Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Where's Dorchester?

As I reacquaint myself - and acquaint my wife - with Boston, we often question where exactly something is. Where's Dorchester? I was born there, and I think of it as a mixed-race neighborhood near the bay and the Neponset, served by the Red Line. Dorchester's centers are Fields Corner and Codman Square. As a young child, I lived at two of its extremes: Edward Everett Square and Lower Mills.

But now people - students, outsiders - talk about Dorchester as if it were everything south of Dudley Square. And they say, "Don't go there - Dorchester's dangerous". Dangerous?

And my wife asks about the region between Mass Ave and Melnea Cass Blvd: is it the South End or Roxbury? And what's the boundary between the South End and the Back Bay? Do these lines move with demographics: if people are black, then it's Roxbury? That's an unpleasant definition.

As it turns out, we're not alone. The Globe has an interesting article and a great map addressing the question.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Poverty Escape

Fixes at the NYTimes has an inspiring report on the Family Independence Initiative, a poverty-escape program with a really new focus. Rather than prescribing actions, they give small monetary rewards to poor families who achieve their own goals. The commitment to let the families themselves lead is noteworthy:
Lim Miller gave his staff strict instructions that they could not offer any advice — not even friendly suggestions. For some, this proved too difficult; he had to fire people who couldn’t help but be helpful. Lim Miller was convinced that the assumption of incapacity behind the helpfulness was a big part of the problem.
It's not clear how duplicable this approach is - or whether it's better than joining a church or ethnic club - but the results certainly make me want to find out:
After two years, FII reported that incomes across all its sites had increased, on average, by 23 percent and savings were up 240 percent... A quarter of the families that had been receiving government income or housing subsidies — CalWorks or Section 8 — dropped them. Families reported improvements in health care, children’s grades, reductions in debt, enrollment in training programs and home ownership — all audited.
This confirms the conservative or "American-dreamist" viewpoint that for most people in America, success is within their grasp. It also confirms the economic principle that success has positive spillovers to those nearby. Perhaps the main innovation here is bonding together those who are committed to succeed, which is a contrast to "safety net" style programs, which evict those who succeed, and isolate those stuck in poverty.

Like I said before, can't the church do this just as well?