The Implications Of Physical and

Spatial Fragmentation On Being Human

Amardo Rodriguez

Syracuse University



This paper critically examines the increasing physical and spatial fragmentation of U.S. society. I look at the 'hyper-suburb' as a symbol and metaphor of our increasing physical and spatial fragmentation. Hyper-suburbs are highly affluent housing enclaves found deep within the bowels of rural districts in the U.S. I argue that the increasing physical and spatial fragmentation of U.S. society—as seen in the rise of the gated community' and the hyper-suburb—along class lines reflects and fosters a politics and economics of separation and division. This politics and economics strive on an ethos of selfishness, deceit, and greed. I also argue that our increasing physical and spatial fragmentation reflects a deterioration of the human condition. That is, our increasing physical and spatial fragmentation disconnects us from the plight of the poor and marginalized. It spares us the hard work of expanding our empathy and compassion. Our increasing physical and spatial fragmentation thereby undermines the evolution of ways of being that are vital to us becoming fully human.


Identity politics gives us no solution to the fact that the U.S. is increasingly being geographically balkanized along class lines. As the wealth gap widens between rich and poor, so also the physical division between the groups widens. Our living and working spaces increasingly have no physical common ground. Class is physically and spatially fragmenting us (Goldsmith & Blakely, 1992; Liggett & Perry, 1995; Massey & Denton, 1993; Phelan & Schneider, 1996; Southworth & Ben-Joseph, 1993; Stoesz, 1996; Wilson, 1991). We no longer have just suburbs and urban worlds. We now also have the hyper-suburb and the gated community.

The hyper-suburb is found beyond the suburbs. It is carved deep within rural districts in the U.S. Its newly built houses look like castles, with lawns like golf courses. Developers often refer to these houses as McMansions (Goldberger, 2000). Its occupants are obviously highly affluent. In the hyper-suburb, common spaces are nearly nonexistent (Blakely & Snyder, 1997; Duany, Plater-Zyberk, & Speck, 2000; Southworth & Ben-Joseph, 1993). Even sidewalks tend to be absent. Perfectly manicured and arranged lawns extend to the curb. We find a hegemony of private spaces (Duany, Plater-Zyberk, & Speck, 2000; Southworth & Ben-Joseph, 1993).

The rise of affluent suburbs and hyper-suburbs shows the elevation of class in our ethics and politics (Blakely & Snyder, 1997; Boger & Wegner, 1996; Bullard, Grigsby & Lee, 1994; Calmore, 1996; Cook, 1997). The assumption in the hyper-suburb is that the best people make for the best neighbors, the best neighborhoods, and the best schools (Blakely & Snyder, 1997). We supposedly have no need to worry about whom our children will play with or date, about our property being devalued, about charitable organizations wanting to establish homeless shelters and soup kitchens in our neighborhoods, or about our houses being burglarized and vandalized. The hyper-suburb is about the culling of the suburbs. It is about wanting our children to go to the best schools and be removed from supposedly deviant influences (read black, brown, and poor children) (Thomas, 1995). It is about wanting to get away from that supposed class (and race) of people who once belonged to the urban world but now is increasingly moving out to the suburbs (Boal, 1978; Cutler, Glaeser, & Vigdor, 1999; Hwang & Murdock, 1998; Liska, Logan, & Bellair, 1998; Marcuse, 1996, 1997a, 1997b, 1997c; Ross, 2000; South & Crowder, 1998). It is about wanting to get away from the problems that such persons supposedly bring to the suburbs (Caldiera, 1996; Downs, 1998; Dreier & Moberg, 1996; Farley, 1995; Hwang & Murdock, 1998). In other words, black and brown and poor folks once again have white folks on the run. The hyper-suburb and the gated community attempt to finally end this running (Blakely & Synder, 1997). It is believed that the housing cost in the hyper-suburb is simply too high for even the most ambitious of the poor and downtrodden. Renting is simply out of the question. On the other hand, the economics of the hyper-suburbs save us from revealing our real motives as to why plush suburbs no longer suffice for our housing needs. We profess to simply want a nicer and bigger home for our growing family, a quieter neighborhood, and access to better schools for our children. These are all equal opportunity excuses. Even the few persons of historically marginalized groups who happen to gain access to the hyper-suburb often use such excuses to avoid issues of class and opportunity and history (Liska, Logan, & Bellair, 1998). In the hyper-suburb, class appears to trump all other differences.

But what results from this increasing physical fragmentation and class balkanization on our society? What are the effects on our politics and ethics? In fact, what are the effects of this kind of fragmentation on the human condition? In Fortress America, a book that focuses on the rise of the gated community in the U.S., Edward Blakely and Mary Gail Snyder (1997) put the matter the following way: “What is the measure of nationhood when the divisions between the neighborhoods require guards and fences to keep out other citizens? . . . Can this nation fulfill its social contract in the absence of social contact?” (p. 3). In this paper, I argue that our increasing spatial fragmentation and balkanization reflects and fosters a politics of separation and division. This politics strives on an ethos of selfishness, deceit, and greed. In other words, this physical and spatial fragmentation diminishes our humanity by pitting us against each other.

The evolution of the hyper-suburb correlates with the evolution of hyper-capitalism and the widening gap between rich and poor (Marcuse, 1995, 1997; Wilson, 1991). Peter Marcuse (1997) uses the term hypersegregation when discussing our increasing physical and spatial fragmentation. Indeed, the hyper-suburb physically captures the widening gap between rich and poor. Most of all, our increasing physical and spatial fragmentation reflects a deterioration of the human condition. It reflects our increasing apathy to the plight of the poor, marginalized, and downtrodden. That is, the hyper-suburb demands no risking of life. Our increasing physical and spatial separation saves us from expanding our empathy and compassion. In so doing, the hyper-suburb blocks the evolution of ways of being that are absolutely vital to us becoming fully human. This paper ends with a call for a new politics. It is a politics premised on our potentiality and striving for deep and complex relations to the world and each other. It assumes that our redemption resides within the blossoming of such relations. But let us first begin with a discussion of the background that frames this paper.


The thesis at the center of this paper is by no means new. In recent years, many scholars from across the academy have written compellingly about the perilous and pernicious threats to our democracy and society that our increasing physical and spatial fragmentation—as seen in the rise of the affluent suburb and the gated community—poses to U.S. society (Blakely & Snyder, 1997; Boger & Wegner, 1996; Bullard, Grigsby & Lee, 1994; Calmore, 1996; Cutler, Glaeser, & Vigdor, 1999; Dreier, 1996; Duany, Plater-Zyberk, & Speck, 2000; Farley, 1995; Flynn, 1995; Garreau, 1991; Keating, 1994; Liggett & Perry, 1995; Marcuse, 1994, 1996, 1997; Goldsmith & Blakely, 1992; Massey & Denton, 1993; Phelan & Schneider, 1996; Southworth & Ben-Joseph, 1993; Stoesz, 1996; Wilson, 1991). Whereas I use the term hyper-suburb, other scholars use such terms as affluent suburb, out-ring suburb, xuburbs, citadels, and the totalizing exclusionary suburb. Many scholars contend that our increasing physical and spatial fragmentation is making for and reflecting a society that is increasingly unequal through the elevation of political power in affluent suburbs and the diminution of political power in urban districts. Massey and Denton (1993) make this point forcefully in a book titled American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. This political power is selfishly being used to forward the interests of affluent suburbanites and hyper-suburbanites (Marcuse, 1994, 1996, 1997; Goldsmith & Blakely, 1992; Massey & Denton, 1993; Phelan & Schneider, 1996; Wilson, 1991).

Scholars consistently point out that this political hegemony that the suburbs and affluent suburbs possess is directly contributing to the pauperization and ghettoization of urban districts as the gains that such places now enjoy is a result of the transfer of resources away from urban districts (Dreier, 1996; Marcuse, 1995, 1997; McClain, 1995). Many scholars offer solid descriptions of this transfer of resources and the debilitating effects of such transfer on urban districts (e.g., Dreier, 1996; Jencks, 1991; Judd, 1995; Mingione, 1996; Stoesz, 1996; Sugrue, 1996; Wacquant, 1993; Wilson, 1987, 1991). Most analyses of this increasing spatial fragmentation highlight the fact that black, brown, and poor folks are unfortunately bearing the full brunt of this transfer of political and economic power to the suburbs and hyper-suburbs. According to Peter Marcuse (1997), “The residents of ghettos stand in an inferior, generally dominated and exploited (although resisting) relationships to those outside” (p. 315). Whereas those in affluent suburbs benefit “disproportionately from their economic and political relationships with others.” Besides the pauperization and alienation, many scholars contend that what is emerging is a new kind of ghettoization that appears bent on keeping black, brown, and poor folks confined to certain spaces that are without any kind of political and social power (McClain, 1995). About this new kind of ghetttoization, Marcuse (1997) explains:

The excluded ghetto of today is not simply an extreme form of the traditional ghetto but a new form in which permanent exclusion from participation in the mainstream economy, whether formal or informal, has become its defining characteristics. The historical changes in the traditional ghetto that have produced the excluded ghetto include a range of contemporary economic forces–from post-Fordist changes in the organization of production to globalization to business activities to development of new informational technologies–and the political and social consequences of these forces interact with entrenched patterns of racial discrimination and spatial segregation. The excluded ghetto is today both the home and the place of work of those whom Wilson (1991) calls the ghetto poor. Its characteristics have been often described. It is inseparably linked in the United States to racist patterns. One may thus speak of hypersegregation not as identical with exclusion but as very largely overlapping it, and the figures show little or no reduction in its extent despite more than four decades of formal governmental commitment to its abolition (p. 316).

This paper brings further commentary on this increasing spatial fragmentation of U.S. society. Like many other scholars who study this phenomenon, I am of the view that this trend makes for a “deeply divided and very troubled society.” I am principally concerned with pushing forward the claim that this trend seriously undermines the quality of our humanity and thereby undercuts the moral development of our society. It does so fostering and legitimizing a deep fear and suspicion of others who appear, either racially or economically, different to us. Our differences are exaggerated so as to mask our common humanity. A politics and economics appear that put us at the throats of each other. The result is also a diminished understanding of identity. We are increasingly forced to understand who and what we are by our differences to others so as to justify the growing disparity between the few and the many. I will draw upon Erich Fromm’s theory of union and separation to show how this way of constructing our identity harms our humanity.

The Nature of Our Politics

The affluent suburbs and hyper-suburbs are increasingly determining and shaping U.S. politics (Cook, 1997; Dreier & Moberg, 1996; Goldsmith & Blakely, 1992; Lehrer, 1998; Longman, 1998; Marcuse, 1997a, 1997b, 1997c; Mingione, 1996; Musante, 1998; Wilson, 1987, 1991). In a compelling paper about how electoral trends show suburbs and hyper-suburbs gaining control of political power in the U.S., Robert Cook (1997) writes:

There is no doubt these days that the suburbs are the power center in American politics. A 1993 analysis by David C. Huckabee of the congressional research service found that 212 congressional districts--nearly half--have populations with a suburban majority and that 160 have populations at least 60% suburban. By either measurement, the number of suburban district dwarfs the total for either the cities or rural areas, which have each lost ground to the suburbs over the last two decades (p. 1214).

Many factors are making the suburbs and hyper-suburbs the new power center in U.S. politics. I will briefly discuss four factors: shifting population patterns, redrawing of electoral districts, voting consistently and overwhelmingly conservative, and directing political issues to favor suburban interests. The first factor deals with shifting population trends, that is, the increasing outward migration from urban districts to suburbs and hyper-suburbs. Increasingly, most U.S. residents now live in the suburbs and hyper-suburbs, and this number is rising rapidly (Cook, 1997; Farley, 1995). The result of this outward migration makes for the redrawing of electoral districts, which is the next factor that is contributing to the suburbs and hyper-suburbs being the new power base in U.S. politics. The redrawing of electoral districts is directly transferring electoral representatives—and electoral power—away from urban districts (Cook, 1997). Suburbs now have the most congressional seats of all electoral regions. In fact, in the last two decades, suburban seats have nearly doubled, whereas other regions have significantly declined (Cook, 1997).

Third, electoral voting trends plainly show that suburbanites and hyper-suburbanites consistently and overwhelmingly vote for conservative representatives, conservative presidents, and conservative causes (Cook, 1997). The mildly liberal hegemony of urban districts is no longer a factor in national politics. Suburbanites and hyper-suburbanites now control who becomes president (Cook, 1997). The control is nearly total as, again, both groups overwhelmingly vote conservative. Presidential candidates have to align themselves with the concerns, causes, and interests of both groups.

Finally, as with any kind of hegemony and recognition of power, suburbs and hyper-suburbs want full control of the direction of the status quo. Both use this newfound power for purely selfish ends--ends which work to the detriment to urban and rural districts. Suburbanites and hyper-suburbanites vote overwhelmingly for presidents and representatives that have little interests in redeeming urban districts (Goldsmith & Blakely, 1992; Marcuse, 1997; Massey & Denton, 1993). In fact, such presidents and representatives are often hostile to the interests of urban districts (Wilson, 1987, 1991). Paula McClain (1995) writes about a politics of homicide:

An entire generation of black youth is being wiped out, and the issue of urban homicide is not on the governmental agenda in a meaningful way. There is clearly a politics of homicide. The politics of homicide results from the use of race in American politics and the image of white victimization by black criminals. The politicization of the problem of urban homicide as one of blacks preying on whites is a nondecision--the mobilization of bias to regard the phenomenon of black against white.  The consequence has been to push the development of policies that do not help the true victims of urban violence, urban black residents, but that clearly confront the racial overtones of black-on-white crime (p. 643).

Indeed, this hostility to urban districts is best seen in the politics of Ronald Reagan, who achieved nearly total control of the suburban and hyper-suburban vote. Reagan’s politics and policy initiatives were particular harsh on urban districts (Dreier, 1996; Massey & Denton, 1993; Stoesz, 1996; Wilson, 1987, 1991). The origins of urban blights were seen to be personal rather than structural, therefore needing personal rather than structural solutions. McClain (1995) apply describes Reagan’s philosophy to urban problems:

Poverty and associated problems are viewed as a result of individual personal failings and limited intellectual capabilities rather than structural and institutional factors. Government programs and intervention are undesirable and a waste of money. Solutions, if there are any to what they view as fundamentally intractable problems, will emerge from the private sector, and the free market will find them (pp. 642- 643).

Reagan drastically slashed funding in all kinds of urban programs. Even many successful programs were cut by over 70% (Calmore, 1993; Dreier, 1996; Stoesz, 1993). Reagan also completely eliminated general revenue sharing, “which in 1980 had provided $10.8 billion in direct funds to local governments” (Dreier, 1996). In addition, Reagan imposed a huge number of mandates on urban districts, which cost these districts billions of dollars. As Peter Dreier (1996) reports:

The combined impact of these cuts and mandates has been devastating to the ability of local governments to deliver services and to the capacity of urban residence to cope with poverty and various health, housing, and other problems associated with poverty. Because the number of poor Americans grew significantly during the past decade while concentration of the poor in cities increased, cities experienced the most serious repercussion from the cutbacks and programs designed to serve individuals. The recession, which began in 1989, exacerbated the local fiscal crisis by undermining the capacity of local governments to raise revenues from property taxes (p. 109).

On the other hand, as funding was being slashed to urban districts, Reagan was generously allocating funds to suburban districts for highway development, public works, and other infrastructure projects. This kind of support was and remains instrumental to the expansion of the hyper-suburb (Lehrer, 1998; Longman, 1998). Yet this kind of expansion is actually being subsidized by non-suburban residents. This subsidizing is evident in the allocation of federal funds to build new highways rather than expand mass transit systems. According to Joe Persky, “It’s all a matter of people not seeing the right price. In many cases, governments are subsidizing highway construction over mass transit and doing all sorts of other things that results in people paying too little for the resources they use; the result is sprawl and traffic congestion and it’s becoming a major problem” (Lehrer, 1998). But the costs of the hyper-suburbs exceed federal dollars spent on new highway construction and public works. Other costs can be found in the pollution that comes with the increasing miles being traveled between home and work in gas-guzzling behemoths, the environmental degradation that comes with the increasing pollution, the physical heath problems that come with this increased pollution, the allocation of limited funds to protect land areas so as to control hyper-suburban development, and the loss of prime farm land to suburban and hyper-suburban development (Duany, Plater-Zyberk, & Speck, 2000; Jackson, 1985; Massey & Denton, 1993; O’Meara, 1999).

Most scholars project that suburban and hyper-suburban development will continue to grow exponentially. There appears to be no immediate end to our increasing physical and spatial fragmentation. Yet the tremendous cost that comes with the expansion of suburbs and hyper-suburbs raise many important questions. How much of this kind of selfishness can our society and democracy bear? How much physical and spatial fragmentation? In fact, how much of this fragmentation can our humanity bear? In my view, Erich Fromm’s (1956, 1973) theory of union and separation gives us a solid calculus to begin understanding the different threats that our increasing physical and spatial fragmentation poses to society and the human condition.

On Union and Separation

Erich Fromm (1956, 1973) contends that any society that fosters any kind of fragmentation-- physical, social, racial, cultural, and so on--ultimately harms the human condition. The reason being, according to Fromm, is that human beings have a moral, existential, and spiritual striving for union. It is through the forging of union that human beings become fully human. This expansion of our humanity deepens our capacity for love and compassion. In other words, love and compassion heals the human condition. In The Art of Loving, Fromm (1956) writes, “This desire for interpersonal fusion is the most powerful striving in man. It is the most fundamental passion, it is the force which keeps the human race together, the clan, the family, society. The failure to achieve it means insanity or destruction—self-destruction of others” (p. 17).

Human separation reflects human relations that disconnect us from each other through fear, distrust, suspicion, and apathy. Thus, fragmentation harms the human condition. It makes us less human, less decent, less civil, and less moral. Fragmentation undercuts our capacity for love and compassion. It fosters alienation---alienation from each other and our own humanity. Fromm (1973) contends that alienation makes for powerlessness. It undermines our ability to act purposely and courageously upon the world.

But by no means does union undercut diversity. In fact, only through union can diversity expand without any need or fear of assimilation (Rodriguez, 2000). Union gives us the communication capacity to deal compassionately and patiently with new and different ways of being in the world. Fromm’ theory of union and separation gives us a solid calculus to understand the threats posed by our increasing spatial fragmentation and physical balkanization. It allows us to understand suburban and hyper-suburban electoral voting trends, the lack of love and compassion for the poor, marginalized, and downtrodden that such trends reflect, the increasing hostility of suburban and hyper-suburban politics to urban problems, and the increasing fragmentation that many scholars are documenting within suburban and hyper-suburban enclaves (e.g., Blakely & Snyder, 1997; Bullard, Grigsby & Lee, 1994; Cutler, Glaeser, & Vigdor, 1999; Putnam, 2000).

Fromm also gives us a heuristic framework to understand the complex relation between identity, psychology, and separation. Our increasing physical separation is making for a new kind of identity and psychology. Identity is being increasingly defined in terms of success, that is, winners and losers. Though still compelling factors, race and ethnicity are less and less determining our neighbors, schoolmates, friends, lovers, colleagues, and, most of all, our political candidates. This is no doubt a positive trend for a plural society like the U.S. Unfortunately, this trend is being used to mask the fact that race and ethnicity still matter in determining who becomes winners and losers (Farley, 1995; West, 1993). Orlando Patterson (1997) contends that the political interests of affluent Blacks have hardly any overlap with poor Blacks. He argues that affluent Blacks’ political interests focus more on social class issues and less on racial issues. Indeed, this group shows no political intent on expending political capital to end harsh sentencing guidelines that are making for an explosion of the prison population with poor Blacks, or dismantling an educational funding system that allocates less money to schools in ghettos and barrios, or other such issues that directly impact poor Blacks. In Beyond Black and White: Transforming African-American politics, Manning Marable (1995) calls for a human rights politics to contest this abandonment of the political interests poor Blacks and other marginalized and disenfranchised groups.

Our increasing physical fragmentation demands a psychology that also disconnects us from the suffering of those left behind in ghettos and barrios. Our supposed success must be psychologically legitimized in a system that must also produce losers. If our success is deserved because of our efforts and dedication, then the failure of the poor is deserved because of their lack of effort and dedication. So the identity of many poor people is increasingly being defined in terms of failure. This discursive strategy allows the status quo to mask the deep ideological, political, cultural, and racial structures that are making for the widening gap between rich and poor. As Ellen Goodman (1984) insightfully observes, “If we are going to limit opportunities for those stuck in the Other America, it is much easier to think of these people as failures. If we are going to chip away at social programs for the have-nots, it is much easier to name them losers. We used to call this blaming the victim. Now we call it winning” (p. 5).

Fromm’s theory of union and separation makes plain to us that this emergent psychology of separation is making for an identity that only perpetuates our separation. We can have no real separation from the plight and misery of others. We are connected to each other—our actions (or lack thereof) always affect the condition of others. We know from system theory and chaos theory that all life forms are biologically connected. About our connection to each other, Thomas Merton (1967), the distinguished theologian, writes:

Only when we see ourselves in our true human context, as members of a race intended to be one organism and “one body,” will we begin to understand the positive importance not only of the successes but of the failures and accidents in our lives. My successes are not my own. The way to them was prepared by others. The fruit of my labors is not my own: for I am preparing the way for the achievements of another. Nor are my failures my own. They may spring from the failure of another, but they are also compensated for by another’s achievement. Therefore the meaning of life is not to be looked for merely in the sum total of my own achievements. It is seen only in the complete integration of my achievements and failures with the achievements and failures of my own generation, and society, . . . . Every other man is piece of myself, for I am part and a member of mankind (p. 16).

No system is ever neutral. System theory reveal to us that systems as either evolving or devolving. In other words, our actions are either fostering union or separation (Rodriguez, 2000). The point being that our increasing physical separation is making for a psychology that distorts our understanding of who we are as human beings. Our political and psychological efforts to justify our separation are ill serving us.      

Fromm’s theory of separation and union portends the dangers that come with our increasing spatial fragmentation. It makes urgent our need to work against this kind of fragmentation. It exposes the perilous consequences that come from this kind of fragmentation. Indeed, even many scholars that support suburban politics now warn ominously about the threats to our democracy and society that this politics is creating. On the other hand, what also needs to be understood is that the politics that is emerging out of our increasing physical and spatial fragmentation works in tandem with an economics that is also legitimizing and encouraging this kind of fragmentation. Let us now look briefly at the nature of this economics.

The Economics of Fragmentation

Our increasing physical and spatial fragmentation also reflects the evolution of an economics that thrives on fragmentation and division. This economics is dedicated to the unleashing of market forces and obediently serving the interests of elites of wealth and power. In this regard, this politics is determined to end political and social practices that supposedly bridle the power of capitalism. This economics is explicitly committed to the evolution of capitalism (Benson, 1998; Greider, 1997; Sowell, 1994; Williams, 1995). It wants to end government or at least governments that are undedicated to the expansion of capitalism. In fact, this economics wants all of us to be subservient to the mission of capitalism. Integral to achieving this ambition is convincing us that capitalism is the only path to the good society. This is how George Will (1995) defends this economics:

A society that values individualism, enterprise and a market economy is neither surprised nor scandalized when the unequal distribution of marketable skills produces large disparities in the distribution of wealth. This does not mean that social justice must be defined as whatever distribution of wealth the market produces. But it does mean there is a presumption in favor of respecting the market’s version of distributive justice. Certainly there is today no prima facie case against the moral acceptability of increasingly large disparities of wealth (p. A15).

We are to fully accept the many bedrock assumptions that undergird capitalism, foremost of which is that human beings have a proclivity for devolution and death, and that competition is the natural order of the world. Supposedly, capitalism gives us the superior mechanisms and structures to control this proclivity. In fact, a popular claim is that capitalism actually harnesses this proclivity for the good of all human beings (Dawkins, 1989, Sowell, 1994). It is believed that the competition that capitalism fosters makes for the constructive playing out of our supposed natural yearning for aggression, competition, and destruction. Supposedly, without capitalism, this aggression will be channeled towards destructive ends. In short, competition supposedly makes for the good society. It supposedly makes for the most productive use of human and natural resources. It therefore supposedly blocks us from fostering dependency and acquiring other dysfunctional habits of being. The Wall Street Journal editorializes endlessly about this claim.

It is also argued that capitalism undercuts discrimination (Sowell, 1994). The reason is that discrimination blocks the blossoming of competition. It defeats the promise of competition. Winning demands acquiring the best persons, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and so forth. Increasingly, many members of historically disenfranchised and marginalized groups are the most vociferous proponents of this argument (e.g., Sowell, 1994). This argument is often showcased as a compelling reason as to why liberalism is supposedly dead. Capitalism is increasingly celebrated as the crowning achievement of Western civilization, and the U.S. full commitment to capitalism makes for the unsurpassed greatness of the U.S. The latest claim is that capitalism is supposedly an outgrowth of our spiritual evolution (Gilder, 1981; MacFarquhar, 2000). It reflects our spiritual questing for a society that will unleash all of our potentiality. In other words, capitalism is supposedly of God. It makes for the only society that God has blessed. Consequently, to be against capitalism is to be against God, and to do so, to be against capitalism, is to face the wrath of God. This kind of reasoning is often used by ardent proponents of capitalism to explain the downfall of socialism and communism (e.g., Gilder, 1981; MacFarquhar, 2000).

So the economics of the hyper-suburbs is explicitly against the redistribution of wealth and resources. This kind of redistribution supposedly only sponsors programs and initiatives that stop the poor and downtrodden from developing superior habits of being that make for a better life in a capitalist system (Dawkins, 1989; Liebmann, 1999; Mansfield, 1996; Wilson, 1978; R. Wright, 1994; W. Wright, 1998). It undercuts the evolution of our preservation instincts. Again, the economics of the affluent suburbs and hyper-suburbs is explicitly committed to the evolution of capitalism and the devolution of government. It champions the power of self-interest (read greed). The mansion in the hyper-suburb is the promised reward of self-interest. It supposedly stands as testimony that capitalism offers a new paradigm that transcends race, ethnicity, and class history. The rewards of capitalism are supposedly only for persons who exercise the highest levels of self-interests, regardless of race, ethnicity, and other differences. In this way, for proponents of capitalism, the hyper-suburbs reflect the evolution of the good society and, conversely, the end of collective interests. It is supposedly collective interests—such as civil rights, unions, and identity politics—that bedevil the evolution of the good society. Thus, the economics of the hyper-suburbs is openly committed to eroding the power of unions and other interest groups that press the interests of historically marginalized and disenfranchised groups.

The economics of the hyper-suburbs is also committed to hierarchy. It assumes that hierarchy is the natural order of the world. The elites of wealth and power are supposedly biologically advantaged to rise to the top of society (Herrnstein & Murray, 1994). In this regard, the hyper-suburbs reflect just rewards. The economics of the hyper-suburbs is against programs and initiatives that reject the supposed truths of biology. It argues that such efforts are useless and work against the natural order of the world. Accordingly, the politics of the hyper-suburbs is strenuously against any new school funding system that will make for parity between rich and poor school districts. It is equally dead set against other initiatives and programs that will expand opportunity and access to persons of historically marginalized and disenfranchised groups (Fischer et al., 1996). In the end, the politics of the hyper-suburbs is beholden and committed to the evolution of capitalism and global capitalism. The hyper-suburb believes the truths that capitalism professes. It believes that self-interest (greed), competition, and hierarchy will ultimately make for the good society, regardless of race, ethnicity, and other such differences. In the end, the politics and economics that are emerging out of our increasing physical and spatial fragmentation are harming community and the human condition. This harm can be aptly seen in our increasing crisis of communication ( Buber, 1970; Cissna & Anderson, 1994; Rodriguez, 2000).

The Crisis of Communication

Our society is witnessing a deterioration of communication. Information is now king. Information is the emasculation of communication. Information emerges when communication is stripped of the human component. It is devoid of meaning, emotion, and passion. Information is the bleaching of communication. Yet, when communication is emasculated, relationships are also emasculated (Rodriguez, 2000). In fact, when communication is emasculated, community is emasculated. Communication is fundamentally a relational phenomenon---through communication, relationships are constituted, shaped, and managed. Our primary relationships are with the world, each other, and ourselves. The quality of such relationships is recursively dependent on the quality of communication that reflects our ways of being in the world. Communication can either expand or diminish our primary relationships. In other words, communication fosters either union or separation.

To refer to the deterioration of communication is to refer to ways of being in the world that diminish communication, that undercut meaning creation, that block the evolution of new and different ways of experiencing the world, and that undermine the deepening and expansion of our relationships to the world, each other, and our own humanity. Such ways of being are consistently and distinctively devoid of empathy, compassion, transparency, and trust, which is to say that such ways of being are laden with apathy, deception, suspicion, and distrust. The end result is alienation and fragmentation. Alienation dispossesses life of meaning. It undermines our ability to act deliberately and purposely upon the world. It fosters hopelessness and despair. In sum, alienation heightens our fear of the world, each other, and our own humanity. Ronald Arnett (1994) contends that our losing of faith in our ability to act upon the world makes for despair, mistrust, confusion, loss of moral direction, and what Lasch (1984) refers to as a culture of survivalism.

Fromm contends that alienation is the hallmark of separation. It reduces us to objects. It dehumanizes us. It erases the complexity of our humanity. In Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, Fromm (1973) writes:

Alienation as we find it in modern society is almost total; it pervades the relationship of man to his work, to the things he consumes, to the state, to his fellow man, and to himself. Man has created a world of man-made things as it never existed before. He has constructed a complicated social machine to administer the technical machine he built. Yet this whole creation of his stands over and above him. He does not feel himself as a creator and center, but as the servant of a Golem, which his hands have built. The more powerful and gigantic the forces are which he unleashes, the more powerless he feels himself as a human being. He confronts himself with his own forces embodied in things he has created, alienated from himself. He is owned by his own creation, and has lost ownership of himself (pp. 124-125).

Alienation--resulting from the increasing deterioration of communication and community—undercuts our ability to deal with others who are increasingly different to us. As a result, many of us are forced to run to the suburbs, and now that the suburbs are becoming increasingly populated with black, brown, and poor persons, must run again. The gated community stands as a physical manifestation of our strenuous efforts to keep a group of people out of our world (Blakely & Synder, 1997; Flynn, 1995). It is probably the most explicit expression of human division and fragmentation. It is also, unfortunately, a poignant symbolization of human devolution. In our strenuous efforts to keep the other out, the gated community and the hyper-suburb make us less human. 

High-density living organically expands our communication capacity. The tight proxiity forces us to develop a communication temperament to deal with all kinds of people. Communication is compulsory. We have to constantly negotiate all kinds of relationships. In most cases, prosperity in high-density worlds depends on our ability to get along. We have to be willing to share resources, build and rebuild coalitions, forgive past hurts and injustices, ease tensions and conflicts, and look out for the well-being of each other’s children. The hyper-suburb makes no such demands on us. In fact, the hyper-suburb is meant to make no such demands on us. The hyper-suburb purposely aims to limit communication. It is interesting how sidewalks and front porches tend to be absent.

The aesthetics of the hyper-suburbs also lend to alienation and fragmentation. The houses tend to turn us inward rather than outward (Blakely & Snyder, 1997; Duany, Plater-Zyberk, & Speck, 2000; Southworth & Ben-Joseph, 1993). In most cases, again, front porches tend to absent. The huge lawns maintain separation and fragmentation between neighbors. As sidewalks also tend to be absent, this subtly blocks neighbors from walking through the neighborhoods. Further, the huge houses are often located behind big trees and further away from the curb. Public spaces like parks, community centers, and playgrounds also tend to be nonexistent (Blakely & Snyder, 1997; Duany, Plater-Zyberk, & Speck, 2000; Southworth & Ben-Joseph, 1993). The street arrangement found in affluent suburbs and hyper-suburbs is also deliberately meant to discourage entry of nonresidents (Southworth & Ben-Joseph, 1993).

The huge houses in the hyper-suburbs show materialism as a religion. Materialism begins when spiritualism ends, and spiritualism ends when communication diminishes. Communication again is about meaning creation, meaning negotiation, and meaning devolution. Communication is about our questing to bring meaning to bear on the world. The process is existentially transforming. That is, communication transforms our humanity. However, how much communication transforms our humanity correlates with our willingness to allow our questing for meaning to flourish. The expansion of our communication capacity correlates with the expansion of our humanity. Both expansions deepen our relations to others, the world, and our own humanity. In my view, the hyper-suburbs are born out of a crisis of meaning, a crisis of spirituality.

Materialism captures our crisis of meaning. It reflects a grasping for meaning, any meaning. The huge houses in the hyper-suburbs stand as really the new temples, mosques, churches, and houses of worship to the new religion of materialism. We now each have our own house of worship. There is no need to fellowship with others. Yet the dominant spiritual teachings of the world consistently teach us that our spirituality is entwined with our relation to others and our relation to our own humanity. Love of God is about love of others. Indeed, our love of others (all others) reflects and measures our love of God. Accordingly, many prophets stressed again and again the need to love others deeply, completely, and selflessly. This kind of love deepens our spirituality, deepens our understandings and meanings of the world.

To love others deeply, completely, and selflessly is a praxis. It reflects a way of being in the world that is committed to transformation and evolution. In most cases the end result is revolution, devolution of the status quo. Spirituality expands both communication and our humanity. It deepens our relations to others, pulls us towards each other, lessens the threat of our differences, and enlarges our empathy and compassion. Spirituality fosters trust and transparency, tenderness and kindness, and generosity and selflessness. Yet, besides deepening our understanding of God and the world, spirituality deepens our understanding of what being human means. It undercuts the fear, distrust, and suspicion that give legitimacy to the evolution of the hyper-suburbs.

The dominant spiritual teachings of the world teach us that spiritual growth is a praxis. It is about expanding our humanity, forging new and different ways of being and experiencing the world, and deepening our relations to each other. The hyper-suburbs undercut all of this by physically limiting human interaction. The class and (overwhelmingly) racial homogeneity of the hyper-suburbs block interaction and the building of relationships with persons of different ways of experiencing and understanding and being in the world. In sum, the homogeneity of the hyper-suburbs undermines the formation of meaningful interaction with different kinds of people that can expand our communication capacity, and thereby expand our humanity.

On Being Human

Morally, socially, physiologically, physically, and biologically, human beings are either evolving or devolving. Our humanity is either expanding or diminishing. Life allows for no kind of neutrality. In this regard, hyper-suburbs make us less human by fostering a politics and ethics of division and fragmentation, by promoting materialism, and by undermining spirituality. In Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert Putnam (2000) persuasively argues that suburban sprawl is directly related to the disintegration of community life, the loss of social capital, and the alarming rise in mental illness in the last decade. Ultimately, the hyper-suburbs distort our understanding of what being human means. In fact, hyper-suburbs find legitimacy on this distortion. The hyper-suburb strives on the belief that security can be found by establishing enclaves far away from the ghettos and barrios. It assumes that our redemption can be disassociated from the redemption of those persons who are often trapped in ghettos and barrios. Security is cast in terms of physical safety. It can supposedly be acquired with enough money, enough fences, and enough gates. In other words, security is defined in terms of protection from injury to body and property. But what about spiritual injury? What about injury to community? What about injury to our humanity? What about injury to the planet? What kind of protection and security does the hyper-suburb offer against such threats?

No one is denying that the threat of physical harm is unimportant or undeserving of serious consideration. No one is also denying that preservation of life instincts tend to have a certain kinship with our physical being. The point being that the hyper-suburb deliberately privileges the physical realm of being human. It perpetuates the notion that human beings are one-dimensional beings and, like other such beings, fixated with physical security. Our physical safety is seen as the be-all and end-all of our existence. It is apparently deserving of all the sacrifices made to get that income that will afford that house in either a gated community or a hyper-suburb. Yet the prophets tell us that focusing on physical safety can distract from the work of redemption. What matters most is spiritual security--safety from fear, despair, hopelessness, and apathy. This kind of security only evolves with the evolution of community. No amount of money or walls or fences or gates can give us this kind of security. The prophets teach us that this kind of security has to be forged through love and compassion. The hyper-suburbs again show us turning away from the teachings of the prophets.

To attain spiritual security is no easy task. Religion demands much less of us than community. To build the kind of community that the prophets call us to build demands much risking of life. In the case of Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, and many others, the cost was persecution and death. Many affluent suburbanites and hyper-suburbanites enthusiastically report of feeling safe. It is naturally believed that the exorbitant house prices, especially in the hyper-suburbs, will definitely keep the undesirables out. Unfortunately, what many hyper-suburbanites are missing is the fact that the threats to our security are now within our houses and enclaves. The threats can be seen in the exponentially high illicit drug and alcohol use among suburban youth, the high levels of suicide, the high levels of human misery and mental diseases, and the high levels of promiscuity. Suburban youth are unfortunately and sadly paying a lot of the cost for our fixation with physical security. The numerous school shootings in affluent schools make this plain to us. No longer can the suburbanites and hyper-suburbanites tell us that life is better in the suburbs and the hyper-suburbs. We now know that suburban children are hurting, killing themselves and each other. The security that the suburbs and hyper-suburbs offer can do nothing to stop this kind of human destruction.

But most suburbanites and hyper-suburbanites have no intention of abandoning the ambition to live far away from black, brown, and poor folks. The belief resides deep within our consciousness that such folks, especially blacks, have a natural proclivity for criminality and deviancy. In The Bell Curve, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray sought to justify—really affirm—this nasty belief to suburbanites and hyper-suburbanites. The success of the book is revealing. No doubt, many suburbanites and hyper-suburbanites bought a copy. So many parents in the suburbs and hyper-suburbs will simply hope that therapy and prescription drugs will fix the children’s problems. We know now that most of the children who have been doing the school shootings were either in therapy or on prescription drugs for various psychological and social problems. But the children in the ghettos and barrios are also hurting. Because building of suburbs and hyper-suburbs transfers money and resources from urban districts, urban housing and schools are left under-funded. The tremendous political clout of the suburbs guarantees the continuation of this unjust system. So the children of the ghettos and barrios are left to strive in housing and schools that are unfit for even animals (Kozol, 1992). To deal with the obvious hypocrisy of all of this, suburbanites and hyper-suburbanites back a politics of competition and voucher programs for urban schools, neither of which can be found in suburban schools. The fact that suburban schools are simply better funded never enters the equation (Fischer et al., 1996; Kozol, 1992). The vulgar hypocrisy of suburbanites and hyper-suburbanites knows no end.

We look at black, brown, and poor children as other children. The media coverage of recent school shootings again made this plain to us. That kind of behavior is supposedly unnatural in affluent suburban neighborhoods. It is supposedly natural in poor school districts. Supposedly, black, brown, and poor parents make no effort to raise decent, kind, and generous children. Consequently, reports of black, brown, and poor children killing each other never get comparable media attention (Patterson, 1999). Our disownment of black, brown, and poor children is also seen in our politics. Besides actually demanding programs for urban schools that are non-existent in affluent suburban schools, the politics of the suburbs and hyper-suburbs is vehemently opposed to even any suggestion of ending a school funding system that works against the interest and betterment of poor schools. In addition, suburbanites and hyper-suburbanites have no intention of demanding increased federal funding for education (Kozol, 1992). In short, the politics of suburbs and hyper-suburbs opposes vital initiatives that can positively affect the lives of many black, brown, and poor children. There is something morally depraved about this kind of politics. Yet, on the other hand, it says and reflects so much about us. It aptly captures our alienation, our fragmentation, our division, and, most of all, our devolution. The fact that race, ethnicity, and class can stop us from loving other children as our own should concern us deeply. This condition reflects an impoverished and diminished humanity. Orlando Patterson (1999) editorializes this point well in the wake of another suburban school shooting:

What is at issue here is the principle of infrangibility: our conception of normalcy and of what groups constitute our social body--those from whom we cannot be separated without losing our identity, so that their achievements become our own and their pathologies our failures.

We should speak not simply of black poverty but of the nation's poverty; not the Italian-American Mafia problem but the nation's organized crime problem; not the pathologies of privileged white teen-age boys but of all our unloved, alienated young men.

Our increasing physical and spatial fragmentation and separation is reducing us to beasts. Our loss of spirituality is revealing a loss of our humanity and decency. Our politics towards black, brown, and poor children should therefore deeply concern us. The condition of our humanity will always be measured by our treatment of the weak and the innocent. The fact that we are increasingly prepared to see black, brown, and poor children as Other signals the highest manifestation of alienation, separation, and fragmentation.



No amount of walls, fences, and gates will save us from the perils of a politics that fosters fragmentation, division, and separation. We urgently need a new politics and ethics. Only a politics that focuses on building community through expanding our humanity can redeem us. As Martin Buber (1994) explains:

That peoples can no longer carry on authentic dialogue with one another is not only the most acute         symptom of the pathology of our time, it is also that which most urgently makes a demand of us. I believe, despite all, that the peoples in this hour can enter into dialogue, into a genuine dialogue with one another. In a genuine dialogue each of the partners, even when he stands in opposition to the other, heeds, affirms, and confirms his opponent as an existing other. Only so can conflict certainly not be eliminated from the world, but be humanly arbitrated and led towards its overcoming (p. 311).

We need a healing politics—a politics that will heal us from the wounds of separation, fragmentation, and division. This politics is akin to what Patricia Collins (1991) refers to as a politics of caring. Integral to a politics of healing is the focus on communication, compassion, community, and communion. Instead of putting the focus on explaining, justifying, and defending our differences, or even finding common ground, this politics focuses instead on expanding our humanity. It assumes that human beings have moral, existential, and spiritual strivings that can be tapped. It also assumes that human beings have a need for deep and complex relationships with the world and each other. So this politics of healing focuses on the potentiality of human beings. It is a politics that respects the past, but, on the other hand, is by no means beholden to it. That is, this politics is unafraid to transgress norms, traditions, rituals, beliefs, and other discursive practices of the past that limit the evolution of new experiences and understandings of the world. It is committed to ending all discursive, communicative, and performative practices that block the blossoming of our potentiality. A politics of healing is a politics of hope--the hope being that human beings have the potential to be better human beings and this world is fecund with symmetry and beauty. It is committed to deepening the relationships between human beings. It assumes that much of our redemption resides within such relationships. Consequently, this politics is committed to the devolution of hierarchy. It is committed to ending practices that foster deception, apathy, distrust, suspicion, and so forth. This politics of healing assumes that equality will rise organically with the devolution of such practices.


A scholarly industry is emerging about the deterioration of civility, community, and the loss of citizenship. Proponents of the deterioration thesis complain about the loss of traditional values, the attacks upon various cultural and political traditions, institutions, and structures, the end of voluntarism, and the increasingly high levels of disinterest and disenfranchisement from national politics in the U.S. Opponents, on the other hand, contend that life is superb. Old communist and socialist regimes are tumbling. Global capitalism is rising. The U.S. economy is booming. The ranks among the elites of wealth and power are exploding. Affluent suburbs and hyper-suburbs are proliferating and U.S. democracy is supposedly spreading throughout the world.

Proponents of the deterioration thesis by no means wish to threaten the status quo. They support the rise of global capitalism, the booming U.S. economy, and, most of all, the belief that capitalism is the path to the good society. In most cases, proponents merely want allocation of enough resources to support a safety net. The goal is a kinder and gentler new world order. Nobody wants to end the status quo. The decisional premises between opponents and proponents are tacitly agreed upon. There shall be no interrogation of the legitimacy of the status quo, no examination of the origins of the increasing despair and mental anguish that torment us, and no discussion of new and different ways of being that break radically with the status quo. Reform is all that will be had. The result is a politics that considers only solutions that will pose no threat to the status quo and demand no risking of life. So the solution to urban school problems is voucher programs, the solution to criminality and deviancy is incarceration, the solution to the growing chasm between rich and poor is tax relief, the solution to our spiritual crisis is eastern philosophy, the solution to our youth problems is the posting of the Ten Commandments in schools, the solution to our suburban problems is the construction of new and wider highways, the solution to our diversity problem is either assimilation or toleration, and so forth.

We are focusing on symptoms to block interrogation of the origins of the many problems that increasingly bedevil the human condition. This kind of politics has serious moral, existential, and spiritual consequences and implications. It makes for a psychology and sociology that distort our identity as human beings belonging to one race and life world. It ultimately distorts our understanding of what being human means by masking human potentiality. To this end, this politics perilously threatens life.


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