Mansfield Frazier on the Need to Integrate Cleveland Neighborhoods
As famed Bronx, New York environmental activist Majoria Carter said, “I believe that you shouldn’t have to move to live in a better neighborhood.” Indeed, the best — and perhaps only — way for the rust belt to be reinvented as a sustainable, thriving, and inclusive region is by accomplishing the task in community after community… one at a time.
The most valuable takeaway from the decades-old civil rights movement is that, while workplace integration is achievable via legislative mandates and judicial rulings, no amount of governmental pressure can force individuals of different races to live side-by-side if they have no desire to do so. This reality, in spite of the fact minorities have been moving to suburban and exurban enclaves for over four decades, causes America to be more racially stratified today than it was 50 years ago when integration began.
Nonetheless, a grand opportunity currently presents itself to core communities if we can but navigate the sometimes troubled racial waters. The urban agriculture component of the national sustainability movement is rapidly taking root in rust belt cities, causing young neo-pioneers of all races to look toward inner-city homesteading in growing numbers. The challenge for current residents of these communities is to make all of our new neighbors feel welcome and to encourage diversity by inviting more of them to make their home beside us. In response, all our new residents need to do is engage their neighbors one-on-one and attend community social and political events, such as ward club meetings. They should not be bashful about making their voices heard and running for some position in these community groups. People love it when new people just come right in, roll up their sleeves, and help with the heavy lifting.
The overwhelmingly African-American Cleveland community of Hough, where I’ve resided for over a decade and recently build a three-quarter acre vineyard, is ideally located midpoint (a brisk 15 minute walk in either direction) between downtown and University Circle, a sprawling area comprised of Cleveland Clinic, Case Western Reserve University, University Hospitals, and a plethora of the region’s finest cultural attractions
such as the Art and Natural History Museums and Severance Hall, home to the famed Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. It’s a near-perfect neighborhood (in terms of comfort level) for whites and others to move into, considering the fact that over the last 15 years hundreds of upscale, new homes have been built, thus reconstituting the community with an influx of open-minded, welcoming, middle class residents of color.
While blessed by proximity, older residents of Hough have nonetheless occasionally cast a wary eye at its wealthy (and landlocked) neighbors, fearful of gentrification as these entities need to expand. But in the last half-decade these august institutions have done a 180-degree turnabout and now are building bridges to the minority communities they’re completely surrounded by—instead of erecting walls.
Our response to newcomers, as residents of these core communities, should be to extend an outstretched hand and an open invite to all who wish to reside in inner-city neighborhoods and to make them feel safe, secure and welcome. If America is to fulfill its promise of greatness we have to start in local communities with the realization that the door to housing integration—which indeed has been difficult to keep open—works best when it swings both ways.
It bears repeating: African-Americans have to be as welcoming to whites (or any others) who wish to move into our neighborhoods as we would have them be welcoming to us into their communities. Fair always is fair, plus it builds stronger, more viable, and far more interesting neighborhoods.
-Mansfield Frazier, writer and executive director at Neighborhood Solutions