Wednesday, December 27, 2006

There Goes the Neighborhood

Got a good little book read over the holiday weekend, There Goes the Neighborhood by William Julius Wilson and Richard P. Taub. With a cadre of students, the authors examine the recent history and demographic changes of 4 Chicago neighborhoods. One in a stable white community just experiencing (and resisting) Latino newcomers; another, a white-to-Latino transitional neighborhood; another, a community that has fully undergone that white-to-Latino shift; and the last, a stable African-American community. Through interviews with current and former residents, they track how the development and use (or not) of community institutions and standards impacted the (in)stability of each neighborhood. It's a quick but deep read of the ebb and flow of people, communities, stability and instability that any general reader can gain from. (Plus, it borrows heavily from the conceptual framework of one of my favorite books ever, Albert Hirschman's Exit, Voice and Loyalty, which should be required reading for all crim just students, well, for everyone actually, even though it was written for, eek, economists.)

Of course, it has particular relevance to corrections sentencing. Stability and instability are cousins of order and disorder, law obedience and law breaking, self-government and not so much. Community and culture determine levels of crime far more than anything government does, and you see through these overviews just how important they are. What also stood out for me, and clearly the authors' intent, was how their descriptions of the changes, the fears, the resistance, the perceptions, the strength and weaknesses of institutions and mores all mirrored the nation as a whole as we go through similar ebbs and flows of demographics and values, the loss of "control" and the efforts (good and bad) to combat that loss. It's clear that strong neighborhoods are our best crime control policy and that funneling money into other efforts at their expense is foolish and ultimately self-defeating.

It's not a profound message, but it's done well and memorably. Short book, worth your time, maybe even as you need something peaceful and quiet to do after the coming weekend. No need to thank me.

No comments: