The Per Gallon Cost of White Flight.

1998 Navigator 3/4 Front2

Hope that almost-$5 gallon of gas was worth it.

Christopher Williams* at TPM:

Starting in the late sixties and continuing throughout the seventies and eighties, following the obliteration of legally imposed segregation, middle class Americans found insularity in sprawl, and its enabler in the automobile. As cheap fuel allowed these moonscapes to thrive at the expense of our once proud cities, the outflux was perpetuated always in the name of “better schools” although quite often the longer commutes led to less parenting time, even while much poor quality time was spent with chauffeur Mom.
As even the suburbs became more diverse, the better schools somehow spontaneously moved further out. Thus, David Brooks’s romanticized exurban, the tax-hating libertarian whose telephone, cable, Internet, and other services were subsidized by the horrible city dwellers, now commuted four hours a day, waking up in the wee hours of the morning and arriving home in time to catch Leno, but of course this was better for the kids.

Meanwhile, some middle class people had had enough and started to gentrify the previously abandoned urban areas, although so many were dinkys who would flee to the suburb after that first pregnancy echogram. Nevertheless our cities have been experiencing a comeback. Buses are improving, light rail is emerging, sidewalks are becoming vibrant, and the concept of a public space is re-emerging as being of much better quality than the mall foodcourt. We have come to the realization that European cities are so ahead of us, and we spend costly Euros enjoying their non-chain restaurants, fabulous sidewalk life, public parks and spaces, and realize that even though they are paying twice as much per gallon of gas, that they are in less agony over it than we are because they are not hostage to the automobile and to pedestrian-hostile environments and lifestyles.

This is another reason the revitalization of cities is so important: it just makes more economic  and environmental sense in the long-run to have cheap, clean public transportation. You can get just about anywhere in New York City via train or bus, and while folks here still feel the effects of gas prices at the supermarket, they’re not coming out of their pockets for an additional few hundred bucks a month and feeling all that pain at the pump** to keep their whips sated on that good unleaded.

This also goes to Ta-Nehisi’s point about the economic impracticalities of racism; again, it makes people’s lives run so much less efficiently.

*No, not this guy. We don’t think.

**I got a note from some scary people who say we were obligated to say that in any discussion of gas prices. So there you go.



Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.
  • Sheryl Cashin’s book “The Failures of Integration” is really good on the economic premium white people pay to live in segregated neighborhoods.

  • LH

    I get the point but think it glosses over a reality of city living: crime.

    Just last Tuesday, I’m parking my car on Chicago’s West Side to visit a friend. Out of nowhere, at least six unmarked and marked squad cars converge on a sidewalk where a few males were walking. The next thing I know, cops are yelling, “Freeze!”

    Folks are running, yelling, getting tackled, the whole nine. A couple who was walking their dog started running away from the commotion and toward the building I was entering. It turns out they live there. They let me in and after a few seconds of heavy breathing, the woman says to no one in particular, “We just moved in a couple of months ago and every night it seems it’s like this. The police are here. It doesn’t feel safe.” That’s because it isn’t safe. At the high school around the corner, two students were killed this past year. This was a good year.

    What is the couple I saw supposed to do? Just kinda wait it out until it does feel safe? Stick around so they aren’t accused of being “racist?”

  • verdeluz

    This is a bit of an oversimplification of the reasons why people may choose not to opt for city living, no? Here in my cow pasture I have tons of space, ample greenery, neighbors that look me in the eye/smile/speak, quiet nights (and days) without traffic, sirens, domestic disturbances, or billboards and flashing signs disturbing my peace.. I’ve been saying for a while now that if I ever move back to the States I’ll be heading directly to Chicago, and the public transportation system is high on the list of reasons why, but I can’t say that my probably inappropriate level of excitement about the El cancels out the apprehension I feel about living in that kind of environment day after day and the toll it takes on the psyche- something that I wasn’t fully aware of until I removed myself from it.

    There’s a lot that I admire about well-planned, well-managed cities, but I also understand the desire to not live in them. (I guess I could say the same about suburbs, lol.)

  • k: Sure, but the pastoral idyll you call home in PR (i hate you, btw) is not the same as the many exurbs that have popped up on the outskirts of cities in the last 20 years.

    It’s not as if people were fleeing cities to go to rural counties; they were fleeing to the orbiting counties that propped a lot of the times as a specific result to racialized policies. The Levittowns that lured so much of the white middle class that popped up following WWII didn’t sell to blacks or Puerto Ricans (or Jews in many cases). In New York, banks and the city collaborated to actually devalue property in places with large numbers of those aforementioned groups. At some point, if you were a white homeowner, racist policies actually made city life for middle class white people economically undesirable. That and their racist fears actually pushed them out to Long Island. And so it went elsewhere.

    that may not be why people who’ve always lived in the suburbs prefer the suburbs, but it informed why their parents took part in the mass exodus.