I grew up in a diverse working class inner city neighborhood, two blocks from the elevated train (the el) in one direction and two blocks from a low-income housing development (the projects) in another.
Ever since I left home, people I’ve met have been quick to inform me that I come from a ‘bad neighborhood.’ And it was information to me; being my childhood home, I didn’t know that it was bad.
There’s no avoiding that many studies report that urban communities of color with high density populations tend to experience more crime and more violent victimization. (Though some studies disagree.) That’s certainly not a good thing, so it stands to reason that if it’s not good, it is “bad.” Still, I have trouble with this simplified characterization of my home/hometown as bad, that, by extension, insinuates that my childhood was bad.
What usefulness is there in pointing out to someone that her/his neighborhood is bad? Is the person now to be viewed with disdain –or with admiration for ‘having come so far’?
Remember –especially if you work with children and youth– children don’t choose the neighborhoods they live in or the schools they attend. Rather than telling people they come from bad circumstances, perhaps it would be more useful to inquire, “What is/was it like growing up there?”
You likely won’t get a simple good or bad answer because, neighborhoods, like the people who make them their home, are complex and multifaceted.