Geography of Power

Ian Vanness

Socially liberal minded millennials, those of us who value diversity, strive for equality, and embrace multiculturalism, are often tempted to live in urban areas. Whether you’re a recent college grad looking to relocate after graduation, a young professional searching for advancement opportunities, or a young couple starting a family: where we choose to live is a massive decision. Geography, housing in particular, plays a crucial role in how power is structured on the local level in America. Where one chooses, or is forced, to live influences that individual’s access to opportunities, resources, and ultimately, wealth. For millennials, the decision of where to live has had, and will continue to have, immense influence on racial equality, and electoral politics.

Most of us have some familiarity with terms like “gentrification”, “white flight”, or “redlining”, but those of us who are younger, whiter, and educated, need to figure out how to not let our presence encourage and prop up real estate markets that profits off of racial prejudices. For every success story of urban renewal, there is usually a lesser known byproduct of social displacement and cultural exclusion. How do we not contribute to perceptions and stereotypes in the marketplace? Is there a way for millennials to move into revitalized urban neighborhoods in a way that allows pre existing residences a chance to capitalize on the incoming wealth? If a solution is not found, then our generation will continue America’s long history of excluding underserved minority communities from the prospect of real estate wealth and bolster the influence that racial segregation has on the opportunity of economic advancement.

When we choose to live among like-minded individuals we engage in a sort of self-imposed social segregation, with politics driving the division. Since 2010, gerrymandering and its negative consequences have found a prominent place in national discussion. While many states are taking measures to thwart against drawing districts along partisan lines, liberals at large face a growing existential threat - they don’t live in enough places. How do we live in cities without succeeding more electoral power to republicans? Sure, Democrats stand to gain from fair district reforms in most states, however, they still are geographically disadvantaged electorally. On the other side, those of us who lean left, but enjoy a more rural, or suburban setting are left feeling politically isolated. As long as politicians are choosing their constituents, gerrymandering will continue to pose a lose lose situation for liberal millennials.

While a responsible decision that doesn’t exacerbate previous trends remains unclear, understanding the relationship between geography and power is a mandatory first conversation in understanding roots causes of inequality in America. While a clear answer is evasive at best, the empowering component of this dilemma is that agency via individual choice and lifestyle is doable, and therefore demands our consideration.

With the power of choice comes a responsibility to be mindful of power structures built and sustained by racial favoring. Our societal values are reflected in how we arrange our physical landscape. Understanding the mechanism for prioritizing some communities at the expense of others allows a strategy for establishing inclusivity into the rules that guide development. Inclusion as a policy tenet and value has the ability to influence equitable share in real estate wealth, equal access to properly funded schools and educational resources, as well as including different experiences and perspectives into the public decision making process. Challenging preferential treatment in the housing market would demonstrate a commitment towards a more just and equitable future. Millennials have inherited an unfavorable position between repeating past transgressions, or ceding political capital.  How we navigate this precarious terrain will ultimately say more about our moral character than about our potential for political success.

(Published June 6, 2018)