Diversity as background scenery

Well I have finished London Calling and I’ve come away from it wondering about something. Is the diversity that we laud when speaking about the positives of the neighborhood just background scenery? How often and how deeply to we engage in any sort of activity with those who are different than ourselves? Of course, the same could be said about living in a homogeneous neighborhood too, but that wasn’t examined in the book. Authors looked at where respondents in the gentrifying neighborhoods best friends came from (clumsy sentence, I know). Their best friends came from university or work followed by “other” which could be a club, church, political group or the like. Organizations that do not require participants to live in the same neighborhood. Yet that seemed like an unfair question to me. There is more of an opportunity to interact with the same people and engage in the small talk that leads to deeper revelations of who we all are at work and school than standing in one’s front yard. What did seem fair was to try to see how the generally Anglo middle class interacted with immigrant, non-white, council housing (public housing) or working class residents who add to the diversity theme.
Thinking of my own interactions with folks on my block we come together on whatever is our sameness. There is the impromptu ‘garden club’, ‘kennel club’ and other little on the sidewalk and over the fence discussion groups where the racial and age dynamics change depending on what calls one over or away. During these little neighborly get togethers I’m not thinking about our differences. That is unless the focus of the discussion is exclusionary as I, not owning a dog, cannot add to a doggy gossip session.

9 thoughts on “Diversity as background scenery”

  1. I’m not sure what diversity is for everyone, but I define it in terms of the daily experience. Sure I share common interests with my neighbors…it’s what gives us something to talk about and opens me up to understanding their unique (and diverse) backgrounds and perspectives. We can sum it up as having the option of paying $3.50 for an Odwalla at Wholefoods, $1 for coke at Giant or $1.20 for vanilla no name at the corner store. If we all were more the same, then maybe we could get Starbucks to set up shop in our neighborhood. But we aren’t…so we get a wide array of options that cater to different interests and needs…we’re diverse in those respects. Good and bad. I personally make it a habit to avoid the carry-outs but they seem to be the only kind of dining we get. Now there is Vegetate. I would have never even considered going to a vegetarian restaurant before (i’m a carnivore)but now that it’s the closest thing to a sit down meal in our neighborhood, I’m making it my mission to be there and support the business. I think that is life…and not the background, but the things that open us up to understand different perspectives that you don’t typically experience in the suburbs or in other parts of this city.

  2. Amazing what passes for “diversity” in the capital of the US.

    Diversity is the option of shopping at Whole Foods, Giant, or the local liqour stores?

    I think everyone should do a rotation through NYC and learn about what diversity really is. Get on the subway there, and you’re likely to be sitting next to middle-eastern immigrants speaking farsi on one side of you, and long-term residents and hassidic Jews speaking Yiddish on the other side of you.

    Here, you merely have mobs of the same sorts of people. The white people are probably guy “urban pioneer types”, or they are passing through on their way home to MD. and the black people are probably wearing North Face jackets w/Timberlands. Everyone speaks English, everyone thinks urban blight is a sign of “diversity”, on and on. I’ll stop now.

  3. Everyone speaks English,…

    You need to ride my bus. Hablas tu Espanol? Then there are the Ethiponian discussions. And the old woman yammering away in some east asian language I can’t ID to her husband who looks like he stopped listening years ago. My favorite is the African (Nigerian?) guy speaking LOUDLY in his $#!* cell phone so that the people in the car next to the bus can hear him.
    We do have linguistic diversity. I am thankful that my neighbors don’t speak English at home because hearing them through the thin kitchen wall would be really annoying.

  4. True diversity extends beyond a ten block radius.

    Chinatown here is more of a tourist attraction than it is a cultural force. “Little Ethiopia” here is a short strip of stores and restaurants. It isn’t a part of the fabric of the city. Ever been to Chinatown in NYC? Or San Fran?

    NYC, San Francisco, Heck, even Austin TX is diverse. Shaw? Nope.

    When you can buy fallafel from an authentic shop in your ‘hood, one that doesn’t have bars on the windows, and then cross the street to get some authentic Italian ices from a guy who speaks Swahili, then I’ll retract my position.

  5. I have often echoed the same sentiment when leaving NYC about the integration of multiple ethnicities through out neighborhoods. But I also hold to my stand that Shaw is diverse in that respect(e.g. my direct neighbors with whom I share walls are from 2 different countries, probably are of the same economic means, but are different ages).

    You can get authentic Ethiopian food (no bars on window) on 9th, but I don’t know where to go for dessert yet. Italian ices are still only available at Giant.

  6. Good Lord, I’m not going to get into a NYC vs WDC arguement and this looks like the start of a NYC vs DC thing. We aren’t NYC and I’m afraid your standards for diversity are too high imho. DC is small town compared to some other cities particularly port cities. Comparitavely (ms) DC is more diverse than my hometown in Florida. It is more diverse than the college town area of Western Mass (Amherst, Hadley, Northhampton, etc). So yeah, I’ve got low standards. But what I’ve got serves me well enough as I’m not trying to win the most diverse on the east coast contest.
    I don’t really frequent “Little Ethopia” but within a 5 minute walk I can buy Dunkin Donuts from an all Ethopian staff (once my neighbor was working the booth), gas from surly Ethopian woman at the BP, milk from the quicky mart (run by Ethopians), and hail a cab where more than likely the driver is from Ethopia.

  7. I see your point of view.

    I’m very familiar with the communities surrounding DC: Reston, Herndon, Arlington, Alexandria, Fredrick, Rockville, Silver Spring, etc.

    By Shaw’s standards of diversity, it ranks near the bottom of all of the communities I’ve named. Downtown Herndon is more diverse than Shaw. I’m not saying that to be argumentative. Actually, most of those communities are more diverset than Shaw. (maybe not Reston and Fredrick…)

    Some Shaw residents are telling me that expecting more from a DC neighborhood in a major East Coast city is too much to ask.

    Shaw is less diverse than Herndon VA. Check it out. Go there or look at statistical data. If you value diversity, Herndon should be on your short list of places to live.

  8. Diversity is not that high of a value. Being able to live without a car and having decent public transit is. Being able to walk, in the snow, when the roads are closed, to the Giant on a snow day, is VERY valuable to me. Being able to encounter my neighbors while walking from the Metro or see them at Vegitate, is valuable to me. Knowing who my neighbors are is extremely valuable to me and even better yet, of those people they come from at least seven different countries, along with native borns (DC and elsewhere) they are single, married and divorced, they are gay, straight and lesbian, they are working and professional class, they are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Agnostic and Atheistic, they are Latino, White and like me boring ol’ Black people. These folks wave ‘hi’ to me and we engage in small talk over anything. We could be a small cluster in a numberical sea of one big demographic, but it doesn’t matter to me. My little area is diverse enough for me and yeah there might be other areas in the DC metro region that fits someone else’s criteria of diversity, but it doesn’t matter because most of the time the Metro don’t go there and you need a car.

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