Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Cracks in the Pavement

Cracks in the Pavement: Social Change and Resilience in Poor Neighborhoods

Martín Sánchez-Jankowski
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 504
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Cracks in the Pavement
    Book Description:

    Woven throughout with rich details of everyday life, this original, on-the-ground study of poor neighborhoods challenges much prevailing wisdom about urban poverty, shedding new light on the people, institutions, and culture in these communities. Over the course of nearly a decade, Martín Sánchez-Jankowski immersed himself in life in neighborhoods in New York and Los Angeles to investigate how social change and social preservation transpire among the urban poor. Looking at five community mainstays—the housing project, the small grocery store, the barbershop and the beauty salon, the gang, and the local high school—he discovered how these institutions provide a sense of order, continuity, and stability in places often thought to be chaotic, disorganized, and disheartened. His provocative and ground-breaking study provides new data on urban poverty and also advances a new theory of how poor neighborhoods function, illuminating the creativity and resilience that characterize the lives of those who experience the hardships associated with economic deprivation.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94245-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    It is about ten in the evening, and I have just arrived at Newark International Airport in New Jersey. I am to give a lecture the next day at a local university about my research on poor neighborhoods. My host has been kind enough to pick me up and take me to my hotel. He has brought his wife and six-year-old daughter with him. On our way there, the car overheats and smoke begins pouring out of the hood. My host takes the next exit off the toll road and pulls into a gas station. His wife urges, “Please hurry....

  6. CHAPTER 1 A Theory of Life, Social Change, and Preservation in Poor Neighborhoods
    (pp. 18-53)

    Although poor neighborhoods can be described as suffering from a constant condition of extreme scarcity, they are not socially static. Rather, issues surrounding social change are an integral part of the residents’ daily lives. Yet it is impossible to appreciate the dynamics of social change or conservation in their lives without considering the context in which they occur, and doing that requires an understanding of poor neighborhoods’ social structure. This chapter outlines the structural and cultural contours of poor neighborhoods and the social dynamics affecting them. It will provide a framework for understanding poor neighborhoods as complex, demographically heterogeneous habitats...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Give Me Shelter: Competing Agendas for Life in Public Housing
    (pp. 54-82)

    The public housing project is a common sight in most of the geographic areas where the American urban poor now live. This, however, has not always been the case. For much of the twentieth century the poor resided in various forms of private housing such as row housing, small single homes, roominghouses, transient hotels, and tenements.¹ Those unable to pay the minimum rents of tenement and flop housing were relegated to the streets and alleys to find shelter.² Community aid for those unable to afford housing came from private donations that funded what were commonly referred to as “alms and...

  8. CHAPTER 3 A Living Refuge: Social Change and Preservation in the Housing Project
    (pp. 83-112)

    The housing project was created by the state to subsidize disadvantaged families in securing adequate shelter. Despite state efforts to imbue tenants with state values, interests, and policies, the five housing projects in the present study (see table 2, p. 56) remained neighborhood institutions. Thus the most important dynamics of change and preservation are those that influence the character of the housing project as a local institution. This chapter focuses on the factors that affect change and preservation of social life in the housing projects.

    Social change occurred as a result of both deliberate acts and unintended consequences from agents...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Provisions for Life: Making the Mom-and-Pop Store a Neighborhood Institution
    (pp. 113-148)

    At one time in American history mom-and-pop grocery stores were ubiquitous in nearly every town and urban community. The advent of large retail stores has severely reduced their numbers, particularly in middle-and upper-class neighborhoods, but they still remain a significant presence in low-income neighborhoods.¹ Most studies on low-income and poor neighborhoods treat them as economic establishments and focus primarily on understanding their roles in facilitating economic mobility among various ethnic groups.² Yet as Herbert Gans and Gerald Suttles note in their studies of poor neighborhoods in Chicago and Boston, the mom-and-pop store is not only an economic establishment but...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Taking Care of Business: Social Change and Preservation in the Mom-and-Pop Store
    (pp. 149-176)

    The last chapter discussed the process through which the mom-and-pop grocery store became either an institution or an enterprise in the five poor neighborhoods of this study. This chapter looks at the dynamics through which these stores changed or maintained the status quo, a topic that few studies of poor neighborhoods have addressed. The most recent studies have assessed the economic health of a poor neighborhood by the number and types of stores, assuming that a decline in their numbers corresponds to a decline in the quality of the neighborhood’s health.¹ However, this approach is vulnerable to two errors. The...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Not Just a Clip Joint: Hair Shops and the Institution of Grooming
    (pp. 177-216)

    Scholars have often mentioned the importance of barbershops and salons to poor ethnic neighborhoods. Some scholars have considered barbershops and salons as efforts by a particular ethnic group to build and/or maintain an economic infrastructure.¹ In addition, a number of researchers have identified barbershops and salons as important places of social interaction.² Elijah Anderson, for example, writes in his study of an African American bar on the south side of Chicago that “urban taverns and bars, like barbershops, carry-out, and other such establishments, with their adjacent street corners and alleys, serve as important gathering places for people of the ‘urban...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Life on the Edge: Social Change and Preservation in the Hair Shop
    (pp. 217-242)

    According to some researchers, barbershops and hair salons, like momand-pop stores, are types of economic establishments that are disappearing in the poorest urban areas of the United States.¹ Consequently, they argue, these neighborhoods are losing the infrastructure that maintains the social order residents need if they are to live a decent life.² However, in persistently poor neighborhoods, a decrease in the number of economic establishments is not nearly as significant to the social order as whether these establishments are neighborhood institutions or economic enterprises, as defined in chapter 1.

    Barbershops and beauty salons are similar to mom-and-pop stores in that...

  13. CHAPTER 8 The Gang’s All Here: Fathering a Bastard Institution
    (pp. 243-273)

    A prominent public image of poor neighborhoods in the United States is that they are infested with gangs, so much so that the two seem to naturally go together. TV and movies have been instrumental in establishing this image.¹ However, among gang experts, there is some debate over the relationship between gangs and poor neighborhoods.

    Some researchers view gangs as predators of the residents of their communities, a malignant artifact of poverty, and symptomatic of the neighborhood’s social disorganization and decline.² Others find that, rather than being a menace, gangs assume various roles within their neighborhoods, many of which are...

  14. CHAPTER 9 All in the Family: Mothering the Gang as a Bastard Institution
    (pp. 274-298)

    As mentioned in the previous chapter, the public often views gangs and poor neighborhoods as naturally going together.¹ In most scholarly or journalistic popular accounts, gangs spring up simply because of a neighborhood’s poverty,² and they are viewed as a dysfunction of material want or as a dysfunctional contributor to community decay.³ However, gangs often assume a functional position within the neighborhood’s social structure that does not symbolize or cause neighborhood decay, though this position is seldom understood by researchers. Whether the gang is a contributor to neighborhood decay or a positive structural property of the poor neighborhood is determined...

  15. CHAPTER 10 Whither the Neighborhood High School? Contending Roles and Functions
    (pp. 299-319)

    American society has long believed that for every individual the institution of school-based learning is the key to economic success. In this regard, most U.S. citizens view school as a place where their hopes for the future lie, and they expect, and in some cases demand, it to be the engine of their desired social mobility. It has become accepted that this single institution is essential for socioeconomic advancement.¹

    In a controversial book about inequality in American urban society, Edward Banfield argued more than thirty years ago that American education is generally ineffective in producing socioeconomic mobility for the urban...

  16. CHAPTER 11 School Works: The Dynamics of Two Production Lines
    (pp. 320-342)

    No institution has been considered more important in moving people out of poverty than the school. The Chinese proverb “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach him how to fish and he’ll eat forever” expresses the conventional wisdom on the power of formal education in improving people’s opportunities and lives, and especially in lifting the poor out of their plight. Schools provide the human and social capital necessary for success in the labor market.¹ Thus American society has consistently called for the improvement of the instructional conditions and techniques in schools with high numbers of...

  17. Conclusion
    (pp. 343-354)

    I have covered a great deal of terrain in describing how the dynamics of social change and preservation operate in poor neighborhoods. As with most studies, much more could have been included, but even in its present form this is a rather long book, and chapter 1 has already presented the major theoretical conclusions emerging from the study’s findings. Thus I have limited my conclusion to a discussion of the theoretical and policy implications of the findings on issues affecting those who live below or near the official poverty threshold in neighborhoods where the majority of residents are in a...

  18. Methodological Appendix
    (pp. 355-366)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 367-442)
  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 443-466)
  21. Index
    (pp. 467-488)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 489-490)