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Whose City is It?

Photo credit: Construction of the IBM Building by Patrick Dennis from The Advocate

With around 230,000 residents, Baton Rouge has outgrown the town label, and the issues that Baton Rouge currently faces are to some extent familiar to many American cities across the nation, regardless of their size or demographic makeup. Urban communities across the United States are at a crossroads, choosing between being places where people from all walks of life belong or where the desire for robust economic development and profit isolates their most marginalized residents and vulnerable people.

For those considered to be excluded and underrepresented, American cities are no longer the places of opportunity and rebirth they once were when the country first started urbanizing. They may live in cities with poor or limited job opportunities, or where implicit bias in hiring practices prevent them from even getting their feet through the door for an interview. If able to find employment, low wages or unequal wages fail to keep up with the rising cost of living.

Their neighborhoods, after decades of economic divestment and discriminatory urban planning practices, are confronted with two ugly paths. They are either neglected as other neighborhoods and areas of their city thrive or their cultures and community life are erased through the consequences of gentrification. The limited supply of affordable housing then pushes them further and further away from their workplaces and/or schools, and the communities that are affordable enough for them to keep a roof over their head are pretty far away.

Some may be lucky enough to live in a metropolitan area with an adequate public transportation system. Therefore, taking the light rail, subway or bus to work or school and back is an option. However, others may live in areas with limited to no reliable public transportation options, or where public transit agencies are cutting down on services to reduce costs. In most cases, it’s usually working-class or impoverished neighborhoods that are first in line to receive cuts in service.

Economic and infrastructural injustice are not the only issues plaguing American cities either. In American cities, social injustices like police violence and abuses against people of color, the targeting of mosques and synagogues, and the exploitation of immigrants make may marginalized people feel as if they do not belong. This lack of safety and belonging may be further amplified if political leaders are adversarial to diversity and multiculturalism, voting against anti-discrimination ordinances or remaining silent on hate crimes and bigotry taking place in their communities. This exclusion may be even more evident if city leadership is lacking in diversity, or if minority communities and poor people are not given the same access to public spaces.

While economic and social injustices are far from being exclusively urban issues, American cities--whether they be New York, New Orleans, Baton Rouge or Los Angeles--represent what is considered to be the American ideal. People from various walks of life and from various backgrounds move and grow up in cities to share space and make diverse contributions to our society and the world. Therefore, it is imperative that residents living in this country’s urban communities develop and advocate for policies and practices that are economically and socially empowering. Otherwise, any prosperity and growth that is achieved will not age well.

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