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The Mechanics
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Chicago Tue Feb 14 2012

Review: Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect

Chicago is a city of neighborhoods. Depending on where one lives, Chicagoans take pride in the neighborhood they call home and judge others based on where they live. But how does Chicago being a city of neighborhoods effect us in areas such as with poverty and our persistent segregation?

Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect by Robert J. Sampson examines Chicago and how being a city of neighborhoods affects Chicago and the social problems in our city. The book is bound to be a selection for college classes on urban theory, particularly in Chicago, but it is only a good book for casual reading if one is an urban theory geek.

Sampson's book is essentially a 552 page paper with conclusions from his research on Chicago's neighborhoods and the actual community that exists. What makes the book work is how transparent Sampson is with the process that went into coming up with his results, including the years of research that involves Sampson revisiting neighborhoods at the end of the book in 2010.

In many ways Chicago neighborhoods change quickly in a decade or even five years. The land once home to one of the most famous housing projects in America will now become a Target. Neighborhoods people would never move to have now become hip desirable areas. Other areas have seen the quality of living decrease, which a person can see just by taking a trip on the Green Line headed to Harlem or by going west on the 55 bus from Hyde Park, a trek that Sampson discusses in the final chapter.

However, the one factor Sampson has to acknowledge at the end is the economic downturn, particularly how it has affected the South Side. Sampson writes that according to his research Washington Park has been affected the most by economic downturn and that the ten neighborhoods in Chicago that were affected the most are predominantly black.

To really appreciate Sampson's book one should look at it as if it is Chicago showing something that can be applied to other cities that are made up of neighborhoods. Some might have declared a while ago that the world is flat, but we are still people who in an age of globalization and technology still are bound together by the social constructs of our neighborhoods.

Sampson's book features fascinating graphs and images showing the change in neighborhoods over time, enhancing the text of his book. The book's language and content makes it more for an academically minded reader, but those would probably be the people wanting to read Great American City anyway. For those who might skip the book due to the rhetoric, many of the points can be summed up in a verse Lupe Fiasco contributed to Patrick Stump's "This City":

Parts of my city certain colors can't step /And sadly I'm talking about the color of your skin /Sorry my brother can't let you in /Cause the property value might go down to a level that's /Economically unacceptable and socially taboo for us to live around you.
 
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ME / February 16, 2012 7:56 PM

Eliminate gang bangers, corner drug delaers, corruption and Chicago would florish like a beautiful rose. Until then, Chicago is just a dying city with filled with helpless hopes and dreams.

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