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Urban Space, Restrictive Covenants and the Origins of Racial Residential Segregation in a US City, 1900–50

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  • Kevin Fox Gotham

Abstract

Many studies have examined the role of racial prejudice and discrimination in the creation of racial residential segregation in US cities. Yet few researchers have situated early twentieth‐century meanings of race and racism within broader processes of urban development and the emergence of the modern real estate industry. Using a case study of Kansas City, Missouri, this article examines the organized efforts of community builders and homeowner associations to create racially homogeneous neighborhoods through the use and enforcement of racially restrictive covenants. Racially restrictive covenants encoded racial difference in urban space and helped nurture emerging racial prejudices and stereotypes that associated black residence with declining property values, deteriorating neighborhoods and other negative consequences. I argue that the cultivation and development of this segregationist ideology was simultaneously an exercise in the racialization of urban space that linked race and culturally specific behavior to place of residence in the city. As the twentieth century progressed, the identification of black behavior and culture with deteriorating neighborhoods became an important impetus and justification for exclusionary real estate practices designed to create and maintain the geographical separation of the races and control metropolitan development. I conclude with a discussion of how the linkage between race, racism and urban space helps to explain why racial residential segregation remains a persistent and tenacious feature of US metropolitan areas despite the passage of fair housing and numerous anti‐discrimination statutes over the past decades. Nombre d'études ont porté sur l'incidence des préjugés raciaux et de la discrimination sur la ségrégation raciale apparue dans l'habitat des villes américaines. En revanche, peu de chercheurs ont replacé les notions de race et de racisme en ce début de millénaire dans le cadre des processus plus larges d'aménagement urbain et d'émergence de l'immobilier moderne. À partir d'une étude de cas sur Kansas City (Missouri), cet article examine les efforts d'associations locales de propriétaires d'habitations et de constructeurs de logements sociaux qui se sont organisées afin de créer des quartiers homogènes sur le plan racial via l'utilisation et l'application de conditions locatives restrictives. Ces restrictions ont codifié une différence raciale dans l'espace urbain et contribuéà entretenir les préjugés raciaux et stéréotypes associant l'habitat noir à la dévalorisation de l'immobilier, à la détérioration des quartiers et à d'autres effets négatifs. L'article démontre que maintenir et développer cette idéologie ségrégationniste constituait parallèlement une opération de racialisation de l'espace urbain, une race et un comportement culturel spécifique se trouvant liés à un lieu de résidence dans la ville. Au cours du XXe siècle, l'identification du comportement et de la culture noirs à des quartiers dégradés a stimulé et justifié des pratiques immobilières d'exclusion visant à créer et à préserver la séparation géographique des races, tout en contrôlant l'aménagement métropolitain. Pour terminer, l'article aborde de quelle manière l'établissement d'un lien entre race, racisme et espace urbain permet d'expliquer les raisons pour lesquelles la ségrégation raciale de l'habitat persiste dans les zones métropolitaines américaines et ce, malgré l'adoption, au cours des dernières décennies, de l'accès universel au logement et de nombreuses lois contre les discriminations.

Suggested Citation

  • Kevin Fox Gotham, 2000. "Urban Space, Restrictive Covenants and the Origins of Racial Residential Segregation in a US City, 1900–50," International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 24(3), pages 616-633, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:ijurrs:v:24:y:2000:i:3:p:616-633
    DOI: 10.1111/1468-2427.00268
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    File URL: https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-2427.00268
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    Cited by:

    1. Vojnovic, Igor & Darden, Joe T., 2013. "Class/racial conflict, intolerance, and distortions in urban form: Lessons for sustainability from the Detroit region," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(C), pages 88-98.
    2. Nancy Ettlinger, 2009. "Surmounting City Silences: Knowledge Creation and the Design of Urban Democracy in the Everyday Economy," International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 33(1), pages 217-230, March.
    3. Leah Platt Boustan, 2013. "Racial Residential Segregation in American Cities," NBER Working Papers 19045, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Logan, Trevon D. & Parman, John M., 2017. "The National Rise in Residential Segregation," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 77(1), pages 127-170, March.
    5. Lisa D. Cook & Trevon D. Logan & John M. Parman, 2018. "Rural Segregation and Racial Violence: Historical Effects of Spatial Racism," American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 77(3-4), pages 821-847, May.
    6. Kenya L. Covington, 2015. "Poverty Suburbanization: Theoretical Insights and Empirical Analyses," Social Inclusion, Cogitatio Press, vol. 3(2), pages 71-90.
    7. Sara Safransky, 2020. "Geographies of Algorithmic Violence: Redlining the Smart City," International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 44(2), pages 200-218, March.

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