On Suburban Segregation

Not necessary reading material (because it’s just an infograph), but something worth looking at to prove that I’m not entirely insane: Suburbanization of Poverty

Wet and cold (at least I was), we headed home from last Monday night’s Bronco game via public transportation. Mike and I found ourselves at Colfax and Broadway at half past midnight, seated on a wet and cold park bench.

That bus stop is always busy, and half past midnight on an early Tuesday morning is no different. As we sat, people surrounded us, all talking about the game. But what caught my attention was the fact that they hadn’t gone to the game as spectators, they had gone as employees. Kettle corn, beer, other food-service.
The commonality was football statistics; the man behind me knows more about football than I ever will; the crazy man pacing knows much less.

I felt guilty, shamed by my spectator-status as they discussed what had gone on behind the scenes and counted out their tips. One guy had a fistful of one-dollar bills. I was tempted to tell him to shove them back in his pocket, lest someone steal them. (Cape Town really got that in my brain. Last Saturday when I was out, I found that I had stashed $42 in my bra, just in case.)

The bus was not coming. I was grumpy.

I listened to the girl a few seats down start talking about where she was staying (Mississippi and Sable) and how long it was going to take her to get home (forever) – but then I got the impression that she was still in high school. And possibly homeless.
The guy next to her was also headed out to Aurora.

To my great relief, the bus finally came and we squished on. (For the record, people in Denver have no idea what a crowded bus is – they were balking at the prospect of having to move back and squeeze in, claiming that the bus was “full.” Not full at all, but I wasn’t in the mood to get stern.)

As the bus lumbered up Colfax, it stopped at nearly every stop to add more people. You’d think, perhaps, that as the bus left the city center, it would slowly empty rather than filling. No. It seemed that everyone was headed east. What’s east? First of all, the Colorado Blvd connection (and the #40 bus), but second, and more importantly, Aurora.

Whenever I bemoan my situation (as I so love to do), I’m absolutely overlooking the fact that I have a support system. That I have transportation, that I have Simon.

I’m overlooking the fact that, like the girl seated a few seats away, there are varying degrees of homelessness in our city. Not everyone who’s technically homeless has a cardboard sign and wants your money. They’re sleeping on people’s couches; they’re crashing at a friend’s place; they’re staying awake all night; they’re riding the bus around until they get somewhere. That’s how people manage not to freeze during winters in Chicago – they ride the train until the end of the line and then turn around and do it all over again.

I’m overlooking the fact that I don’t have an hour-long commute each way. I don’t have to be dependent on the bus, something that can add hours to any commute, anywhere. I don’t have to get on the bus with my arms loaded with groceries.

Unlike the woman with at least three, possibly four, kids and two strollers, I don’t have to rely on the kindness of others to get my family safely off the bus. The kids reminded us of the township creches. They were cute, polite, but desperately needed clean clothes and baths. And a decent bedtime.

In Cape Town, the suburbs hold populations that fall into varying classifications of income levels, from the rich (Camps Bay) to the poor (Steenberg) to the poorer (Lavender Hill) to the townships (Vrygrond) to the informal settlements (Village Heights). As you go further down the income ladder, you find that the population density increases exponentially, as does the crime rate. But what falls at an equal rate is access to transportation.

Poorer neighborhoods are further from access to trains. Instead, they have to take a minibus from their neighborhood, probably to another minibus, then eventually to the train. This adds to their commute and can be a determining factor in their employment status.

Vrygrond was strategically placed away from train lines. The white Cape Townians didn’t want the colored and black populations to have access to the transportation, but instead, wanted them to remain in their designated neighborhoods.

Minibuses, the other transportation alternative to trains, are dangerous. I’ve never been so harassed as I was on the trains and minibuses in Cape Town. It’s the touching that really gets you. You’re either about to be groped or robbed, and neither are pleasant. But people have to do that every day. Sitting on top of strangers, next to strangers, pushed up against them.

It’s funny because just as the transportation effectively cuts off the poorest, it also secludes the richest. You can’t take public transportation to Camps Bay, the wealthy, white side of Table Mountain. You have to take a cab.

In Cape Town, when I was finding jobs for the unemployed, many of the ads stipulated that people be from certain areas only. For a country that has come so far from Apartheid, it’s disheartening to see such blatant discrimination.

Is that what we want here? A segregated workforce? But more importantly than that, is that what we’re eventually going to have? Are we becoming a more diverse population or a more segregated one as time passes?

As someone who usually has access to transportation, it’s a wake-up call to realize how much your life can be affected by the inability to commute. Mobility is a key to success. By continuing to eliminate entire populations of workers by simply making it difficult for them to access transportation, we’re effectively ensuring that only a select portion of people will be able to apply for, and eventually obtain, those jobs.

We need to focus on building effective transportation systems that are easily accessible, by everyone. We need more trains. We need more bus-only lanes. We need a swifter boarding process. We need to be able to get to the Denver airport via train. We need to be quick about it.

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