lawns and working laundry rooms. They don't offer much in the way of luxury, but they are decent housing a working family can afford. From our ride through backyards we roar into a tunnel. If you stay onthe IRT, you will not see daylight again until the train crosses over the East River on the Manhattan Bridge. I get out at the corner of Prospect Park, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux's masterpiece in the heart of northern Brooklyn. Here the great architects and landscapers built their Champs Élysées, their American Arc de Triomphe. The east side of the park is talked of as the "bad side" in the white parts of Brooklyn. "Bad" is a designation saved for neighborhoods that are now mostly black. The lexicon is simple. When "we" lived there, the neighborhood was good. Then it started to "get bad." That's when "we" left. I climb the steps from underground and reach a sun-drenched street. There's a coin-operated laundry (very few tenants can have washing machines in their apartments), a locksmith (an important business in a neighborhood where property crime had been rampant), a pizzeria (no matter what neighborhood it is), and a McDonald's. When I pass through the golden arches into what is arguably the most American-associated of fast-food chains, a quiet calypso is playing on a radio. The bunting over the counter sports Haitian, Guyanese, Jamaican, and Dominican flags. These are the big four of central Brooklyn's immigrant groups. From a small strip of neighborhoods along Flatbush Avenue, the West Indian presence has radiated out through the center of the borough to become a power-house on the local scene. In Community District 9, Prospect/Lefferts Gardens, Crown Heights, and Wingate, a third of the 110,000 residents in the 1990 census were West Indian. In Community District 14, Flatbush, Midwood, and Ocean Parkway, it's one out of five. In Community District 17, East Flatbush and Remsen Village, it's pushing one out of two. As Italians, Irish, Germans, and Jews left the neighborhoods around Prospect Park for other parts of Brooklyn, or left the city altogether, the median family incomes were not drastically reduced, putting the lie to the perception that things were now newly "bad." In fact, in Flatbush and Midwood, real per capita income rose almost two thousand dollars per head, nearly 20 percent. In East Flatbush, household income rose by a third in constant dollars, as did per capita income. This occurred while whites were pouring out of Flatbush and East Flatbush, and against stereotype and deeply ingrained belief, blacks replaced whites, with more green, too. Mary and Phil Gallagher moved to East Flatbush just in time to watch their white neighbors leave. Phil was a professor at nearby Brooklyn College. The row houses lining the streets of East Flatbush were well kept and affordable, a magnet for a young couple with a child looking for a home, and the local elementary schools had terrific reputations. Mary's older neighbors didn't see it that way. "A lot of people who lived in this neighborhood grew up here; their parents had moved into this neighborhood long before, and anyone who was from the outside, anyone who looked different was a threat. We moved in here shortly after our daughter was born in 1974; we lived in an apartment just a few blocks away, and at that point we were completely unaware of the dynamics of this area. Neither of us is from New York. "A lot of things had happened here during the sixties. Previous legislation on FHA and VA mortgages [mortgages provided or underwritten by the Federal Housing Administration or the Veterans Administration] had specifically proscribed that you couldn't use a mortgage to destabilize a neighborhood." Federal mortgage programs were openly racist for decades, and later denied blacks housing assistance by prohibiting loans for the purchase of existing housing. This meant that blacks, who lived in areas underserved by savings and loan associations and heavily in the market for limited urban housing, were virtually shut out of home ownership. But during the Johnson administration those limitations were removed and went too far in the other direction. FHA loans were written willy-nilly, without enough regard for family income or the condition of the home. Federal housing assistance had earned the resentment of blacks by shutting them out of the market, but it turned out that running headlong in the opposite direction didn't work Excerpted from The Old Neighborhood: What We Lost in the Great Suburban Migration, 1966-1999 by Ray Suarez All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. vii
1. What We Lostp. 1
2. Chicagop. 26
3. The Church and the Cityp. 47
4. Philadelphia: The Most American Cityp. 58
5. Side Trip-St. Louisp. 83
6. The America Factory, Brooklyn, N.Y.p. 98
7. The Persistent Significance of Racep. 122
8. Gentle Decay? Staving Off the Future in Clevelandp. 157
9. Washington, D.C.: "Will the last one out please turn off the lights?"p. 188
10. Still a Stranger: Latinos and the American Cityp. 209
11. Side Trip-Miamip. 228
12. Looking Ahead to the Next Cityp. 240
Indexp. 255