Lecture 7. Strategies of Separation: From Jewish Ghettos to American ‘Projects’

Cities across the globe are marked by segregation. Modern cities are formed by a patchwork of quarters each distinguished by economic or racial uniformity. We are so accustomed to this modern urban phenomenon as to take it for granted. In reality, urban segregation started with early modernity because of a serious of concerted efforts and specific policies.   It is important for students to understand that the specific urban configuration of cities did not happen ‘naturally,’ or by chance. Cities are shaped by economic, social and political forces. Ideological decisions shape both the physical and the social environment. One of the points this lecture will make—especially to young, predominantly American students who would understandably take its cityscape for granted as the ‘normal’ state of affairs—is that racial segregation has had a devastating impact on American cities.   What the lecture shows is that urban segregation does not occur ‘spontaneously.’ It did not exist in the ancient and medieval city. It emerged, together with new ideas about urban and social decorum, in the Renaissance city—or early modernity. Segregation is a modern idea. Understanding when and how it emerged is the first step in any hope we might have of dismantling the entrenched and almost intractable problem of racial segregation. The overarching theme is that while certain minorities, Blacks and Latinx especially, have paid by far the higher price for segregated cities and societies, everybody has been impacted by the impoverishment of American cities, their downtown areas and the cultural and social opportunities they once offered in abundance.

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