“Saying we should just spend more doesn’t really cut it. What’s needed is a phase shift in how we think about poverty. Renewal efforts in Sandtown-Winchester prioritized bricks and mortar. But the real barriers to mobility are matters of social psychology, the quality of relationships in a home and a neighborhood that either encourage or discourage responsibility, future-oriented thinking, and practical ambition.
Jane Jacobs once wrote that a healthy neighborhood is like a ballet, a series of intricate interactions in which people are regulating each other and encouraging certain behaviors.
In a fantastic interview that David Simon of “The Wire” gave to Bill Keller for The Marshall Project, he describes that, even in poorest Baltimore, there once were informal rules of behavior governing how cops interacted with citizens — when they’d drag them in and when they wouldn’t, what curse words you could say to a cop and what you couldn’t. But then the code dissolved. The informal guardrails of life were gone, and all was arbitrary harshness.
That’s happened across many social spheres — in schools, families and among neighbors. Individuals are left without the norms that middle-class people take for granted. It is phenomenally hard for young people in such circumstances to guide themselves.
Yes, jobs are necessary, but if you live in a neighborhood, as Gray did, where half the high school students don’t bother to show up for school on a given day, then the problems go deeper.
The world is waiting for a thinker who can describe poverty through the lens of social psychology. Until the invisible bonds of relationships are repaired, life for too many will be nasty, brutish, solitary and short.”