Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Other Side of the Tracks

As a counterpoint to Duncan's description of Bedford Village, let me give you a brief history of Durham NC. It was founded in 1847 when a local dentist, Dr. Benjamin Durham, donated three acres to the railroad to build a station. The railroad allowed the town to centralize the tobacco production, and it became a farm center (and later a manufacturing center, first for cut tobacco and then for manufactured cigarettes; early in the 20th Century, 95% of the manufactured cigarettes IN THE WORLD were made in Durham).

The railroad ran more or less diagonally from upper left (NW) to lower right (SE) on your map. The area above the rail line was the City of Durham; the area below the line was unincorporated County land. As African American millworkers in cotton and tobacco started to make a little bit of money in the factories, they wanted to buy land and build houses, but couldn't afford both property and property taxes. So they bought in the unincorporated area below the tracks, and the railroad was a clear social and cultural dividing line (not unlike those in the factories, where men worked in one building and women in another, where white men and women worked on the first floors and Blacks worked on the upper floors).

As the African American community started to accumulate some capital, businesses small and large rose up to accommodate them. Parrish Street came to be known as the Black Wall Street with banks and insurance companies serving the African American middle class throughout the South , and the Black
neighborhood called Hayti (pronounced HAY-tie) was a vigorous middle-class community.

Fast-forward to the 1970s. Duke University (Durham), the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), and the North Carolina State University (Raleigh) had bought and developed a few thousand acres in the center of the 20-mile triangle between them and built a research-oriented business park called Research Triangle Park (RTP). RTP was booming, with over a hundred research-focused organizations ranging from Xerox to the US Department of Agriculture having labs there. (For those of you who know David or Amy Sedaris — they grew up in Raleigh because their father worked for Xerox in RTP.) And there was no significant highway from Durham to RTP as there was with Interstate 40 running between Chapel Hill and Raleigh. So the Durham Freeway was built... you guessed it... right through the heart of Hayti, cutting a 1.5-mile-wide swath through the most successful Black community in the Southeast. And that was the end of that.

What examples do you know of "the other side of the tracks?"

4 comments:

Eric Randall said...

The City of Tulsa has some pretty clear lines of demarcation similar to what you described in Durham, and the connection to the Duncan study is evident. I'll share a unique situation that recently occurred.

Like most of the Oklahoma boomtowns, Tulsa was fueled and built by oil money. "Mid-town" is the collection of the homes built by the well-to-doers and oil barrons in the 20's and 30's and remains the place to be and the highest land and property costs. North Tulsa (demarked by both a major freeway and political boundary) is the working class area that sprung up in the late 40's and 50's. This section is now predominately populated by African Americans.

Tulsa has been trying desperately to accomplish two things in the last 15 years (due to Oklahoma City envy, but that's for another blog): First to revitalize the downtown - which is now just a shell of its former self since the oil bust, and the subsequent relocation of most oil companies to Houston; Second to promote development along the River (which runs near the above mentioned Mid-Town area).

4 years ago, The voters of Tulsa passed a sales tax increase that primarily included funds to build a downtown arena, with a few throw away projects added to garner support for said tax city wide. The tax passed quiet handily by about a 60% margin - due in no large part to an apathetic North Tulsa not participating by a wide margin. An already highly taxed population was just increased, with effectively nothing to gain for North Tulsa.

Fast forward to this year: An enormous campaign to vote another sales tax increase, this time for river development, funded in a large part by the mid-town folks with sizeable land holdings along the river. This time, however, North Tulsa had a very outspoken and energetic, democratic city councilor who registered the voters of North Tulsa in record numbers. The election created strange bedfellows indeed, with a largely Democratic African American voting block supported and funded by a grassroots Republican "no more taxes" bloc, and the river tax handily defeated even though the "Vote Yes" campaign out spent the opposition by something like 4:1

It was an interesting shift in Tulsa politics, and this group from the "wrong side of the tracks" seen as political throw aways are now a huge influence in politics.

Melissa said...

Atlanta is a really difficult city to navigate. One reason is because all the streets have the word peachtree in them and the other is that the name of the street is constantly changing. A city planning professor in college told us that the reason for the name change was to delineate the black vs. white neighborhoods. Where the name of the street changed, so did the demographics. With the incredible amount of downtown growth in Atlanta over the past ten years, the segregation has all but disappeared into a much more diverse community.

Singleton said...

Although it is not as "worldly" of an example - here on the Cape there is a historic road, Rt. 6A, which cuts across the northern part of the cape. (Brief history of the road: "The route is believed to have begun as a Native American trail which stretched from Plymouth to Provincetown. As colonial agricultural settlement increased on the Cape during the 1600s, this cart path became the major east-west thoroughfare for early settlers. The narrow road became an extension of the Plymouth Colony's "King's Highway" in the late 17th century.") I have literally driven down this road and noticed in some towns that the land on the right (if you are driving towards the west, with the ocean on the right hand side) is populated mostly with larger, older, well-kept homes. On the left hand side, however, the houses are more like cottages, older and run down. It amazing to see that even on the same street there can be segregation not necessarily between races or cultures, but between classes.

While doing some research on this topic, I found this article: Domestic Architecture and the Use of Space: An Interdisciplinary Cross-Cultural Study. Unfortunately, I wasnt able to download the entire article - but a summary I read said this, "How people segment their culture will directly influence how they segment their behavior in terms of their use of space and how they segment their cultural materials in terms of their built environment." Just an interesting thought to add to our conversation....

Nick Graal said...

There is an interesting example with a south suburb of Chicago-Riverside. From the town's website; this was one of the first planned suburban communities in America and an early example of a transit orientated development-The town is centered around a train station. The train runs to downtown Chicago. The community was and still is very affluent. This is not the case with some of the surrounding neighborhoods. The town surrounds the Des Plaines river and is a forest setting (nicknamed the Village in the Forest). The streets were all organized organically. No straight runs or any rectilinear geometry. Many one way streets, loops, round abouts, etc. The architecture of the town (residential and commercial) and the plannings is very unique and beautiful. However, it is perceived by some that the "organic" nature of the town had specific intent. Although this may not have been the goal of the architect. Some believe that the plan of the town was so confusing, that it would keep the lower class individuals out because they couldn't navigate the streets. I have driven and gotten lost in it myself. Although I didn't mind that much, it was an interesting town to get lost in. Back to the point. Weather the architect sent out to do this or not, the town of Riverside has stayed relatively affluent compared to it's neighboring communities. You can go here: http://www.riverside.il.us/index.asp?Type=B_DIR&SEC={3FA6D5D8-DFFB-4421-A25B-053B24A19E42}
They have maps to download of the town and historical "facts" as well.