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After years in the suburbs, many blacks return to city life

(Page 2 of 2)



"African-Americans were more interested in moving back because they were more likely to have once lived in the city and often retain very close connections. They come back for church, to volunteer, or to visit friends and family," says Dr. Klineberg. "But suddenly, Anglos are discovering that the city is an interesting place to live."

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That's creating conflict here, as the Third Ward strives to retain its culture and character. Developers have been buying up large tracts of land to build dense townhomes like those in midtown and the Fourth Ward - areas that are already well into the gentrification process, and where, as more whites move in, many blacks are priced out.

So Third Ward activists have launched a campaign urging long-time residents not to sell out.

"We learned a lot from the debacle in the Fourth Ward. So it would be stupid not to respond to the negative byproducts of rapid development," says Texas Representative Garnet Coleman (D), whose district includes several of the wards and whose family has lived in the Third Ward for 100 years. "We want to find people who will make this community better by becoming part of its fabric, not by changing its fabric."

But that's where it gets complex, says sociologist Monique Taylor, whose recent book, "Harlem between Heaven and Hell," looks at the trend of middle-class blacks returning to that neighborhood in the 1990s.

She found that longtime residents soon realized yuppies are yuppies, whatever their race. The conflicts grew, she says, as recent arrivals insisted on changes in the way public and communal space was used - angering longtime residents by, among other things, passing laws that prohibit loitering and public urination.

"Those African-Americans, who were coming into Harlem to 'be down' with the community, had to accept the idea that their interests were at odds with how the community worked," she says. "They had to really rethink: 'This is who I am and this is why I'm here.' "

But beyond identity and conflict, Dr. Taylor says, the trend of middle-class African-Americans moving into traditionally black areas goes to the failure of integration in the US.

"Clearly, the needs of middle-class blacks are not being met by ... the typical path of integration," Taylor says. "Many said they just weren't making the friendships and neighborhood connections in the suburbs and were tired of being scrutinized. When they arrived in Harlem, they didn't have to explain the way they dressed, or talked, or the cultural practices they followed."

Back in Houston, Tanyel Bennett has moved to the Third Ward after many years away. Now, she says, there are challenges, such as finding good schools and quality grocery stores.

"We may not have all the fancy things that they do in the suburbs, but I wanted my kids to grow up with a sense of community," she says. "In the 'burbs, you don't even know your next-door neighbor." Ms. Bennett's porch is lined with reminders of her neighbors - and her roots: plants that neighbors brought over when she moved. "I love it here," she says.

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