In The Sociological Imagination, C. W. Mills (1959) asserts that social scientists should document the problems of society, find the causes of these problems, and advocate for policy changes. Invisible City refers to the people in our society whom we walk past every day and never truly see: the poor, disabled, elderly, and homeless. This book looks at the unseen forces that shape the location, design, and cost of housing and neighborhoods that impact disadvantaged populations. Invisible City moves past the front stage of a city (Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Times Square in New York, South Beach in Miami) and looks at the backstage of cities. It's a term that calls out to document the invisible city that moves past the grandeur to the unseen elements of the city. After Katrina, the term "invisible city" took on another kind of meaning with the disappearance of cities and neighborhoods in the Gulf Coast area. More importantly, Invisible City refers to viable solutions to housing and neighborhood problems that are not on the radar screen. We want to bring solutions to people and to generate a debate in our neighborhoods and cities. My view of the invisible city is shaped by a sociological perspective that integrates into whole economic, historic, social, and political forces that are largely unseen to the casual observer.
Place matters. But place is not just about location in a city or a neighborhood (see Dreier, Mollenkopf, Swanstrom 2004) but the kind of housing in which we live and how it shapes us as people. Life chances are structured by place, such as the country, city, neighborhood, and house in which one lives. Our homes shape us in significant ways. Along with place, power and poverty shape the lives of the invisible classes. Inequality and poverty are not just created between the capitalist and the worker within the workplace—they are also created by the inequality of housing. In this book we hope to shed new light on these invisible forces and to challenge many of the conventional assumptions of how cities function.
This book represents twenty-five years of work on the invisible city and its inhabitants. Much of this material came out of work that my consulting company has performed along with university-funded research focusing on hidden classes of people. Much of this work has been done in collaboration with my numerous graduate students and several respected academics. All of the chapters in this book are updates, elaborations, and revisions of many of the themes of my work. The focus of this work has always been on attractive, affordable, and accessible housing.
A central concern of urban studies is to develop an understanding of the social and spatial constraints on basic necessities (e.g., housing, jobs, health care, and transportation) that are distributed on a non-random basis. British sociologist and neo-Weberian Ray Pahl (1975) states that a person's opportunities to secure adequate schooling, jobs, health care, and a safe neighborhood are shaped by the spatial and social allocation of housing and transportation services. Pahl further asserts that an individual's life opportunities are powerfully influenced by "managers" (the government, banks, developers, landlords, and tenants) who determine the use of space. A person's life is not determined solely by his or her relationship to the means of production, but by spatial location in the urban system.
Inequalities are generated within and among cities. Why is it that certain cities can provide affordable housing and others cannot? What is the role of government, banks, developers, and landlords in the allocation of housing needs? While an economist might explain the cause of homelessness as a supply-and-demand problem, progressive urban scholars consider the institutional constraints such as the allocation of accessible, attractive, decent, and affordable housing. A critical examination must be made of how essential human needs are distributed within and across urban systems.
The Weberian analyst attempts to understand how access to fundamental needs varies among urban areas and attempts to identify why certain urban places have difficulty allocating necessities while others do not. In Whose City?, Pahl argues that "access to resources is systematically structured in a local context" (1975, 203). Concerning housing, Pahl believed that urban scholars should focus on the key actors who manage the urban housing system (property owners) and the recipients of their housing (tenants—"those who must rent") (Pahl 1975, 244-246).Pahl writes:
It is evident that I have taken as my starting point the fact that the whole society is urban, but that, since people's life chances are constrained to a greater or lesser degree by the non-random distribution of resources and facilities, urban sociology is concerned with the understanding of the causes and consequences of such distribution for relevant populations. The Weberian analysis is concerned with the understanding of the causes and consequences of such distribution for relevant populations. The values and ideologies of those in the distributing, organizing and care-taking professions, and the relations between the formal and informal patterns of social relationships, are of central concern to Weberian analysis. (206)
Pahl's argument that the Weberian analyst should attempt to explain the causes and consequences of resource allocation provides a new direction and meaning for urban studies. An urbanist, according to Pahl, examines those resources that are "fundamental" (necessary to survive) and have a "spatial" dimension. The urbanist argues that "housing and transportation are elements in my view of the city, family allowances and pension schemes are not" (10). Pahl argues that since the allocation of space is inherently unequal (no two persons can occupy the same space), Weberian analysis must examine how these spatially distributed resources are dispersed. The progressive urbanist should also focus on the "gatekeepers" and "urban managers" as conscious social forces molding the urban environment. Progressive urbanists must abandon the assumption that subsocial urban forces compete against one another, a theory often called "human ecology." In Invisible City we have used Pahl's framework as a starting point for our research on cities.
Because of the collapse of socialism, Marxism as both a tool of analysis and a policy solution seems increasingly irrelevant. Housing problems need to be repaired within the capitalist structure. This is something of interest not just to a Marxist but to neo-Weberians and others as well. Pahl has argued that the best way to examine the success or failure of a city is through the distribution of basic necessities to its citizens.
Pahl argues that urban sociology must tightly focus on how basic needs such as housing, education, recreation, transportation, safety, and employment vary by city and that we must come to understand how urban managers and gatekeepers can increase or decrease these basic necessities for living in the city. Elected leaders, nonprofits, bureaucrats, social movements, and community organizers change, remake, rebuild, revitalize, and destroy the pattern and infrastructure of the city, which can have an impact on the life chances of all citizens. The gatekeepers allocate resources, make policy, and enforce police actions (building-code enforcement and planning approvals, along with the criminal justice system). Pahl has argued against those who thought that anything and everything that happens within a city is urban, since countries have become largely urban. Urban sociology, in order to survive, must have a focus that examines the allocation of basic resources. This is why the success of a city depends on social class and should not be defined only by the very rich. Social justice is still important even if you are not under the spell of a Marxist framework.
With that said, it is surprising that some would take an economist position that the "success" of a city is measured by how high the rents have grown (the usual suspects such as New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and increasingly Chicago fall into this category). In other words, if people are able to pay relatively high rents, the city must be better at providing the good life. But if we use the framework of Pahl, these cities are failures, not successes, because they are not meeting the needs of a large number of people who lack affordable, attractive, and safe housing. As Michael Stone has argued, "shelter poverty" is the result of housing prices being so high that there are few resources left for other basic necessities. By using the criterion of meeting the basic necessities of poor and working-class citizens, I think we need to look elsewhere. In the United States, I think smaller and mid-size cities like Louisville do a better job in this regard. However, they still fall short, and their leadership is not under the rubric of a "progressive agenda." Joe Feagin's book on Houston highlights the many problems and challenges of a city that adopts a "free market" and limited government response to urban needs. Policy, planning, capital, government, and social movements play a role in shaping our cities. People and place matter in shaping our life chances.
Ray Pahl's thinking on city was problematic because it focused only on basic human needs. It never explored or embraced the importance of cultural, creative, and personal freedoms (including sex and drug experimentation). In this case, the Soviet, Cuban, and Chinese socialist cities fail miserably. My twenty-five visits to Havana over a six-year period caused me more alarm than elation. Indeed, compared to cities in other nearby developing countries, Havana supplies at the bare minimum the basic necessities of life—shelter, food, health care, education, and transportation—but its lack of democratic governance provides very little space to debate or to access and express ideas of good and bad. Cuba’s lack of tolerance for dissent from the norm is chilling and oppressive to the people. This kind of oppression cannot be justified or supported by simply blaming Cuba’s state of emergency on early U.S. attempts to support violent overthrow of the country and later creating an economic blockade against it. Freedom only exists for those who support the government and its policies rooted in the Soviet system of the 1950s. Much of socialist Havana (we are not talking about the greatest collection of Spanish Colonial architecture outside of Spain or the wonderful people, who are kind, gentle, and loving) is rooted in the architecture and planning mistakes of the Soviet Union. In fact, since the early 1960s nearly all the schools, hospitals, housing projects (other than homes), and government buildings were based on Soviet blueprints. (In other words, if you ever want to get a taste of what Siberia looked like, go to the outskirts of Havana, where it is replicated in perfect detail—without the snow, ice, and frigid winds.) Soviet worker houses had no style, personalization, flair, or symbols of self-identification. In this they are not unlike the "brutal" projects in South Chicago, which were bland, boring, and unhappy places for residents. The only way you could tell the difference between your place and your neighbors' was the number on the door.
Havana also called on a car-dependent transportation system that fed growth outside, rather than inside, the city. Socialist Cuban cuisine is a dismal mush of rice, beans, and occasionally some meat thrown in. If we embrace the notion of the creative city that embraces gay sexual freedom, Havana fails in this sense. There is no such thing as a gay bar, and regular roundups of gay citizens do occur. Prostitutes are routinely arrested and sent to work farms. Internet access is either monitored or restricted by costs. Foreign newspapers are nearly impossible to obtain, except for the ones left behind by tourists and resold. Hotels and architecture outside the confines of Soviet style can be counted on one hand. Newer forms of artistic expression, even without political angle, are frowned upon and censored. Cuban socialism is more about homogeneity and sameness than greatness and freedom. The point of all this is to show that the way we measure a city's greatness should include not only meeting the essential needs of citizens, but also providing them with freedom and creativity.
Following the collapse of Soviet and Chinese forms of socialism, I don't think we can look to their cities as beacons of enlightenment or models for creating social justice. I think about cities outside of the United States and am inspired by places like Amsterdam, which has a large ethnic mix, a relatively low homeless population, and better housing in terms of rent, condition, and attractiveness. Amsterdam employs excellent transportation and education systems and encourages a sustainable lifestyle. In contrast to the bland Soviet version of housing projects, the Amsterdam school of socialist architecture believed that all housing should have ornamentation, be attractive, and provide privacy for the inhabitants. Amsterdam, at this moment in history, might be the world's greatest city because of its ability to ensure basic necessities, freedom, and creativity. In my mind, great cities provide for all, work to enhance the lives of all, and ensure as much freedom as possible. With the recent election, Amsterdam is now governed by a coalition of socialists, greens, and progressives. My own impression is that people living in Amsterdam seem more tolerant, more secure, kinder, warmer, happier, and healthier than citizens in other cities around the world. It is an exciting time in Amsterdam, just as Santa Monica and Burlington were exciting places twenty years ago (see Clavel 1987, The Progressive City, and Capek and Gilderbloom 1992, Community Versus Commodity).
While there is much that is great about New York, Boston, Chicago, and my hometown, San Francisco, these cities fall far short with regard to social justice for the lower classes. As a nation, we should look to America's "un-hip" smaller and mid-size cities (small can be beautiful!) or to Amsterdam for greatness. Greatness is never permanent, though. From my perspective, Chicago was a great city twenty years ago when rents were affordable and lofts could be purchased at a fraction of the cost of New York lofts, while the city still provided a cutting-edge cultural environment.
The following paragraphs present an overview of each chapter and the book in general. Chapter 2, "Economic, Social, and Political Dimensions of the Rental Housing Crisis," frames our study by exploring the dimensions of the housing crisis and by asserting why this fundamental need can have such an important impact on our lives—-from our sense of esteem, to our politics, to our health, to crime, to the quality of our urban lives. America, along with the rest of the world, will see a reversal of housing fortunes if energy costs continue to soar, interest rates climb, and zoning laws that reduce affordable housing options are put into place.
Chapter 3, "Why Rents Rise," presents a sociological view of housing that sheds new light on some of the assumptions of mainstream economic analysis in relation to renting. Housing markets fail to function according to traditional economic theory. Conventional housing analysis is incomplete because it ignores a number of critical variables that explain variations in rent across cities. This study extends the inter-city rent differentials investigation Richard Appelbaum and I (Gilderbloom and Appelbaum 1988) conducted in somewhat isolated housing markets. We draw on that earlier work to briefly examine Edgar Olsen’s (1973) seven conditions for a free market to operate for rental housing and show that these needed conditions cannot be met in the real world of rental housing.
Utilizing U.S. Census data from the years 1990 and 2000, we test our 1970 and 1980 models in Chapter 3 with the addition of several key variables that measure the impact of rental landlord professionalization, changes in housing quality, age of rental housing stock, and their impacts on inter-city rent price differentials. We find that both the cost of homeownership and the level of household income remain critical factors in explaining the levels of median rent across cities. The theory we developed is largely confirmed in the larger rental housing market. However, several key differences and trends deserve attention from planners and policy makers in the effort to provide affordable housing options for urban residents. This chapter gives a new understanding of why a rental housing crisis exists and what needs to be done to solve it.
Chapter 4, "Pros and Cons of Rent Control," examines the impact of rent control. Because of the moderate nature of rent control regulations, most cities that have enacted rent control laws have been unsuccessful in lowering overall rents. The successes of strong rent control laws, such as Santa Monica's, are the exception rather than the rule. This chapter gives an overview of the impacts of moderate rent laws in the United States upon both landlords and tenants and assesses the impact of these laws on the supply, condition, and value of rental units. The passage of a rent control law is not enough to assure long-term success. Without a strong grassroots organization, rent control becomes only a symbolic response to the crisis.
Chapter 4 also explores a liberal public policy program of rent control by seeing how it is co-opted into a toothless policy. This chapter explores how public policy is influenced, created, and disseminated by organizations that have a major financial stake in a particular outcome. Urban policy analysis is not often a neutral field of study; rather, it is dominated by researchers whose conclusions are determined by those funding their studies. As we will show in this chapter, real estate-sponsored studies of urban housing policy are often riddled with questionable methodological approaches, inaccurate data analyses, and conclusions based more on ideology than fact. The dominance of these highly ideological and biased studies demonstrates why professors with tenure should be challenging these studies and providing unprejudiced information. More surprising is how influential these studies are in compelling the media, politicians, and even academics to take positions on urban policy issues based on conclusions that are biased and lack merit.
Most studies on rent control utilize economic models based on either computer simulations or case studies. Some studies have utilized economic modeling and concluded that rent control lowers rents. Other studies have used economic modeling and suggested that rent control ordinances cause reductions in maintenance and increases in the proportion of undesirable tenants. It is obvious that the battle over rent control is often a battle over studies. Objective information is difficult to obtain because of the lack of support in both academic and government circles. Academic social science tends not to reward academic research when it is applied to real government policy. Government in an age of austerity prefers to obtain studies from industries to reduce costs and support the demands of their ideological partners. Power can be defined as the ability to identify, frame, and define issues of social concern. If real estate organizations are allowed to continue to frame, analyze, and define urban issues from their perspective, government will not be properly equipped to deal with the problems of homelessness, slum formation, unaffordable rents, abandonment, and arson for profit. Government has a responsibility to the public and must seek out studies that lack bias. My studies of rent control have frustrated and angered the real estate industry, yet the industry has been unable to challenge my research on any substantive level.
In Chapter 5, "Invisible Jail: Providing Housing and Transportation for the Elderly and Disabled," we talk about the invisible jail in which physical space structures the life chances of the disabled and elderly. The term "invisible jail" means that many people are locked into their homes or neighborhoods because architects and planners have failed to design a space that liberates them. For the elderly and disabled, space that creates self-reliance and that allows a wheelchair user or blind person to do highly personal activities like shower, cook, use the restroom, or travel without the aid of others is liberation, whether it is a simple rail in a bathroom or a curb cut on a sidewalk. This chapter carefully documents the housing preferences and needs of disabled, elderly, and low-income people. We begin with an examination of the quality of housing provided to special populations. We go beyond such traditional concerns as assessing the number of housing units with adequate plumbing and heating. This approach is too simplistic because it fails to consider concerns such as the unique needs of the elderly and disabled. We then explore the problems related to specific location and design needs that will help foster independent living.
When we did this research in Houston, it generated a vigorous public debate on addressing the housing needs of the elderly, disabled, and poor. The major Houston newspapers embraced this study with positive coverage, generating calls for better planning of housing, transportation, and work places. This research also was used as part of the debate to help pass the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) a few years later.
Little research has been conducted on the housing modification needs of the elderly, partly due to a lack of reliable data. Studies of these needs are often inconclusive, anecdotal, and unsystematic. Many rely on decennial census data, an approach that provides a limited and unsatisfactory portrait of the special housing needs of the elderly. Our research is intended to fill this void. This chapter was originally a report for the City of Houston and earned an American Institute of Architects Chapter Award.
An often-overlooked segment of any society is composed of those people who are relegated to assisted-living arrangements or nursing homes. As the U.S. population has grown older, a nursing home crisis has occurred. As 2020 approaches, it is predicted that there will be a need for an additional half-million nursing home beds. Besides the lack of beds, there is also a dire need to improve the overall quality of nursing home care. Utilizing available studies, suggestions are made regarding the optimum nursing home bed vacancy rate. As more and more Americans require assisted-living arrangements, decision makers will be forced to take a serious look at the worsening national nursing home crisis. Our research also calls for an increase in non-institutional nursing home arrangements such as house sharing.
Chapter 6—"HOPE VI: A Dream or Nightmare?"—explores the success of the federal HOPE VI project. So far, the HOPE VI project appears to be accomplishing its objectives: changing the physical shape of housing, reducing concentrations of poverty, providing support services, establishing and maintaining high standards of community and personal responsibility, and forming partnerships. When residents compared their HOPE VI homes and neighborhoods to their previous residences, levels of satisfaction were generally higher in almost every area. These attitudes were consistent for former residents of both public housing and non-public housing. However, these gains are not the whole story.
This chapter presents a case study of the Park DuValle Revitalization Project in Louisville, Kentucky, to evaluate whether the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) HOPE VI program enhances residents' quality of life. The research implies that HOPE VI enhances the lives of about 25 percent of those who live in public housing. However, HOPE VI leaves more than three-quarters of the public housing residents without upgraded HOPE VI homes or without homes at all. In our case study, HOPE VI provides 75 percent of the new housing units at market rates to renters and homeowners. What happened to those who were displaced? Where did they go? These replacement housing units came at a cost of around $160,000, equivalent to upper-middle-class housing in Louisville. HOPE VI builds housing that is two to three times more costly per unit than competing nonprofit community development groups. We also compare Louisville's HOPE VI program with a more successful HOPE VI program in Newport, Kentucky. Newport is a model plan for this program that integrates housing in middle-class neighborhoods instead of keeping it segregated.
Chapter 7, "Renewing and Remaking New Orleans," examines what happens when part or all of a city disappears, with a case study of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. In this chapter we investigate several approaches to reconstructing neighborhoods in New Orleans that were devastated by Katrina. This chapter looks at strategies for providing housing for the poor and minority residents whose homes were damaged or lost. Louisville, Kentucky, is cited as an example of how shotgun houses—both new and old—can provide affordable housing ownership for the poor. We argue that preserving, restoring, and building shotgun houses is an effective, affordable, energy-efficient, attractive, sustainable, and culturally sensitive approach that will aid the redevelopment of socially and economically viable neighborhoods. We find that shotgun houses complement architectural tourism and create value in ownership for residents. We argue against replacing shotguns with suburban-style housing or abandonment of the historic vernacular architecture that was rooted in the black community. This is not simply a defense of the shotgun type, but a concise and effective argument of an urban design philosophy that takes history seriously and seeks to make both historic preservation and social equity the twin bases for the reconstruction of New Orleans. The case of Katrina holds important lessons for the rest of the nation.
Chapter 8, "University Partnerships to Reclaim and Rebuild Communities," is a case study of how a partnership with a university can help revitalize, restore, and renew a poor neighborhood but not result in low-income people losing their homes. This chapter is an update of my work over a fourteen-year period in West Louisville, a once poor, black neighborhood filled with fear, hopelessness, and hardship. This is one of the few examples where the New Urbanist paradigm is applied to a poor, black neighborhood and illustrates some of the positive outcomes of such an effort by creating affordable homeownership for more than one hundred residents. In addition to the owner-occupied dwellings, 550 attractive, accessible, and affordable rental housing units were built. The revitalization led to new business and job opportunities, a reduction in crime, a neighborhood that has a true mixture of incomes from poor to rich, and what many have called the "miracle of West Louisville."
With 3,500 institutions of higher education around the United States, communities need to access the brain power of colleges and universities not only to figure out the economics or the design of homes, but to figure out strategies to empower the lives of the poor. In other words, if we know so much, then how come there are still so many unsolved problems in the invisible city?
Chapter 9, "Housing Opportunities for Everyone," explores the fundamental right of homeownership in America. We question why liberals and the left do not view homeownership as a top priority to support. Homeownership strategy is nearly invisible when it comes to housing policy advocacy, and instead programs like rent control and housing vouchers are given much more weight. The private market alone cannot provide affordable housing for all citizens, especially for minorities, the disabled, the elderly, and the poor. The conservative free-enterprise approach has worked against the economically disadvantaged. However, reliance on the traditional liberal strategy of providing massive tax breaks and subsidies to builders and landlords has proven to be too costly and inefficient for solving the housing crunch. New and bold measures must be used to combat the housing crisis. I will attempt to show that affordable housing is possible for low-income households through these different means.
More government, not less government, is needed to resolve the nation's housing crisis. However, this call for greater government involvement must be accompanied by the adoption of programs that have a proven track record. We must target programs that are not wasteful or ineffective. With a call for more government, there must also be a call for increased participation in government and the involvement of ordinary citizens. Examples such as the savings and loan and HUD scandals provide evidence that unmonitored government is problematic. This book raises questions on whether rent control and Section 8 are good housing policy choices. It is also clear that the economically disadvantaged are harmed most by this misuse of funds.
We have added an appendix that we consider useful in terms of discussing the housing crisis and developing possible solutions. Appendix A is a revised and edited version of a report by the Housing Strategies for Houston Task Force, on which I served as an active member. The lead authors, Roger Lewis and Steven Hornburg, worked to build consensus among housing leaders on what Houston and other cities need to do to address the housing problem. It is a creative approach of how one task force addressed the housing crisis in a city.
Unlike so many stale reports that are produced by appointed city commissions, this document is fairly progressive and needs a wider readership. The Houston task force notes that there is a common misperception that Houston has no housing crisis because of its free-market policies. In fact, Houston's housing problems are similar to those in many other cities around the country, and the crisis continues to worsen with no end in sight. Moreover, the report calls for a partnership of city and university leaders, housing groups, developers, and corporations to address significant housing problems in a bold, innovative, and pragmatic fashion.
Can we have hope about the future of cities? Are ghettos inevitable? Can we make the invisible city a place that is visible to policy makers? Can we make the social problems of the poor, disabled, elderly, and renters visible again so we can properly address them? Is government intervention harmful to the workings of the market, or will economic democracy generate the "good city"? As we head into the new century, can a more comprehensive, more engaging, and perhaps more optimistic theory of the city be embraced? These are the kinds of questions we should be addressing as we seek to develop a new urban paradigm.
I believe cities can be remade for all to enjoy. Goodman (1956) observed that an individual "has only one life and if during it he has no great environment, no community, he has been irreparably robbed of a human right." Grassroots activist movements have created a public dialogue centering on human rights and what constitutes a fair and just society. They have rendered problems and social relations visible which are often hidden from the popular view that a free market unleashed can solve all problems. This question is symbolic of a much larger debate about democracy, community, and the economic riches that will determine what kind of society the United States will become in this century.
As an activist, consultant, and educator who has worked in a wide range of roles in revitalizing inner-city neighborhoods and building accessible, affordable, and attractive housing, I believe that contemporary urban scholars have failed to capture the dynamics of what is happening in our cities. It is my hope that Invisible City will shed new light on the forces that shape our cities and the often ignored, invisible people who toil and struggle in our cities. Whether it is our houses, our neighborhoods, our cities, we must recognize how these places shape us and how we shape them. We must be able to see the home as a force that shapes us every day. But we need to move beyond the caveman notion of shelter that protects us against nature and turn the homes where we live into attractive, accessible, and affordable places.