Beverly Hills, Buckhead, SoHo: The New Sites of Urban UnrestHistorians in the News
tags: racism, urban history, riots
In the years since American cities erupted in anger in the 1960s, many of the conditions that fueled that unrest — even with the ideas drafted to address them — have changed little. Most deeply poor urban neighborhoods have remained that way. Schools that for a time grew more integrated have resegregated. Aggressive policing has continued as a defining feature of urban life for young black men.
But the American city itself has changed. Or, at least, many of them have. Downtowns became a destination again for white diners and even residents. “Tech hubs” arrived. Stadiums and condos were built. Restaurants proliferated. Rents rose. Decent manufacturing and clerical jobs all but disappeared, replaced by a vast low-wage service sector. And the gaps between the most prosperous neighborhoods and those still trapped in poverty grew wider and more visible.
This expanding urban inequality is now implicated in new waves of unrest, another source of rage, inseparable from race, bound up with all the older ones. If protesters in the 1960s cried out from black neighborhoods that had seen severe disinvestment, now they are calling attention to cities that have experienced enormous investment — investment that excludes them.
In Chicago, protesters have converged on Michigan Avenue, the city’s famous strip of high-end retail. In Atlanta, it has been affluent Buckhead. In Philadelphia, Center City. In New York, SoHo. In Los Angeles, protest leaders have deliberately steered toward upscale neighborhoods, including downtown and Beverly Hills.
There is limited symbolism in a store hit by opportunistic looting. But historians have noted the shifting geography of protest. In 1964 in Philadelphia, black neighborhoods along Columbia Avenue and North Broad Street were damaged, Thomas Sugrue, a historian at N.Y.U., pointed out. This time, high-end Chestnut and Walnut Streets around Rittenhouse Square downtown were hit over the weekend, before unrest spread through much of the city. In Los Angeles, where Watts was a site of unrest in 1960s, now Rodeo Drive is one instead.