America’s rich and poor are becoming increasingly polarized and according to Charles Murray in his latest essay, The New American Divide, it’s not a good thing for America.
Before elevators zoning was vertical; first and second floors, when they weren’t retail or office, were luxury living, the third and fourth floors were middle class living and the fifth and sixth floors were cheaper apartments. The poorer you were, the more stairs you had to climb. There were always better and worse neighborhoods to live in, but for the most part rich and the poor lived together. Elevators began segregating people horizontally by buildings, but at least they lived in the same neighborhoods.
In the 1950’s, cars led to the creation of suburbia, which led to horizontal zoning. The rich and middle class moved to their respective neighborhoods, protected by zoning ordinances and CCR’s. They left the poorer back in the old neighborhood to fend for themselves.
You are who you associate with. If you hang with the rich, you have a greater prospect of becoming or staying rich. If you hang with the poor it’s pretty tough to work your way up.
If we all agree that diverse neighborhoods are better for our country, we better look at the way we plan and zone our cities. Human nature is such that very few of us like the idea of living with people that are poorer or sicker than we are, but as designers we must create neighborhoods that provide more diverse housing opportunities for everyone, rich and poor, old and young, families and singles, owners and renters. If we do we’ll have more sustainable communities and a more sustainable America.