Countering the negative effects of a more diverse Northfield

Image of Diversity HandsLast week, the Strib reprinted a column by Los Angeles Times’ Gregory Rodriguez titled Diversity may not be the answer: Just existing together won’t erase mistrust; instead, we should work toward creating an identity that includes everyone. (The Strib used the headline and tagline: Together, apart: A dissection of diversity – People in the most diverse areas are the most likely to withdraw — even from those with whom they have much in common.)

Rodriquez cites the recent work by Harvard professor Robert Putnam, of Bowling Alone fame, in a research article titled E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century published in the June 2007 issue of Scandinavian Political Studies. The abstract:

Ethnic diversity is increasing in most advanced countries, driven mostly by sharp increases in immigration. In the long run immigration and diversity are likely to have important cultural, economic, fiscal, and developmental benefits. In the short run, however, immigration and ethnic diversity tend to reduce social solidarity and social capital.

New evidence from the US suggests that in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods residents of all races tend to ‘hunker down’. Trust (even of one’s own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer. In the long run, however, successful immigrant societies have overcome such fragmentation by creating new, cross-cutting forms of social solidarity and more encompassing identities. Illustrations of becoming comfortable with diversity are drawn from the US military, religious institutions, and earlier waves of American immigration.

The Wikipedia entry on Putnam has this bulleted list of the downsides:

Low trust with high diversity not only affects ethnic groups, but is also associated with:

  • Lower confidence in local government, local leaders and the local news media.
  • Lower political efficacy – that is, confidence in one’s own influence.
  • Lower frequency of registering to vote, but more interest and knowledge about politics and more participation in protest marches and social reform groups.
  • Less expectation that others will cooperate to solve dilemmas of collective action (e.g., voluntary conservation to ease a water or energy shortage).
  • Less likelihood of working on a community project.
  • Less likelihood of giving to charity or volunteering.
  • Fewer close friends and confidants.
  • Less happiness and lower perceived quality of life.
  • More time spent watching television and more agreement that “television is my most important form of entertainment”.

Putnam has a site called Better Together, designed to help counter these effects.

 Image of Better Together banner

Putnam has 150 suggestions for what can be done to build social capital.

What should we be doing here in Northfield? Reginaldo, help!


  1. BruceWMorlan said:

    My first experiences with “forced diversification” was in the early 1970’s. Colleges were just being opened up and a lot of wishful thinking said that if we would just ensure that everyone was admitted, then we would soon reach a golden age with a common vision and goals. The enlightened faculty and administrators were nearly in tears as they watched the various factions (primarily the whites and the people of color) as they self-segregated in the classrooms, the cafeterias, the playing fields and the bistros.

    More recently, simulation-based studies (Google “Schelling segregation model” for details) have shown that it only takes the littlest bit of desire to be with people of one’s own culture to undo the best-intentioned efforts at forming an amalgam.

    Griff, you open here a Pandora’s box just begging for contentious, self-righteous posts and thinly veiled statements backing positions that are sensitive to the point of inducing civil unrest. Next to prayer in the city council chambers, there is probably nothing more a flame-war magnet that the issue of “melting pot” (blending to a homogeneous mixture) vs “stew” (cooking together but not loosing individual identities).

    August 27, 2007
  2. Christine Stanton said:

    The LEC (Latino Enterprise Center) website you linked is great. I was not aware that it existed. Is there any way that there could be a permanent link to this site on the Locally Grown sidebar?

    August 27, 2007
  3. john george said:

    Bruce- I like your analogy to the stew. If we can be mindful of all the contributions each ethnicity brings to our country, I think it could go a long way toward unity. Unity is, after all, the end result for which we are striving. I don’t think anyone is really wanting us to become a society of clones.

    The real challenge in living together is trust. This, I believe, is accomplished through open relationships. These foster understanding which can then build into trust.

    August 27, 2007
  4. David Ludescher said:

    Perhaps your title should have been, “Accepting the negative effects of a more diverse Northfield”. We can’t “Counter” the negative effects if diversity is what creates the negative effects.

    August 28, 2007
  5. I live in a high-diversity, low-trust, neighborhood.

    The problem is that it’s not a neighborhood, except geographically; it’s several separate neighborhoods living in a very small space with some physical overlap and no clear boundaries.

    Even clear boundaries, bad as they are, are better than a lack of clear boundaries with communities that want and expect boundaries. But there’s cultural gaps to be overcome; there’s not a lot of social commonality between quiet bookish sorts and people who are out in the street calling each other obscene names in an argument over turf.

    August 28, 2007
  6. BruceWMorlan said:

    Peter, you raise a good point. There is an old saying that says if you add a cup of wine to a barrel of gasoline, the gasoline is barely bothered, but if you add a cup of gasoline to a barrel of wine, the wine is spoiled. A loud obnoxious house in a quiet neighborhood ruins the neighborhood while a quiet bookish house in a boisterous and rowdy neighborhood goes unnoticed. The problem is that we, as a society, used to be able to effectively tell the loud neighbor to keep it down without worrying about direct retribution from the rowdies or disapproving cries of “elitist!” from our peers. Now we are no longer so enabled. When is the last time you felt empowered to tell a group of rowdies that their loud behavior was ruining your pleasant walk along the river? And if you did tell them, were they respectful or did they just curse you and otherwise register their disapproval? The problem with the stew model is that some people are less like an important ingredient than they are like a hairball from a cat – certainly something you don’t want to find in your stew. While I sometimes poke fun at the sanitary cleanness of a gated community, I can sure understand the advantages.

    August 28, 2007
  7. 28. Give your park a weatherproof chess/checkers board-we had this in my old Chicago neighboorhood. We had six concrete tables with the black and white boards, located in the entryway to a mall. It was very busy, even in winter, we’d see some die hards busy playing. It is a great conversation starter and spectator sport. It’s not too expensive either.

    113. Hire young people for odd jobs-is there a way to do this formally?

    114. Start a tradition-Christy Amedy started up a drumming circle last year. Hope it keeps going this year.

    My dh and I have done all the other ones we can on the list, and
    it was fun while it lasted.



    August 28, 2007
  8. Please forgive my quick writing, but I would like to pitch in with some ideas, though I don’t have enough time to engage in this conversation in the next couple of weeks.

    Griff, I believe that posting #4 by David Ludescher nailed this conversation on the head. The conclusion before the conversation puts me in a very difficult position to contribute. As a minority myself but as a person who fully lives confortably among other ethnic groups, as someone who as you know does not fall within Putnam’s profile, I cannot get into this conversation as framed.

    I will make this contribution because I have discussed Putnam’s research with various professionals and with folks in Northfield and I am a bit familiar with his issues, but know that I don’t mean to conclude anything, just to drop ideas and points of view as you look at the issue of diversity here in Northfield.

    I am especially bothered that Putnam’s findings and conclusions are the center of the conversation, specifically because my experience traveling accross this country and working among diverse groups of people has been for the most part contrary to what he found out.

    I smell something else in the findinds, what he is tagging to diversity seems to me more of a social desease that has infected this country, and it is the result of other larger factors (corporate scandals and many other “distrust builders” that play in front of disenfranchised folks watching tv) that create distrust and lack of civic engagement may not at all have to do with diversity but with other societal issues. His own conclusions point to this fact.

    For example, the following quote from his article and also quoted on the Star Tribune article that you linked says that “According to Putnam, residents of diverse communities “tend to withdraw from collective life, to distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less” and to spend more time sitting in front of the television.”

    All of these things are true in our society and common accross the board in this country. And yes they are not common to homogenic neighborhoods. But communities that suffer from these issues are diverse because people who fall within this profile have other more powerful things in common not because they are diverse. I would say that Putnam is putting a different cover to something that causes exactly the issues he is talking about, in Northfield we call it “poverty”, and there is more research to show that poverty is actually the cause of a lot of what he adjucicates to diversity.

    We also don’t know who the 30,000 people are from and where they live. Weather he would have come to the same conclusion from a “diverse” gated community, if there is such a thing. Would a diverse community of wealthy individuals have the same issues that he found, can he say for sure that poverty was not the real cause of the effects he found out. How about ignorance, lack of access ot information, and other aspects that play directly into how people get involved in civic engagement.

    From the evidence that he collected I would conclude different things, among them would be that racism is still live and well in this country and that we need to recognize it before we actually can deal with it. In Northfield this is especially important because I don’t actually believe that most people here would consciously act in a racist manner, but it is done without awareness of it. Wihtout knowing the asnwers to some of my questions on Putnam’s research I can’t say more, but my hunch is that his findinds are about how poverty is common among diverse communities, and that historically, poverty has cause social isolation, distrust, lack of engagement… just finish his own list.

    You probably have heard the saying or I even think there is a book called “lying with statistical facts” or something along those lines. What if what is going on here is a high profile manipulation of actual facts from diverse communities with the purpose of creating a discussion about the wrong issue, with the purpose of promoting an agenda of confrontation among folks who care about this issue by isolating a hot botton as a way to deal with the growing diversity of our country in a way that fits the current state of political turmoil in relationship to specific agendas and the manipulation of the public opinion.? I am trying to think outside the box here.

    I need to bring into question Griff’s tagline and Putnam’s conclusion, I don’t care how high Putnam’s intelectual pedestal is, I believe he is wrong in his conclusions. I believe that even if incraesed diversity has a state that causes negative effects, it is not the whole story, there is no individual issue in this country that can be pinpointed as the source of the social effects that he wants to tag to diversity and it is irresponsable to do so in this times we are living.

    What to do?
    First, please get out of this box, look around Northfield and try to look at people from other racial backgrounds with different eyes. Not with those eyes that tells you that what they are doing does not fit the profile of what “you” would like them to be like, but with the eyes that look beyond the individual.

    For example, let me tose this at you. Do you know about hurricane Dean that flatten the Yucatan Peninsula last week as a category 5 (the sgrongest there is), jumped back on the ocean and then hit the port of Veracruz on Thursday last week as a category two.

    Now, do you know that from the estimated 2500 or so Latino residents of Northfield only about 5% are from Central America, the rest are from México, of them, about 60% or maybe more are from the state of Veracruz and from that 60% the majority (probably up to 80%) are from the town of Maltrata.

    Did you know that Father Dennis has organized a sister parish program and that there is an annual trip to Maltrata, the next one coming in January.?

    Did you know that the hurracaine dumped close to 20 inches or rain on the coast and the mountain areas of Veracruz where Maltrata is located.? Did you know that Maltrata is roughly the size of Northfield (about 20,000 + residents) and that for the most part there are no economic opportunities there (hence once some found Northfield, many more came here).

    Under poor economic and topographic natural disasters have a much greater impact than where there is proper infrastructure, support systems, emergency preparedness in place, etc. (just see what 17 inches did to the Winona area recently). In Maltrata, 20″ of rain can cause deadly mudslides, hunger, desease, and many other devastating effects.

    Now, when you think of diversity again, think of “real” diversity, when you see a person of Latino descend in Northfield, think of where they live (Viking Terrace, Florelas, Northfield Estates Apartments, Greenvale Park Apartments, Jefferson for the most part), then try to think of what might be in their minds, compared to what may be in yours and how you may be able to actually connect with this individual (s).

    Imagine that when they are walking down the street, under the smiles they may have a mother, a son, a wife, a friend, or other relative that may depend on their two shifts here in Northfield to buy food, shelter or other basic necessities back in Maltrata. How about other communities where there are people from Peru, which just suffered a powerfull earthquake, I stoped listening when the death toll reached 400. Do you know how many people in this country walk around without interest or space in their minds for mundane little things picking up trash on the sidewal, why should it matter anyway. Being loud and routy maybe the only way to get others to pay attention to the fact that you even exist in some cases (I have read this in books about why kids choose to join gangs).

    If you want to have a meaninful conversation with someone with a different world in their minds, try to speak their language (I don’t mean Spanish in my case), think of social, economic, and other aspects of language, for example think of how what what dominates this person’s thoughts may be related to what you are normally concerned with. If you see someone drinking oustide, before you consider them disrespectull and approach them try to imagine if maybe they have not seen their wife and kids for years and in their own mind getting drunk is the only way the can eventually cry (not a good thing for man to do in some Latin American settings) about their situation and get some of that pain out. If you approach them upset, maybe it is you who is being disrespectful of their situation. I am not saying that you are or defending any misbehaviour, but maybe, just maybe we don’t really think in a diverse way and maybe, just maybe, this is why we don’t connect with the issues of diversity.

    What if some of us don’t really give a rat’s ??? about perfectly mowed lawns, perfectly painted homes, nice clean streets, checking out city hall troubles, reading the paper to see who the queen for DJJD maybe, or other social and economic issues that don’t mean anything to how we live.

    Remember these points next time you see a person of a Latino descent in Northfield, Think about Maltrata and the quick profile I provided and if you get a conversation going, try to ask about the family, how they are doing and maybe if you gain some trust, ask them where they live.

    Is this what we call a “paradigm shift”? maybe it is not, but it is what we need.

    Griff asked about my help on what to do, I refuse to put out a list and have people come back and say that it failed and that I am wrong. Here are my quick suggestions (I have to go back to work so I may bring some more later).

    – Learn about the world, specially about the world of the people who you believe add diversity to our city (your engagement is crucial in holding them from going back to their confort zone, this is a natural thing to do, I am sure you do the same thing)

    – Learning about others will actually answer Griff’s question. What we should do should not believe about our community should not be defined by some high level sociologist but by who we are as people and as a community.

    Northfield is above average, we don’t follow generalizations and we don’t let others box us in. Once we learn about newcomers and understand that they don’t think like us, eat the same foods, behave the same ways, believe the same things, and live a in a whole different social and economic world, then we will on our own decide what we need to do and most likely make the right decision.

    Follow Putnam’s mindframe and you will definetelly create a lot of activities (over 150 options right.?), but you may never connect to the world of the individual in front of you.

    So, is diversity a disadvantage to Northfield,? I don’t believe so, but I could just as easily believe that it is, it all depends on my mindframe, who I believe, on who’s thinking box I am stuck in, and how much I really care about what is happening to actually dedicate sometime to learn and undurstand the issue.

    I hope this helps.


    August 28, 2007
  9. While I totally realize what Regi said, I want to add this in a
    very helpful way; people need very little reason to love or to hate, and very little of it is truly based in race or religion…those are just the covers for fear, jealousy, lack of ability to reach out to others, fear of disease, desire to control their own families, and so much more individual issues that keep people from each other.

    I have literally been beeped off the road in Chicago for not travelling faster than the speed limit. I have been tailgated
    like a cow in a cattle run for not going past the speed limit in
    Tulsa. Don’t laugh, it’s terrorizing to have a big truck
    try to bully you when you are in a little car. That’s why I finally had to buy a pick up truck. No one messes with me now. I am hated for not speeding. There are many people who cannot bare to go the speed limit. It’s divisive.

    In another town, the people who are now our close friends, didn’t want to like us because I am older than my husband, and they didn’t want their respective spouse to get any ideas, as they were the same age, and had been married since high school, like forty years.
    Then, I said, “ou two will never divorce, don’t be silly.” And ever since then we are fast friends.

    In Northfield, there is a few people who hate me for wearing a short dress on a 95 degree day to an outdoor women’s meeting.
    They scowled and shut me out of even a ‘Hello’. It wasn’t that short! And I had come to that meeting with an open heart to give all I could to the cause. They shut me out of that, too.
    Hey, ladies, it’s just knees!

    August 28, 2007
  10. Sorry for the abrupt ending….what I am trying to say is that
    people will hate or love you at will and if they do hate you,
    you have to get your own thing together. I think we have all had
    catastrophe’s of some sort or other…I have been flooded out when
    a neighbor left in the middle of the night in winter and the water pipes burst and flooded my apartment. No one asked to help me.
    I had to move, there was no federal aid, no parental aid either.
    I had to start all over again. That’s life. I didn’t start drinking over it or any of the misfortunes I’ve had. You have to go on your
    merits, efforts and intentions, and forget the rest.

    Don’t let it bring you down…look up!

    August 28, 2007
  11. john george said:

    I’m sure glad Regi didn’t have a lot of time! I almost had to add some memory to my computer to get through his post! I like what he is touching on here. His premise (I think) is not to allow your life to be driven by some expert’s opinion, but to find out for yourself about people, things, etc. We have taken a shift in this country toward specialization and compartmentalization. I think this has entered in with the industrial revolution. Since we don’t seem to have time to really pursue a broad base of knowlege, we defer to the “experts” in any particular field to guide our opinions. (Heaven forbid that we might disagree with the expert!) This same approach has spilled over into our relationships. Rather than building our own experiences, we like to take the “expert’s” analysis and save some time. I think Regi is asking, among other things, “Save time for what?” Compassion is a universal social trait. It is applicable to any culture.

    August 28, 2007
  12. Griff Wigley said:

    Regi, it appears as though even Putnam was disturbed by his findings… some critics fault him for not publishing them until long after he launched his “Better Together” initiative so that he have a positive alternative to the startling conclusions.

    I’m inclined to accept his conclusions, just as I’m inclined to accept his suggestions (and yours) that it doesn’t have to happen that way.

    So David, I guess that means I disagree with you.

    Christine, great suggestion. We’re now aggregating Regi’s blog posts on our right sidebar.

    Peter, not many people could handle the extreme situation you’re experiencing. What Putnam’s research says is that even in a neighborhood where everyone’s ‘bookish’, the more diverse it becomes, the more isolated everyone becomes.

    August 29, 2007
  13. Griff Wigley said:

    Regi mentioned Maltrata, Mexico. In today’s Nfld News:

    Area ravaged by Hurricane Dean has a connection to Northfield

    Maltrata, Mexico, sits in the mountains of Veracruz. It is a small town, about the same size as Northfield. Removed by the hills from the oil-rich coasts and booming port cities of the nearby Yucatan peninsula, many of Maltrata’s citizens find no opportunities in the town they were born.

    August 29, 2007
  14. Part of the problem we face is figuring out which things are deep problems, which are superficial, and when the two are related. We have a neighbor here who has been known to spend up to four hours early on Saturday morning going over her lawn with a leaf blower, and then her sidewalk, and then the verge. I’ve seen her out in the street with it. I’m sure she considers our lawn (which is, right now, certainly beyond the normally-allowed height, because the guy who usually mows it hasn’t been by, probably because of the rain) to be a horrible eyesore. I consider her multiple-hour excursions with a very loud gas mower to be pretty disruptive.

    We all agree that the ten or fifteen kids with visible weapons blocking the street are bad, but past that, it’s not so easy to reach consensus or clarity. For some people, the mere fact of a lawn that isn’t neatly trimmed all the time may be a grave disruption of their neighborhood, lowering their interest in keeping garbage off the streets; for other people, it might seem cozy and homey.

    I tend to think that a focus on actually harmful behavior is more important than worrying about superficial things, although a fair amount of research suggests that the superficial things contribute to the atmosphere in which genuinely destructive behavior flourishes. I was, however, very upset to note that the local city council organizes large, structured, events to do something about the possibility that some peoples’ lawns need to be mowed more often, but appears utterly unconcerned about thefts (I’ve lost count of the number of things we’ve had stolen from our yard), vandalism (slashed tires and such), or littering (there’s only so many whiskey bottles the average lawnmower can take). It seems like it’s a distraction from the real question.

    I don’t mind loud neighbors; I do mind neighbors who are loud because they’re fighting.

    August 29, 2007