Monday, May 14, 2012

Urban Diversity

“Diversity” has a multitude of meanings in urban settings.  Jane Jacobs devoted an entire chapter of “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” to diversity, by which she meant a diversity of business uses within a single neighborhood.  She argued that this diversity made neighborhoods more stable and also generated street life during more hours of the day.  Her concept is generally codified today as mixed-use, although many of the benefits she attributed to diversity have been lost in the writing of mixed-use standards.

City Builder Book Club has been reading Jacobs’ masterwork.  Aaron Renn contributes his comments on Jacobs’ thoughts about diversity. 

Others have defined diversity to include the concept of “otherness”, the desirable urban quality of creating opportunities for us to interact with people who are different than us.  Dan Burden writes eloquently on this form of diversity, with a humorous anecdote about the difference between a gated community and an ungated mixed neighborhood.

Diversity can also include income diversity.  The San Francisco Bay Guardian recently wrote about how housing decisions may endangering income diversity in San Francisco, with lower income families moving increasingly to Oakland and elsewhere in the East Bay.

Managing all these types of diversity can cut across the lines of political partisanship, with national political philosophies sometimes resulting in contrary results at local levels.  Atlantic Cities covers the inconsistencies. 

If urban development is managed well, diversity of national origin, sexual orientation, age, etc. should be a happy byproduct.  But sometimes the law must be enforced to ensure these types of diversity.  Elece Hempel, Executive Director of the Petaluma Peoples Service Center, weighs in about May being Fair Housing Month

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At Petaluma People Services Center we run many different programs.  One that I feel is important to all our residents is our Fair Housing Program.  Every April, I like to remind you that it is Fair Housing Month. Dedicating a month to the promise of fair housing provides a yearly opportunity to refocus our society on the crucial necessity of fair housing for all Americans.  Fair housing basically refers to the right of an individual to live wherever his or her means allow.
While this principle may sound simple, the unfortunate reality is millions of Americans who look for housing find obstacles put in place by those who believe that people with certain familial or physical characteristics should only live in certain communities.

This belief is wrong.  More importantly, it is against the law. Fair Housing Month is a time for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Petaluma People Services Center, along with our fair housing partners throughout the county, to join together to inform residents and housing related professionals alike of their rights and responsibilities.

Why is stopping housing discrimination so important?  Where we reside determines the level and quality of access to services and resources we need to live and improve our lives.  Where we live determines the quality of education and future opportunities for our children; including access to resources such as libraries with up-to-date computer equipment and books.  Where we live can determine what kinds of employment opportunities are available for teenagers and adults.  The community around our residence can determine how our children spend their time after school as well as the quality and quantity of our social interactions.

As the nation continues to reel from the foreclosure and economic crises, non-profit fair housing organizations like PPSC have begun taking stock of our communities.  It is hard to see any part of society left untouched by the foreclosure crisis and its attendant economic ramifications.  Brokers and big banks targeted families and communities – and disproportionately families and communities of color.  Unfortunately, housing discrimination is a fact of life for many Americans.

Both federal and state law protects the following classes of people from discrimination in housing.  Under our Federal laws, it is illegal to discriminate based on a person’s race, color, religion, sex (including sexual harassment), physical or mental disability, familial status (presence of minor children in the residence of a custodial adult), or national origin. Additionally, in California it is also illegal to discriminate based on a person’s sexual orientation, marital status, ancestry, immigration or citizenship status inquiry, age, source of income, medical condition, or any arbitrary reason such as long hair or occupation.

Under the above laws, the following is illegal to:

·         Refuse to rent or sell after a bona fide offer has been made;
·         Discriminate in the terms, conditions, facilities or services when selling or renting property;
·         Indicate any preference in advertising or statements, oral or written;
·         Make false representations as to the availability of a dwelling unit;
·         Establish certain areas or floors for certain classes of people (e.g., families with children are not allowed to live on the upper floors);
·         Retaliate against a tenant for asserting his/her legal rights; and/or
·         Intimate, coerce, threaten or interfere with (harass) any person in the exercise or enjoyment of their tenancy due to their membership in a protected class.

With these realities in mind, I want to remind everyone that if you feel that you have been treated unfairly by a property owner while renting or during your search for housing, please contact the Petaluma People Services Center.  PPSC also provides tenant/landlord mediation and information and referral services, including a fair-housing training for the housing industry.  Tenants and landlords alike are encouraged to contact PPSC with questions or concerns.  For more information, please contact: Don Cohn of Petaluma People Services Center, 707-765-8488 begin_of_the_skype_highlightinend_of_the_skype_highlighting.

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If I may add another thought to Elece’s, one more benefit to diversity is the value of living near and raising children around people who are different than your family.  Whether the difference is national origin, family income, or sexual orientation, tolerance grows when you live in proximity.  It’s a key element that urbanism hopes to create.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

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