Housing Complex

Meta Urban Geekery: Is It Possible to Talk About Demographic Change Without Editorializing?

Invasion zone?

Invasion zone?

A few days ago, Atrios flagged a lede graf in the Washington Post's write-up of a Brookings report on the changing nature of the suburbs, asking: "Nobody noticed what's wrong with this paragraph?" It reads:

The idealized vision of suburbia as a homogenous landscape of prosperity built around the nuclear family took another hit over the past decade, as suburbs became home to more poor people, immigrants, minorities, senior citizens and households with no children, according to a Brookings Institution report to be released Sunday.

Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting made the complaint more explicit, translating reporter Carol Morello's phrasing as socioeconomic fear-mongering: "The traditional image of the U.S. suburb is being spoiled as they become less wealthy, white and native-born," wrote Steve Randall.

When you start looking at it that way, other phrases like "nuclear families are outnumbered" and "suburbs already are facing a rising tide of poor residents" start to make you feel like white suburbanites are under seige.

I certainly hadn't read the story that way initially, though. To my ear, "homogenous landscape of prosperity built around the nuclear family" already sounds like a bad thing, and if it's taking a hit, it's about time. Plus, calling this image "idealized" already suggests that it may not ever have been a real thing anyway. Sure, the reporter could have cast it in a different light by saying, "the suburbs have over the last decade been enriched and vitalized by an influx of hard workers from different cultures," but that might have been seen as editorializing as well.

Here's another lede, from the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON – White flight? In a reversal, America's suburbs are now more likely to be home to minorities, the poor and a rapidly growing older population as many younger, educated whites move to cities for jobs and shorter commutes.

Well, that's a factual statement, and it doesn't have to do with any dream being punctured. Probably would have been a safer way for the WaPo to go, and a little more attention to the connotations of words is always good. But I don't think any major journalistic offense has been committed here.

Photo from flickr user Jana Mills.

  • Indeed

    All we're seeing happen is what occurs in most European cities, which is that wealthy people live inside the cities because that's where all the amenities are, and poor people live in the ring suburbs.

    The real question is whether it makes sense to let communities become exclusively for the poor or for the rich. In my opinion, it doesn't. Economic and cultural diversity is essential for creating a more just and thoughtful world. Pretending as though things just happen and that the market justly determines where people of different economic and racial categories live is bogus.

    I know that upper income people love the way that DC is headed. But in my opinion we are becoming stale and moving closer to something that rivals Tyson's Corner in its desire for homogeneity. I'm not asking for a "return to the old days." I'm only asking that we not simply move suburban style thinking and culture into the city. Accept and acknowledge complexity, don't try to crush it!

  • Nancy

    Look within Dorothy.

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