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Doomed Suburbs

Alana Semuels describes the structural forces that had led Cincinnati's Lincoln Heights neighborhood to the brink of extinction.
July 15, 2015, 9am PDT | dawnjourdan
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Steve Heap

Are some cities really doomed to fail? According to Alana Semuels, "The people of Lincoln Heights might have had their own suburb, but the world made sure they had little else. From the beginning, historians say, the town was doomed to fail."

This historically black suburb in Cincinnati, Ohio is on the verge of extinction. One of the first self-governing black communities north of the Mason Dixon line, Lincoln Heights has high unemployment, poor schools, and failing infrastructure. Carl Westmoreland, professor of planning of the University of Buffalo contends that this suburb, like many others, failed because of structural inequalities that allowed other suburbs, primarily those inhabited by white residents, to prosper. The financial instability of the neighborhood has led to a decline in the sense of community once held by residents. Children are moving away for opportunities and not returning to Lincoln Heights. This gradual abandonment of the neighborhood has led to a significant decline in property values and the closure of at least one neighborhood school. In an effort to keep the neighborhood from disappearing, local civic leaders have called for consolidation and revenue sharing. It is still too soon to tell whether this proposal will take hold. It is clear, however, that vision and ingenuity will be necessary to save this neighborhood from extinction.

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Published on Monday, July 13, 2015 in The Atlantic
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