Warren Dunn



Craig Richardson, Russell Smith, and Vishan Chakrabarti.  Folks in Winston Salem might recognize Richardson and Smith as, in order of mention, Director of the Center for the Study of Economic Mobility and BB&T Distinguished Professor of Economics at Winston-Salem State University and Smith as professor of geography and faculty lead for the Spatial Justice Studio and the Center for Design Innovation at Winston-Salem State University.

But Vishan Chakrabarti?  Well, for openers, he and Richardson and Smith, who wrote a column in the Winston-Salem Journal unfortunately entitled “Spreading the Wealth’ in the East Ward” (unfortunate in my estimation because it summons up images of bombers opening their bomb bay doors and letting fly bales of dollars) have a lot in common.  Chakrabarti is the new Dean of the College of Environmental Design at the University of California at Berkeley and the former Director of the Center for Urban Real Estate at Columbia in New York City.    He is also the author of “A Country of Cities, A Manifesto for Urban America.”

He is also a friend of my daughter, Alyson, because they are both architects and he is married to one of her closest friends.

All three, if I have interpreted their writings correctly (and they can speak for themselves.  I strongly recommend that those who are interested in reducing poverty in urban America read the column and the book), believe that limiting urban “sprawl” and focusing on tightly clustered retail, living, and recreational spaces can alleviate poverty by being less dependent on cars and buses and by creating job opportunities.   All three maintain that “spreading money across the entire East Ward could contribute to the continuation of low-density, single-use development patterns…( and will) lead to ever-lower rates of economic mobility (in a city that already ranks among the lowest in the nation in upward social mobility.)

When Vishan wrote his book in 2013, it generated a storm of both hosannas and pushback.   Those who saw the benefits of high density living closer to downtown rushed to embrace the diminution of expensive urban sprawl.   Those who pushed back said Americans wanted their green space around their suburban home and the homogeneity of economic status.  As the old saying says, you pay your money and takes your chances.   One thing is certain.  Urban sprawl contributes to economic polarity and isolation and higher taxes and costs for infrastructure.

When I was at the Department of Urban Development, the cities were tearing down the high rise projects because, as one critic said, they were simply warehousing the poor.   In their place, it was suggested that low rise public housing on scattered sites would be better and that viewpoint prevails today.  But low-rise, even attractive public housing, scattered throughout the city if the NIMBYs can be convinced, does not address the issues of transportation or economic development.   Creating, as Vishan proposes, cities within cities close to one another can lead to economic development.

As Richardson and Smith suggest, “East Winston has the potential to realize an alternative spatial reality as a result of its prime geographic location (close to downtown.)   Inasmuch as Winston-Salem is about 16,000 short of affordable housing units, building a high density environment for shopping, living, working, and playing might be a far more cost-effective way of addressing three big issues related to poverty: transportation, affordable housing, and job creation.

But, hey, let’s also plant a few trees.




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