Providing Meaningful Integration Opportunities for Our Youth

In The Complacent Class, Tyler Cowen writes about a decline in people moving in the United States. Rates of people moving across state lines, from one city to another, or even just across town seem to be on the decline. People seem to be less willing to take risks and put themselves in new places. As a result, we have fewer people from diverse backgrounds meeting each other and getting to know each other. For children, this means they are more likely to grow up around other children like themselves, and are not as likely experience different cultures, communities, and families. They are not likely to meet other kids from different racial, socioeconomic status (SES), and cultural backgrounds.

 

Cowen identifies one counterexample to this trend in his book, but notes that it is more of a temporary departure from the trend rather than a clear reversal. Writing about young college educated couples, Cowen describes a movement back toward cities, often living in artistic neighborhoods with interesting homes and fun opportunities to engage with city life. This gives cities new life and creates pockets of diversity, but only until the children of these young couples reach school age.

 

“When they have children and it is time to send the kids to school, they often move to the suburbs, or to a more expensive part of the same city, or to a different city altogether. The integration is a kind of temporary experiment in white lives, to be reversed once the next generation comes along. It is good that so many people are willing to make this temporary experiment but bad that it doesn’t have greater staying power or turn into a means of integrating young children.”

 

I have not spent a lot of time focused on housing policy or urban planning, but I think part of Cowen’s lament can be explained by a failure in both areas. I currently live toward the outskirts of Reno, Nevada, and live in a rather diverse neighborhood. Our home prices are not as out of control as other areas in Reno, and as a result we have a racially diverse set of people in our small out of the way neighborhood. However, it is hard to get to where we live. There are a only few main streets which all get very backed-up with traffic. We also don’t have a good park in our neighborhood, lack good sidewalks, and don’t have a lot of street lights. These factors diminish the attractiveness of the neighborhood and reduce the sense of (or opportunity for) community among the homeowners and renters here.

 

My wife and I are looking to move to part of town that is more accessible and easier for our work commutes. We hope to have a place with nice sidewalks for walking the dog and some open spaces for picnics or more dog activities. We have been looking into parts of town with higher home prices, which will likely result in us living in a more appealing, yet less diverse part of the city.

 

The failure of housing and urban policy is in the way we set up neighborhoods to encourage homogeneity. I understand from a housing developer that it is easier to have 3 or 4 relatively similar track-homes, however this creates a neighborhood where all the residents will have roughly the same income. Lower income individuals who cannot afford one of the houses will be pushed to less desirable neighborhoods and those who can afford to buy into the homogeneity will do so. Repeat this process enough times and you end up with the type of segregation Cowen described in the quote above.

 

I don’t want to approach the issue by saying that we will all benefit by making our neighborhoods more diverse. I don’t want to just accept that this is how things are and that “not-in-my-backyard” (NIMBY) sentiments are too strong for us to make changes. Instead, I want to be able to start a conversation that encourages us to live up to our belief that everyone deserves an equal opportunity.

 

Right now, there are children in my neighborhood who face a long commute if they want to be socially engaged with sports, music, or other extracurricular activities. These kids don’t have great places to go to play outside, and don’t have opportunities to connect with people near them to build connections to help them later in life. As a contrast to their experiences, I grew up in a neighborhood with ample space to play outside and be active, and I had neighbors who had connections that have helped me. If we truly believe in the idea of equality of opportunity, we need to find better ways to integrate young children and reverse the failures of our housing and urban development policies. These children deserve opportunities to maximize their lives and shouldn’t be locked out of opportunity simply because they grow up in parts of a city that don’t offer the same access to resources as children in other parts of the city.

Loving Your Child and Others

Peter Singer address some of the criticism of the philosophy surrounding effective altruism in his book, The Most Good You Can Do. He writes that effective altruists are criticized from a parenting standpoint when they focus on the importance of the lives of every child and not just their own.  This point of view for effective altruists expands beyond valuing all children within a neighborhood, community, or state as being truly equal, and looks at all children across the globe as being equal. It is a challenging idea because of the bias we accept in providing as much as possible for our children to ensure that they have every advantage possible in life. Part of our culture values the idea of being able to provide everything our children want, and we see being unable to meet their desires as a lack of success.  This has created a mindset for many individuals where we should not sacrifice our children’s desires, even if that means we are going to try and bring the quality of life for other children to an equal level. However, for an effective altruist, all lives are equally important because all lives can face the same suffering and can also potentially produce the same good for the world. When it comes to the love an effective altruist would show his of her child, Singer writes,

 

“Critics of effective altruism often suggest … that there is something odd or unnatural about being moved by the “strictly intellectual” understanding that a child in Pakistan or Zambia is just as valuable as your own child.  But … Loving your own child does not mean you have to be so dazzled by your love that you are unable to see that there is a point of view from which other children matter just as much as your own or that this perspective is unable to have an impact on the way you live.”

 

What Singer seems to be arguing is not that all effective altruists focus more on other children than they do their own children, or that they love their own children less than other parents love their children. Singer is suggesting that effective altruists have access to perspectives that many others never consider.  Being able to see the world from additional perspectives may not change the way they feel toward their own child, but it may help to change the way they feel about children across the world who they will never see.