MILITARY FAMILY DIARY

Hillsborough, NC

We said goodbye to our son at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and that night saw the cruise missiles strike Baghdad for the start of “Shock and Awe.” Day after day we heard the reports of soldiers being killed. Hoping that our son hadn’t died wasn’t an option, because that would be wishing the death onto another family. All we could do was hold hands with military families and grieve together. Each soldier who dies is our son or daughter.

Our son came home, but our nephew is in his third tour in Iraq. From their stories and the stories of our military friends, we have come to appreciate the profound compassion they feel for the people of Iraq. They have witnessed families struggling to live without dependable drinking water, electricity, jobs, basic law and order, and on and on. My son, nephew and military friends urgently want to help the people of Iraq. They have seen firsthand families whose needs have stretched on not for weeks or months but for years, in neighborhoods where soldiers are afraid to go and families are prisoners in their own homes–a community that doesn’t grieve the loss of two or three loved ones each day, but dozens.

A friend, an officer in military intelligence, recently returned from a year in Iraq. He tells us he didn’t see any difference in conditions on the ground over that year. He didn’t see a plan to improve conditions or to protect his buddies or Iraqis. Staying the course in Iraq is tearing the military, the Iraqi people and our hearts apart.

Now our son has been reactivated and is on his way back to Iraq. There has been a massive call-back of previously discharged and 50-year-old retired soldiers. None of them re-enlisted, and their morale is deplorable. Without acknowledging it, the Bush Administration has instituted a backdoor draft, ending the “all volunteer” army. Not known by most people is the fact that only about half of the soldiers being called back are reporting, as ordered, to support their buddies in Iraq. These veterans are giving us a failing grade for our support of the troops.

KENT ALLAN ROBERTSON


SPRAWL: NOT NECESSARILY BAD

Chicago

While I appreciate Thomas Sugrue’s positive comments on my book Sprawl: A Compact History, the way he characterizes it and my approach generally may mislead potential readers [“The Geography of Fear,” Feb. 27]. He describes the book as based on a libertarian and free-market ideology and suggests that I approve of sprawl because it is based on the collective result of millions of individuals making choices in an uncontrolled real estate market.

But I don’t say that sprawl is good. I only say that it is not necessarily bad and that the problems of development at the edge are no worse than those anywhere else in the urban system. I also don’t say that sprawl is the result of laissez-faire capitalism. As I show in my book, this explanation has always been countered by those who have argued cogently just the opposite: that the market, left to itself, would create high densities and that sprawl has been caused by bad government policies–highway construction, single-family zoning and the mortgage income-tax deduction among them.

I don’t come down on either side of this argument, because I believe the distinction between market and government is overdrawn by both the right and the left. The real estate market relies on a very strong government framework, and government at all levels is one of the largest players in the market. Consumers are also voters, and they act in similar ways when they decide which house to buy and which candidate to vote for. I am certainly not offended to be called a libertarian, but I doubt that many libertarians would consider me to be part of the fold.

Given his background, it is not surprising that Sugrue’s main objection is that I don’t believe that sprawl is necessarily a major cause of America’s social and racial problems. Following the standard litany of critics of sprawl, he believes that sprawl “causes and perpetuates economic and racial inequalities” and blames white flight from the central cities as a major cause of sprawl.

This standard-issue urban history does nothing to counter my demonstration that sprawl has happened in cities both in the United States and worldwide in much the same way in places with large racial minorities and in places where there are no significant racial minorities. It also fails to account for the fact that American suburbs have become increasingly diverse economically and racially during the past several decades, exactly the years in which, according to critics, sprawl supposedly ran roughshod over the landscape.

Sugrue, for example, suggests that Deerfield, Illinois, which was 96 percent white in the 2000 Census, is typical of America’s, or at least Chicago’s, postwar suburbia. But among the suburbs within a few miles of Deerfield is Skokie, which was 4.5 percent black and 5.7 percent Hispanic or Latino in 2000, and Evanston, which was 22.5 percent black and 6.1 percent Hispanic or Latino. Looking at the south suburbs, moreover, reveals a large number of suburbs with a majority of African-Americans. In fact, Cook County, outside Chicago, is only 72.7 percent white and 13.6 percent African-American.

Suburban America as a whole has become much more diverse over the past five decades as it has sprawled. A recent Brookings Institution study puts the percentage of the population in America’s older suburbs at 33.4 percent nonwhite and Hispanic. Even in the outer suburbs the figure stands at 21 percent. The degree of racial and economic segregation in the Chicago area and elsewhere is regrettable, but fingering white flight as the culprit does little to explain why whites and nonwhites, rich and poor, have fled in much the same way.

Blaming sprawl and the built environment for these problems is similar to blaming the architecture of highrise public housing for the social problems found in these communities. And forcing people back into dense central cities would no more solve racial problems than tearing down highrise public housing will fix the problems faced by the poor minority citizens living in them.

The point of my book was not to defend sprawl or to attack it. It was to take a close look to see if the standard arguments against it stand up. I conclude they don’t and attempt to show why. Sugrue’s review doesn’t engage these arguments. He simply restates his own belief that millions of ordinary citizens have made what he believes are the wrong choices about how they want to live, and sprawl and social inequality are the result.

ROBERT BRUEGMANN


SUGRUE REPLIES

Philadelphia

Robert Bruegmann is right about one thing: I do believe that people sometimes make wrong choices–often abetted by misguided policy-makers–and that those choices can create and perpetuate inequality. America’s troubled history of race relations bears that out.

Bruegmann’s comments on the diversity of Chicago’s suburbs offer a good example of his slippery use of statistics in service of his larger, dubious arguments. You wouldn’t know from his rosy picture that Chicago has the second-highest rate of black-white residential segregation of all US metropolitan areas. A closer look at the racial geography of metro Chicago belies his simplistic assumption that black suburbanization equals diversity or equality. It’s true that blacks now live in greater numbers than ever before in Chicago suburbs, but most of them live in racially segregated communities with declining tax bases and distressed public schools. Chicago’s suburban blacks are clustered in places like Maywood, Ford Heights, Dixmoor and Robbins (all four among the poorest US municipalities), or in areas surrounding longstanding black enclaves like South Evanston. These are secondhand communities left behind by whites fleeing to the further reaches of the metropolitan area.

The vast majority of Chicago-area whites live in places with few, if any, black neighbors. Chicago’s sprawling exurbs have provided an exit valve for whites from both the city and its older, diversifying, declining suburbs. It should come as no surprise that metro Chicago’s most rapidly growing outer suburban counties (DeKalb and Grundy) are also the whitest. The racially divided real estate market is the consequence of market-driven discrimination and the legacy of public policies that promoted racial separation and exclusion. As a result, blacks have had–and still have–much less mobility and choice than whites. Race is not the only cause of sprawl. But sprawl in the United States has exacerbated economic and racial inequality.

I’m not sure what Bruegmann means when he attributes my analysis of sprawl and inequality to my “background.” But when he disavows his libertarian proclivities, he is being more than a bit disingenuous about his own background. Bruegmann is a member of the speakers’ bureau of the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based think tank that is “devoted to discovering and promoting free-market solutions to social and economic problems.” And he recently published an essay on sprawl in a collection of essays on “market-based strategies for land use planning,” co-edited by Randall Holcombe and Samuel Staley, both affiliated with the Reason Foundation’s Urban Futures program. The Heartland Institute and the Reason Foundation are right-wing libertarian organizations in the vanguard of the conservative challenge to the “smart growth” movement. Check out their websites and you will discover that Bruegmann’s criticism of the anti-sprawl movement echoes the right’s standard litany of charges against land-use and environmental regulation.

THOMAS SUGRUE


KUDOS TO SWANK FILER!

Colorado Springs

Frank Lewis is a gem. Among the many reasons for subscribing to The Nation, the main one for me is the pleasure of working out his puzzles’ clues, with their references to music, literature, history and culture, topped off by the gleeful nature of his puns and clever wordplay. Even when the world often seems to be hurtling toward disaster and misery, his puzzles bring me joy.

MEG REMPLE

Mr. Lewis, who has been setting our puzzle since 1947, recently celebrated his 94th birthday. Happy birthday, Frank! –The Editors