Episode 30: Henry Louis Taylor, Jr.
Dr. Henry Louis Taylor, Jr. is the Director for the Center for Urban Studies at the University of Buffalo and the Project Coordinator for the Perry Choice Neighborhood Initiative. His work has focused on the intersection of urban planning, regional development, and history in both the United States and Cuba. Dr. Taylor also studies the relationship between urban planning, race, and class.
Our conversation focuses on inequality, racism, reconfiguring government institutions, and the physical structure of neighborhoods—several large, tangible issues that have been inadequately discussed or completely ignored by earlier interviewees. American exceptionalism is an early theme that leads into the mental frameworks that distort how we view the world. Dr. Taylor offers some concrete ideas about refocusing policy to foster stronger neighborhoods and ends musing on humanity’s slow march towards the light.
For both Micah and myself, listening to the final edit of Dr. Taylor’s conversation was a good, if unsettling experience: we’re almost half a year into production and this will be the first time race has been seriously discussed. As a result, this conversation has remarkably few explicit connections to the rest of the project because Dr. Taylor has had to build a new wing of the conversation from scratch. We find this embarrassing because it reflects the whiteness of the project back at us, from our choices of interviewees to the priorities of the interviewees themselves. Micah and I have been talking about race and our own perspectives a lot recently and we’re going to dedicate the next interstitial episode to putting some of those thoughts down in audio.
An addendum: Dr. Taylor mentions discriminatory zoning policies initiated by the Nixon administration and carried out by subsequent administrations. For further details, here is a ProPublica article that came out after I published this episode. –A
Perhaps I am confused, but I thought Dr. Taylor was promoting the idea that the evil hand was pushing for desegregation as a means to fragment black communities, but this article seems to say the opposite, that Nixon was actually against government enforced desegregation as a means of promoting equality.
An interesting example of the failure of enforced desegregation and the myth of community control is Inglewood, California, where government intervention by the demand of bordering neighborhoods led to the destruction of the existing, wealthy caucasian neighborhood and its replacement by an African American neighborhood. Forty years later, 80-90% of the white community has moved away and it is a racially hostile, predominantly black city. Inglewood clearly demonstrates that the conversation of community control was not about controlling one’s own community, but about leaving one’s own community to enter another. Dr. Taylor’s liberal activists fought for the power to leave their community for a wealthier one. Most of them didn’t become lost, they won; they joined suburbia and the pursuit of wealth, and were satisfied by their success.
Dr. Taylor blames the government for breaking up neighborhoods yet also attacks it for exclusionary zoning designed to keep wealthily neighborhoods separate from poor blacks and whites. It seems he is not only confused about what the villain is doing and who the villain is, but also who the victim is and what the problem is, if it is not wealth, and therefore how to solve it. He rages against complexity and the ghosts of his past nostalgia, without knowing where he wants the road to go. This is a frightening prospect in light of his desire to resurrect protests and deconstruction, all while failing to acknowledge that his past protests were placatingly successful.
This is further exacerbated by his contradicting high-minded views of the light in people which is not equally extended to the constructs they have created and in which they participate. Industrialization is not responsible for crime in ethnic communities – criminals are responsible for their behavior. Dr. Taylor speaks of poverty being a false enemy, so he cannot also blame it for crime.
I suspect Dr. Taylor’s opening story is about himself, either literally or metaphorically. He has been romanced by the power and prestige of academia, despite academia’s impotence in breeding activists. He persists despite his ideologies failing to give birth to the utopia for which they were intended, so now, obsolete to his noble desires, he longs for a Moses figure to lead him to the island paradise he cannot build himself. Yet in his failure he takes comfort, the more human for his struggle and inability to overcome his basic desires.
I’m concerned my comment is a little harsh, and though there would have been some response on that by now. I welcome input, whether dissection or support.
where I live, (Australia, Melb.) we dont have ‘exclusionary zoning’ or desegragation laws; we have real estate agents. Over the same timespan as Dr Taylor I’ve seen run down neighbourhoods regenerated by the poor but idealistic and somewhat educated(this is a massive flattering over simplification for purpose of speed) and become attractive to the Others.(another!) decade by year by month. But whether its a farmer way back of nowhere or inner city person, or someone who moves and builds on an outer suburban former market garden area block because there’s nowhere else they can afford, someone does the work of seeing possibility where Others couldn’t and then they do get it and then someone else benefits. By then of a radically different mindset from the original regenerators who, for instance, thought it’d be good to live where there’s a shoe mender, library, police station, doctor, employment agency/benefits office, 4 chemists as well as usual grocers and green grocers in main two streets.That’s gone now for 4 real estate agents, countless coffee bars, 1 chemist, many gift shops, boutiques, beauty shops, health and fitness studios. Vanity. And two places for people who can’t cut their own toenails.
In other areas if the locals are getting too bolshie and out about it the powers that be will find an excuse to put a freeway through it and after that zoning can take care of itself and another chance at a seat at the table might be up for Fred Blog with right distribultion of emoluments on the far side of the freeway.
So I think Dr Taylor is pointing to something quite real. It doesn’t have to be done with drugs and guns. Appeals to vanity, greed and real estate profits will also do the trick. And that’ll get rid of the jams.
Further to Dr Taylor’s final point I’m not a pessimist as all around me for as long as I’ve been a grown up I’ve seen more and more younger people with the similar desires to light out for the same or better conceptualized Utopias. And how the hell they expect to find them in this mess I dont know but then how would I? The soup that seems to be moving seems to be trying not to go down the drain.