T Nation

Fixing the Ghetto


I've been watching "The Wire" lately, the HBO series, and unlike other shows with clear black-and-white issues, this show is shades of gray everywhere.

I know what I see at my job, and I know that around where I live, they're on the corner slingin two blocks down from the county courthouse. I know money gets siphoned from the state and federal government down into the ghetto for schools, roads, etc. and it disappears into the mass black hole of corruption that nothing can escape from.

Is there any way to fix this mess? How do you rejuvenate a city that's as run down as Baltimore (or, around here, Paterson/Newark/Camden).

I'm curious as to what people's thoughts are, because the more I come to understand it, the more it seems like there is no solution.


Throw more money at the problem. That's the American way.


You don't rejuvenate run-down corporations. You don't rejuvenate run down neighborhoods or communities. You don't rejuvenate run down cities.

You let them fail.

Being compassionate and attempting to save individuals, individual companies, cities, technologies, even governments, using the resources of the next largest collective(city larger than community larger than individual) is THE REASON for the proliferation of failures up the chain.

A truly rational and, i would argue, compassionate society will accept failure at the individual level because there is an understanding that working to postpone it WILL invariably contribute to failures expanding to more macro-economical systems.

Such an understanding, though, leads to a paradox of no government versus all government equivalence.
That is probably beyond the scope of this thread, though.

My $0.02


I don't believe it's beyond the scope at all. The base issue is how much intervention is good intervention, and if no intervention is the best, then what do you do to fix it?

It's easy to say "Let them fail"- until bodies pile up in the street because of gang wars and drugs are more prolific than they already are. And you certainly can't have ghettos filled with homeless, jobless, starving people.


The question is probably a bit too broad. There are individual issues and policies that contribute to a ghetto or failing city.

Rent control
public funding of schools
throwing good money after bad on political programs
zoning laws


I don't think anyone has an answer to this question...but I think a good start is by expanding the police force and presence in neighborhoods. Some draconian measures may be needed to start the ball rolling. Not allowing, for example, "window washers", broken windows, or graffiti. Cracking down on minor crimes as well as the major ones.

What did NYC do? It seems they were pretty effective. A family member lived in Bed-stuy for a time. While it was dangerous, it was nothing like it used to be.

'Course, cops alone aren't enough. Jobs, jobs, jobs, right? Interesting question. I'm curious to hear others thoughts.


I really dont think the ghetto will ever get fixed. I think that because alot of the people in it don't actually want to do what they have to do to leave. Home schooling would be a great idea but I really don't think to many stay at home moms on welfare really give a shit about taking there childs education in their hands and fixing it. We (my mom and I) got out of the ghetto when I was about 9. Greastest thing she ever did for me. Just my 2 cents.


Check the party leadership in these areas, I mean which party they belong to. For years. Unopposed. And then you'll have your answer.


I don't know if you've seen "The Wire", but if you haven't you should- everyone on this board would find it very, very interesting.

What I like so much about the show is the way they divided the problems that plague the American cities, and managed to show how they all interact with each other.

The first season was about the drug trade- how it's set up, how it's run, how the money is laundered, etc.

The second is about the docks and the longshoreman's union, and how they are used to smuggle said drugs (and other shit) into the country.

The third was about the political scene, and the corruption inherent in it.

The fourth is about the school system, and how "teaching to the test" is destroying them, as well as how the kids from the corner grow up and change.

The fifth is about print journalism, and how it contributes to the whole mess.

So, we could focus on one problem- as we would talk about it, the government would "throw money at it" and the papers would cover the shit out of it. But with the way that it's all connected, and the societal problems intersect, addressing one issue is to ignore the others.

If you wanted to focus on a section, let's say this- what's the first thing you would focus on? What would be the most important thing that could start the thing up?


Are you just going to say, "This is the democrat's fault" and leave it at that?

Try thinking out of the box for a second.


A culture war. You aren't fixing that scene with money, ever.


IMO hacking taxes on production based jobs would probably help the situation more then anything. If there are factory jobs available, the people who don't want to live in squalor will find a way out.

my $0.02


Honest to god, I'm with irish on this one. Sometimes it's time to shut the hell up about political parties and actually discuss issues.


Best show I've ever seen, hands down. I basically didn't watch TV aside from sports and comedy until I discovered The Wire a couple years ago, and have now got into a ton of good dramas (Band of Brothers, Friday Night Lights, Battlestar Galactica, Mad Men) as a result.

Creator David Simon has a pretty bleak view of where America is headed. He's definitely left-wing, but at the same time, he has localist sensibilities that should be a natural facet of conservatism (though not the Republican Party). In some ways I found the second season the most important, even though it's not the best, for what it had to say about the death of the working class in America.

Excerpts from a great interview Simon did with British novelist Nick Hornby (also found in the liner notes to the awesome soundtrack):

"NH: How did you pitch it?

DS: I pitched The Wire to HBO as the anti?cop show, a rebellion of sorts against all the horseshit police procedurals afflicting American television. I am unalterably opposed to drug prohibition; what began as a war against illicit drugs generations ago has now mutated into a war on the American underclass, and what drugs have not destroyed in our inner cities, the war against them has. I suggested to HBO?which up to that point had produced groundbreaking drama by going where the broadcast networks couldn?t (The Sopranos, Sex and the City, et al?)?that they could further enhance their standing by embracing the ultimate network standard (cop show) and inverting the form. Instead of the usual good guys chasing bad guys framework, questions would be raised about the very labels of good and bad, and, indeed, whether such distinctly moral notions were really the point.

The show would instead be about untethered capitalism run amok, about how power and money actually route themselves in a postmodern American city, and, ultimately, about why we as an urban people are no longer able to solve our problems or heal our wounds. Early in the conception of the drama, Ed Burns and I?as well as the late Bob Colesberry, a consummate filmmaker who served as the directorial producer and created the visual template for The Wire?conceived of a show that would, with each season, slice off another piece of the American city, so that by the end of the run, a simulated Baltimore would stand in for urban America, and the fundamental problems of urbanity would be fully addressed.
Which brings me to my ugliest moment as an American, one of which I am quite perversely proud. Years ago, I was touring the crypts of St. Paul?s in London and we were shown all the generals who had the opportunity to be buried around Wellington. And this elfin little tour guide, who had as a young man stood on the cathedral roof during the Blitz and picked up incendiary sticks and hurled them away to save the edifice, got a twinkle in his eye and said, ?You colonials might be interested to note the resting place of Maj. Gen. Ross, who in 1812 burned your capital city.? And so there he was. And his gravestone, as I recollect, declared: VICTOR OF THE BATTLES OF WASHINGTON AND PHILADELPHIA. ACTIVE AT THE BATTLE OF BALTIMORE.

If the ghetto dick-grab were known to me in 1985, I might?ve held on to mine when I uttered the following: ?I?m from Baltimore. And I can tell you what ?active? means. It means we kicked his ass.? An empty moment floated through the crypt, and the other Americans on the tour just about died. At that instant, I felt it was a good thing I didn?t go on with what I knew, because Ross was actually mortally wounded at North Point by two Baltimoreans with squirrel rifles who crept through the brush and shot him off his horse, infuriating the British, who sent an entire detachment of Royal Marines to kill the sharpshooters, named Wells and McComas. (They are buried under a monument in the heart of the East Baltimore ghetto and have streets named after them near the fort.)

?Quite,? said the tour guide, who mercifully smiled at me, vaguely amused. Or at least I like to imagine he was vaguely amused.
NH: Every time I think, Man, I?d love to write for The Wire, I quickly realize that I wouldn?t know my True dats from my narcos. Did you know all that before you started? Do you get input from those who might be more familiar with the idiom?

DS: My standard for verisimilitude is simple and I came to it when I started to write prose narrative: fuck the average reader. I was always told to write for the average reader in my newspaper life. The average reader, as they meant it, was some suburban white subscriber with two-point-whatever kids and three-point-whatever cars and a dog and a cat and lawn furniture. He knows nothing and he needs everything explained to him right away, so that exposition becomes this incredible, story-killing burden. Fuck him. Fuck him to hell.

Beginning with Homicide, the book, I decided to write for the people living the event, the people in that very world. I would reserve some of the exposition, assuming the reader/viewer knew more than he did, or could, with a sensible amount of effort, hang around long enough to figure it out. I also realized?and this was more important to me?that I would consider the book or film a failure if people in these worlds took in my story and felt that I did not get their existence, that I had not captured their world in any way that they would respect.

Make no mistake?with journalism, this doesn?t mean I want the subjects to agree with every page. Sometimes the adversarial nature of what I am saying requires that I write what the subjects will not like, in terms of content. But in terms of dialogue, vernacular, description, tone?I want a homicide detective, or a drug slinger, or a longshoreman, or a politician anywhere in America to sit up and say, Whoa, that?s how my day is. That?s my goal. It derives not from pride or ambition or any writerly vanity, but from fear. Absolute fear. Like many writers, I live every day with the vague nightmare that at some point, someone more knowledgeable than myself is going to sit up and pen a massive screed indicating exactly where my work is shallow and fraudulent and rooted in lame, half-assed assumptions. I see myself labeled a writer, and I get good reviews, and I have the same doubts buried, latent, even after my successes. I suspect many, many writers feel this way. I think it is rooted in the absolute arrogance that comes with standing up at the community campfire and declaring, essentially, that we have the best story that ought to be told next and that people should fucking listen. Storytelling and storytellers are rooted in pay-attention-to-me onanism. Listen to this! I?m from Baltimore and I?ve got some shit you fucking need to see, people! Put down that CSI shit and pay some heed, motherfuckers! I?m gonna tell it best, and most authentic, and coolest, and? I mean, presenting yourself as the village griot is done, for me, with no more writerly credential than a dozen years as a police reporter in Baltimore and a C-average bachelor?s degree in general studies from a large state university. On paper, why me? But I have a feeling every good writer, regardless of background, doubts his own voice just a little, and his own right to have that voice heard. It?s the simple effrontery of the thing. Who died and made me Storyteller?

So yes, for the drug dealers and the cops, I spent years gathering string on who they are, how they think and talk. When we needed to add politicians, well, I covered some politics so I had the general tone, but we added Bill Zorzi, the Baltimore Sun?s best political reporter, to the writing staff. When it came to longshoremen, we added Rafael Alvarez, a former reporter and short-story writer who had quit to join the seamen?s union and whose family was three generations in the maritime industry. And the rest of us, myself included, spent weeks getting to know longshoremen and the operations of the port and the port unions, just hanging around the shipping terminals for days on end, so as to credibly achieve those voices. Again, what I wanted was that longshoremen across America would watch The Wire and say, Cool, they know my world. I?ve never seen my world depicted on TV, and these guys got it. And I feared that one of them would stand up and say: No, that?s complete bullshit. So that never changes for me.

Which brings us back to Average Reader. Because the truth is you can?t write just for people living the event, if the market will not also follow. TV still being something of a mass medium, even with all the fractured cable universe now reducing audience size per channel. Well, here?s a secret that I learned with Homicide and have held to: if you write something that is so credible that the insider will stay with you, then the outsider will follow as well. Homicide, The Corner, The Wire, Generation Kill?these are travelogues of a kind, allowing Average Reader/Viewer to go where he otherwise would not. He loves being immersed in a new, confusing, and possibly dangerous world that he will never see. He likes not knowing every bit of vernacular or idiom. He likes being trusted to acquire information on his terms, to make connections, to take the journey with only his intelligence to guide him. Most smart people cannot watch most TV, because it has generally been a condescending medium, explaining everything immediately, offering no ambiguities, and using dialogue that simplifies and mitigates against the idiosyncratic ways in which people in different worlds actually communicate. It eventually requires that characters from different places talk the same way as the viewer. This, of course, sucks.

There are two ways of traveling. One is with a tour guide, who takes you to the crap everyone sees. You take a snapshot and move on, experiencing nothing beyond a crude visual and the retention of a few facts. The other way to travel requires more time?hence the need for this kind of viewing to be a long-form series or miniseries, in this bad metaphor?but if you stay in one place, say, if you put up your bag and go down to the local pub or shebeen and you play the fool a bit and make some friends and open yourself up to a new place and new time and new people, soon you have a sense of another world entirely. We?re after this: Making television into that kind of travel, intellectually. Bringing those pieces of America that are obscured or ignored or otherwise segregated from the ordinary and effectively arguing their relevance and existence to ordinary Americans. Saying, in effect, This is part of the country you have made. This too is who we are and what we have built. Think again, motherfuckers."



If it weren't for the war on drugs those corner kids would have to think of another way to make it in life other than becoming dealers.

If they weren't fighting over drug turf those neighborhoods would be a lot safer.

If young fathers weren't being hauled off to jail for a couple of decades at a time there would be less broken families.

Ending the war on drugs is not the only solution but it would be a good starting point. Because right now it is turning ghetto neighborhoods into a war zone.

People who have their lives together well enough that they can afford to live somewhere better usually leave. So all that is left in those areas tends to be people who are dysfunctional.

Metropolitan Detroit is like this. Back in the 50's, 60's, 70's they had the white flight where all the whites who could moved out into the suburbs. Then in the 70's, 80's and 90's the blacks with job skills started moving across 8 mile into suburbs like Southfield.


Stop looking for utopia.

There is no solution.

There will always be bad cities and bad neighborhoods.
There will always be people dieing of hunger and of disease.
There will always be people without health care or with not enough.

There will always be those that fail and suffer.

However, there will my many more who suffer than those who succeed in a compassionate society.

There will always be less Total growth and progress in the mean standard of living in a compassionate society.

So...if you live in the ghetto...you should probably care about how things are with YOu living in the ghetto.

If not...go Train your body and Mind and indulge in maximizing what YOU have.
I sure as hell will take everything i can. Will you?


Oh God, I loved The Wire. I still mourn its demise. The complexity of the characters and the situations that resulted from their impulses (good and bad) were incredibly well portrayed. Best show ever.

I agree with Sifu right down the line.

Stop the war on drugs first, then see what remains and address that.


Fix the ghetto by making it hip. Wealthy gays will move in and renovate buildings. Wealthy straight singles and couples living together will move in and do the same. Eventually wealthy married white couples with children will move in and demand better schools. Government will listen and the schools will improve. Voila. Fixed ghetto.


Go back to capitalism. This mixed economy/proto socialist stuff dooms the poor.


No, its not beyond the scope. The first thing that has to change is our philosophy. If our premises stay the same, then the consequences will lead us back to where we are.

Just curious: have you been reading Nietzsche?