Allow me a a bit civic boosterism here…
A provocative article in New Geography entitled, ‘The White City,’ considers this point about cities –
Among the media, academia and within planning circles, there’s a generally standing answer to the question of what cities are the best, the most progressive and best role models for small and mid-sized cities. The standard list includes Portland, Seattle, Austin, Minneapolis, and Denver. In particular, Portland is held up as a paradigm, with its urban growth boundary, extensive transit system, excellent cycling culture, and a pro-density policy. These cities are frequently contrasted with those of the Rust Belt and South, which are found wanting, often even by locals, as “cool” urban places.
But look closely at these exemplars and a curious fact emerges. If you take away the dominant Tier One cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles you will find that the “progressive” cities aren’t red or blue, but another color entirely: white.
Now, considering the trend in Athenian politics towards ‘progressive urbanism’ and the apparent lack of engagement in and with the black community in Athens, I think this article is very germane to Athenian politics, planning, and future.
Athens is about 60% White, 25% Black, 9% Hispanic, and 3% Asian. Which is well above the racial diversity level in core cities Nationally – and well above Portland’s 6% African-American. Athens has a long, troubled history of race relations (the high schools integrated 14 years after Brown – a history that is evident still today in such disparate socioeconomic indicators.
When it comes to progressivism, who can say which is better – Atlanta or Austin? Can they be compared? Are ‘progressive urban policies’ truly progressive if they do not engage and serve the entire community? The potential we have in Athens is for the best of both worlds. We have the demographic diversity to drive progressive human politics and the urbanist sensibility among our citizenry to drive progressive planning and policy goals.
Just as I would not trade our cacophonous, slow, NIMBYistic democracy for China’s ‘declare and it’s done’ dictatorship, I would not trade our diverse electorate for Portland’s homogeneity because I believe our diversity will be positive in the long-run. There are always costs to any policy – think the dampers on growth and decrease in affordability that historic preservationists bring – or the loss of pedestrian, human scale development that modernist developers bring. Or vice versa. Athenian diversity is something that distinguishes our city from others and can make our politics that much better.