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Civility as bubble

August 22, 2009, 5:07 pm

Atrios points us to this Times article, by Jennifer Steinhauer, on the foreclosure crisis in Moreno Valley, out by Redlands in the Inland Empire. It’s inhibited by conventions of the genre, and the interviews seem only to have gone so far, but it’s suggestive — it sketches a picture of the community that took root on one street during the boom years, and the strains that were put on it by the bust.

The neighborly virtues of mutual consideration and assistance seem, in this telling, to go hand in hand with wealth, or with the exclusion of those whose wealth isn’t above a certain bar. For the established residents, moving into this neighborhood, ten years ago, was a move up, and a move away from rougher neighborhoods (El Monte, for example). And as foreclosure pushes some of them out, and the prices of the vacated houses fall to 1989 levels, they seem to fear that rough neighbors like the ones they moved away from (South LA is mentioned) may move in.

It’s possible that this element in the story is due to Steinhauer’s spin. Her concrete examples turn out to be a little more complex: for example, the line “I didn’t get this house that I paid a lot of money for to be next to a mechanic” is spoken by one of the new neighbors about one of the old ones, who’s fixing up cars to get by after losing his job. (And in context, it seems she’s objecting to being next to the auto work, not his person.) But the story left me gloomy again about our national inability to live with each other. A decent built and human environment is a right, and it’s one we generally deny to those who can’t pay a lot for it — true I think even if inadequately supported in this case.

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