Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Best Neighborhoods: Make Up Your Own Mind

When Pittsburghers ask me about visiting Paris, some common questions are: What is the best neighborhood to stay in? Which are safe? Which ones should I avoid?

I usually answer that unlike U.S. cities, where the urban core is usually seen as unsafe, in Paris it’s the opposite. Here, central Paris is safe and well-protected by France’s security forces, partly of the importance of tourism. Because the city is so rich, the poor have been priced out.

You’ll notice that Paris is more multicultural than Pittsburgh, which still suffers divisions from a long legacy of redlining.* In France, mixité, loosely translated as diversity, is a national value. I’m not saying the country has reached that goal—far from it.

However, for a long time France has intentionally woven housing projects, called “social housing” here, throughout cities. In contrast, intentional redlining in the U.S. created ghettos in Pittsburgh and other cities that only deteriorated over time.
Even those Paris is through and through an amazing city, Parisians and long-time residents like me have maps in their minds of the “best neighborhoods.” When I moved to Paris, I wanted to live in the trendy Marais, but ended up in the staid 16th arrondissement, with a high concentration of pearls and poodles (so the joke goes).

What map do Pittsburghers have in their mind? See the one below by Judgmental maps, which I consider “ignorant” (rude) as Yinzers would say, but reflects what some think. My old neighborhood of Knoxville is now considered “old people and white trash.” (I told you it was rude!)

Knoxville was considered a second-tier or “blue” neighborhood according to the 1937 Residential Security Map (see below), which was the basis of redlining. Only new developments fell into the top “green” tier. My old 'hood started to develop in 1872 and its homes attracted many middle managers of the South Side steel mills as residents in the 1920s and 1930s.

Blue neighborhoods "… as a rule, are completely developed. They are like a 1935 automobile still good, but not what the people are buying today who can afford a new one,” according to the Federal Housing Administration's description of the tiers. Well that’s harsh! The guidelines then go on to comment that banks typically impose tighter mortgage terms on blue neighborhoods than green ones. Getting a mortgage in a red area, the worst, was either impossible or expensive. Geez, there was no way for a neighborhood to go, except down!

The silver lining to the long and horrible history of redlining is that housing prices in Pittsburgh have gone so far down over the decades that today the only way is up. Coming to Paris? Moving to Pittsburgh? Explore, break down the lines, make up your own mind!

*See Devin Rutan & Michael Glass (2017) The Lingering Effects of Neighborhood Appraisal: Evaluating Redlining’s Legacy in Pittsburgh, PA, The Professional Geographer.

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