Tag Archives: neoliberalism

Where do the children go after schools close?

School closings.jpgJust returning from a conference in Boston, URBAN (Urban Research-Based Action Network). There, we talked as scholars and activists from all over the country about schools closing. They close under plans that are supposed to make the closings sound benign like Renaissance, 21st century, or Millennial. However, this is anything but benign. Closing schools hurts communities and shifts students and families to new schools. We know that they do not fare well. A Chicago study showed that the students do not attend better schools and fall behind academically. A second study that looked across six cities showed that closing schools does not end up saving much money and does not produce better outcomes for kids. Coming soon will be a research project that follows the students in Baltimore into their new schools to find out not only what the academic outcomes are but what the social implications are as well.

City projects that are not driven by profit, but public good

fine_200Michelle Fine-click to watch her speak!


Michelle Fine cautions us to think about the profit motives of folks claiming to improve cities. For instance, real estate developers can get tax incentives, public monies to start charter schools. How does that turn a profit? Well, if it doesn’t work out, developers can flip the buildings that they used for schools, for market-rate apartments. The people who get connected with the school that was in the building are forced to move on after it closes, producing what Mindy Fullilove has called “root shock,”  loss of some or all of one’s emotional ecosystem.With real estate changing that abruptly in neighborhoods, there is instability and displacement that can also destabilize neighborhoods.

Are there alternatives to the profit-making projects that do not end up benefitting local residents in cities?  The Philadelphia Urban Creators are a group that has a cooperative community farm, classroom, and even apartments for folks who agree to work on the farm or another community project. Formed by former Temple University students, the Urban Creators created a socially just alternative to real estate interests. They work land that produces food for the surrounding communities, do leadership training for youth, and help young adults find homes and investment in their communities. In the process, they work toward civic and community values that undergird cities, not just the cost value. These Philly young people are promoting what is publicly shared and valued by everyone- sustainable food and housing for a community. They are getting young people invested and rooted in their communities. While real estate investors might be moving on to the next most-profitable thing, the Urban Creators are in it for the long haul, to make urban communities a place of connection not a place of profit.

Can anything pierce bulletproof urban policy?

      It is not news that neoliberalism guides urban public policy-making today. Look no further than the headlines of any local newspaper that call for the privatization of public services Baltimore is a great example as the city has recently made plans to privatize its public housing. Calling it an opportunity for Baltimore residents, the mayor and other public officials have tried to convince residents that this approach can enable the cash-strapped city a chance at public dollars to rehabilitate its old buildings. What is left out is who will have access to those buildings once they are privatized. Advocates worry, rightly so, that the same people will no longer be able to afford living in those buildings. Again this is not new, it is in fashion to approach public policy in this way. Don’t believe me? Check to see who runs your city’s schools, public housing, or hospitals.

One way this has been possible is that there is public support for cost-saving projects. And why not? Making public services cheaper may mean lower taxes for residents. The problem with this argument is exactly what makes it so persuasive. Public services cost money. So, they must have a dollar value. The lower the dollar value, the cheaper the service, and cheaper is better for those paying for a service. But by limiting the value of public goods to their economic value, other benefits that public goods might have can easily be ignored. Whether it is a venue for civic participation, a social support, or historic preservation, the public value can be easily dismissed by narrowing the focus on the dollar value. Public schools close down. Public utilities, like water, become private.

Why should we care? Isn’t only poor folks and people of color who suffer from these policies? What is the alternative anyway? Isn’t neoliberalism bulletproof?  To date, there have been limited alternatives proposed. One of the most promising has come from the Right to the City which proposes power-building among working people to control the institutions that they access and benefit from. How does this work? Stay tuned for a series of posts on ways folks are organizing for control of the institutions that are supposed to serve them.