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Diversity Causes "Bowling Alone"
a neighbor you can count on? Move to Montana. That's one
conclusion you might draw from a Harvard University
study released today, which finds that Los Angeles
residents trust each other less than most other
Americans. The study is billed as the largest-ever
survey on "civic engagement" - activities such
as joining social or community groups, voting and simply
making friends. …
And it links L.A.'s low standing to the area's ethnic
diversity. Those who live in more homogeneous
places, such as New Hampshire, Montana or Lewiston,
Maine, do more with friends and are more involved in
community affairs or politics than residents of more
cosmopolitan areas, the study said. Los Angeles
residents are among the least trusting of people such as
neighbors, co-workers, shop clerks and police, the study
said. L.A. tied with Boston, Chicago, and eastern
Tennessee. Only north Minneapolis scored worse.
Angelenos also trust people of other races less than
residents of just about everywhere else. San Diego tied
Los Angeles' dismal "inter-racial trust"
score. The only cities that did worse were Phoenix and
Charlotte, N.C. The best places, in terms of trusting
others and those of other races, were Bismarck, N.D.,
and rural South Dakota, the study said. … The survey
of 30,000 Americans in 40 communities was led by Harvard
political scientist Robert D. Putnam
Alone : The Collapse and Revival of American Community ].
]. [VDARE's emphasis].
Peter Y. Hong, LA
Why does ethnic diversity undermine good citizenship and
engagement with your neighbors? Hong's article is
fairly vague on the causes since the L.A.
Times is heavily invested in denying that diversity
imposes any sort of tradeoffs or costs. Yet the reasons
for Putnam's finding are obvious to anyone who has lived
in a diverse neighborhood.
I recently moved back to my Southern California hometown of
Studio City. (In case you are wondering about the name
of my L.A. suburb of origin, I never noticed there was
anything at all unusual about being from a place called
"Studio City" until I went off to Houston's
Rice U. at age 17. There, everybody was disappointed
that I didn't wear sunglasses indoors and constantly
call my agent.) Before 2001, I had been living in
Chicago's Uptown neighborhood, which is on the lakefront
about six miles north of the Loop. Uptown boasts of
being the most linguistically diverse square mile in
America. Supposedly, 88 different languages are spoken
there (or maybe 110, depending on who is telling the
For someone like myself who is fascinated by
biodiversity, Uptown is wonderfully educational. Just don't
call it a community. Being an unneighborly sort myself,
that was OK with me. Fortunately, most people are less
When my wife and I first moved in, she helped start a
neighborhood drive to repair the ramshackle little park
across the street. To get the City of Chicago to agree
to help, we'd need to raise matching funds and sign up
volunteer laborers. This kind of Robert D.
Putnam-endorsed civic activity proved strikingly
difficult in Uptown, however, precisely because of its
The most obvious problem: it's hard to talk neighbors into
donating money or time if they don't speak the same
language as you do.
The second problem: the high crime rate. The affluent South
Vietnamese merchants from the adjoining Little Saigon
district on Argyle St. had scant interest in sending
their kids to play in a park that would also be used by
black kids from the local housing project. The Asians
were generally scared of the much bigger and more
Third problem: inter-immigrant hatreds. The Eritreans and
Ethiopians are slender, elegant-looking dark brown
people with thin Arab noses. They appear identical to
the American eye. But their compatriots back home in the
Horn of Africa were fighting a vicious war.
Fourth problem: a lot of the immigrants came from countries
where only a fool trusted his neighbors, much less the
government. If the South Vietnamese had been less
clannish and more ready to sacrifice for the greater
good from 1965-1975, as their militaristic North
Vietnamese enemies did, they'd be lousier restaurateurs.
But they'd probably still have their own country.
Fifth problem: the fundamental difficulty in making
multiculturalism work, namely, multiple cultures.
Getting Koreans, Russians, Mexicans, Nigerians, and
Assyrians (Christian Iraqis) to agree on how to
landscape a park is not impossible. Yet it's certainly
far more work than fostering consensus among people who
all have the same picture in their heads of what a park
For example, Russian women like to sunbathe. But Latin
American women want to stay in the shade, since their
culture discriminates in favor of fairer-skinned women.
So do you plant a lot of shade trees or not?
In the end, the middle class, English-speaking, native-born
Americans (mostly white, but with plenty of black-white
couples) did the bulk of the work.
And, after that struggle, everybody seemed to give up on
trying to bring Uptown together for civic betterment.
March 09, 2001