Sender: H-Net/H-Urban Seminar on History of Community Organizing & <COMM-ORG@UICVM.UIC.EDU> Subject: Abstract of Miller on Neighborhoods in U.S. History ========================================================================= Date: Wed, 27 Dec 1995 16:24:47 CST From: Wendy Plotkin <U13972@UICVM.BITNET>

As I indicated in an earlier posting, a second collection of historical essays on community organization is Robert Fisher & Peter Romanosky, COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION FOR URBAN SOCIAL CHANGE: A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1981).

Below is the Table of Contents of this collection, indicating the various essays, including one by Bob Fisher on the evolution or "life cycle" of some community organizations that is relevant to the second set of responses he has made to the comments on his paper (and which I'll be sending out later).

In this posting, I've included an abstract of an essay by Zane Miller on "The Role and Concept of Neighborhood in American Cities." One of the debates among current community organizers and developers and among those who study social movements is whether the neighborhood is in fact the appropriate level at which to organize -- given a global economy, what are the benefits that are derived by working at the neighborhood level?

As the abstract below shows, it has not always been assumed that neighborhoods are appropriate units for political or social action; in fact, the concept of neighborhood is relatively new in the U.S., according to Zane Miller, a professor of history at University of Cincinnati and one of the leading historians of the neighborhood. He argues that acknowledgement of "neighborhoods" as significant entities was a response to the industrial society and the spreading and sorting out of the city by class as a result of streetcars and other mass transit innovations of the late 19th century.

In this essay, he explores the changing ideas about the neighborhood and the effect of such external events as the U.S. civil rights movement and the Vietnam war on neighborhood actions and attitudes.

Miller ends on a negative note in comparing the neighborhood organizing of the late 1960s and after to that of earlier periods, a point that would be an interesting one to debate (and in fact, the late 1960s, the New Left, and community organizing will be the subject of a later paper in the seminar.)

I invite those of you who are more familiar with current literature on the history and theory of the "neighborhood" to suggest sources of the 1980s and 1990s that update and/or contest Miller's arguments.

Acknowledgements ix Introduction xi

The Role and Concept of Neighborhood in American Cities by Zane L. Miller 3

Describes changing perceptions of cities and neighborhoods in U.S. history. Argues that neighborhoods as distinctive units did not emerge until after 1880, when availability of affordable mass transit allowed spreading out and created a city of "communities," the "organic" city in which cooperation among the parts was essential for the city to thrive. Describes the effects of the new concept of the city, including a desire to annex areas to reflect the expansion of the "community" as it spread physically, and the creation of an Association of Urban Universities" to put the services of the city colleges to work at improving the city.

Also led to the "neighborhood revolution," in which neighborhood improvement associations formed to improve and advocate for improvement in services. The associations federated after a time to increase their collective power, and actively involved themselves in city politics and programs.

The settlement house movement followed, and, according to Miller, failed to achieve greater significance due to its domination by middle class organizers from outside the community.

This was followed by the community center movement, in which local schools were the sites of multi-functional community centers which increasingly were staffed by professional "social workers."

The period from 1920 to 1950 saw a de-emphasis on neighborhoods, led by the Chicago school of sociologists including Robert Park and Louis Wirth, and later Ernest Burgess. Epitomized in the volume THE GOLD COAST AND THE SLUM, by Harvey Zorbaugh, the theorizing against neighborhoods as vital organs inside the city was based upon a perception that social and economic mobility had made them insignificant. These theorists called for perception of the city as an entity in itself, and argued that attempts to improve it should be based on the city as a whole or on social characteristics and other non-geographic factors. These same theorists were interested in metropolitan planning in which the area outside of the city was considered in all planning efforts. They also relied on experts to carry out civic improvement plans, and a standardization of the ideal city across the nation.

Political manifestations of this denigration of neighborhoods as important urban units include the turn to at-large elections and the city manager form of government. Miller uses Cincinnati as an example of the trends that he argues occurred in all U.S. cities.

Miller also argues that even Alinsky characterized this change in that he was more concerned with "people" or "interest" groups than with neighborhoods. At the same time, this was the period when regional planning was most admired with the popular acclaim of the Regional Planning Association of America. According to Miller, public policy emphasized balanced growth including cities and suburbs, and saw resettlement rather than revitalization of inner city as solution to neighborhood deterioration.

Miller sees the 1950-1968 period as one in which the popularity of psychology led to perception of the city as a collection of individuals and less of an organic entity, and in which diversity was acknowledged and applauded. The differences in individuals could be manifested in neighborhoods, and so new respect for neighborhoods arose. In a path-breaking work, THE COMMUNITY PRESS IN AN URBAN SETTING, sociologist Morris Janowitz was credited with reigniting interest in neighborhoods as units of analysis in the city, demonstrating how the over 100 commmunity newspapers in Chicago at that time attempted to create a sense of community, similar to other neighborhood institutions. Janowitz argued that within the larger city and metropolitan area, neighborhoods served a function of maintaining the more traditional values of the village and town that thus were not entirely lost as the U.S. modernized.

The new interest in neighborhoods was apparent in federal policy in the shaping of the 1954 urban renewal acts and in various federal agencies and boards such as the 1954 ACTION (American Council to Improve our Neighborhoods) program, supported by President Eisenhower and funded by the Ford Foundation. Local ACTION-like groups formed to shape neighborhood policy and planning, including urban renewal. The emphasis in these years was on cooperation between neighborhoods, cities, states and the federal government, implying that trust existed among all of these levels.

The period after 1968 was one of community advocacy, in which the failure of public policy to satisfy the desires of many neighborhood residents in the 1950s and early 1960s led neighborhood leaders to challenge the federal and state governments rather than to integrate into their policies. Specifically leading this movements were African-Americans who saw that their attempt to assimilate via the traditional routes of education and occupational improvement did not lead to overall improvement in their conditions. They called for community control, and the same call was adopted by white ethnic groups who wished to control the destinies of their neighborhoods. Communities became contenders for what was seen (in the Vietnam guns-and-butter economy) as limited resources that would be transferred to elites without effective intervention on the part of the underdogs.

In this environment, the call for citizen participation became a call for complete control over decisions affecting the local community. In addition to normal modes of democratic decision making, "outdoors" types of activity such as protest marches and demonstrations expressed demands. Miller sees this as a negative period, and implies that among community activists expressive individualism actually outweighed the desire to develop consensual communities.

Miller closes this pre-1981 essay by arguing that a new conception of neighborhood was still being shaped, with a sense of alienation pervading all levels about how to improve the polity. He argues that there was a danger of nostalgia about neighborhoods that could obfuscate the economic, social, political and institutional realities of late 20th century life in the U.S.

From Grass-Roots Organizing to Community Service: Community Organization Practice in the Community Center Movement, 1907-1930 by Robert Fisher 33

"A Cluster of Interlacing Communities": The Cincinnati Social Unit Plan and Neighborhood Organization, 1900-1920 by Patricia Mooney-Melvin 59

Harlem Communists and the Politics of Black Protest by Mark Naison 89

Tenant Organization and Housing Reform in New York City: The Citywide Tenants' Council, 1936-1943 by Joseph A. Spencer 127

The Citizens' Council in New Orleans: Organized Resistance to Social Change in a Deep South City by Neil R. McMillen 157

Environmental Constraints on Neighborhood Mobilization for Institutional Change: San Francisco's Mission Coalition Organization, 1970-1974 by Stephen R. Weissman 187

Community Organizing in the 1970s: Seeds of Democratic Revolt by Harry C. Boyte 217

BIBIOGRAPHIC ESSAY 239 INDEX 247 ABOUT THE EDITORS & CONTRIBUTORS 257 ========================================================================= Date: Mon, 1 Jan 1996 18:51:47 CST Posted by Carl Milofsky <>

Thanks for the abstract of the Miller essay. I found myself puzzled by some things. First, while middle class people did dominate settlement houses at the end of the 19th century and that might have contributed to their ultimate decline, at Toynbee Hall the decline seemed due more to the appearance of welfare state theory which made neighborhood level interventions seem irrelevant in England. While that movement was not as strong in the US, there certainly was also a turn to macro-level intervenion here that resulted in the New Deal and de-emphasized neighborhoods as the proper point of action.

The account of how the Chicago School of the 1920s to the 1940s undercut interest in neighborhoods was new to me. Burgess's theory of metropolitan development and Wirth's theory of urbanism fit Miller's story. But meanwhile Burgess also identified natural neighborhood areas in Chicago and started the Chicago Community Factbook which continues to be produced and has become the standard for defining Chicago neighborhoods. Miller mentions Janowitz's classic on the community press, but ignores the intellectual descendents of that book by Gerald Suttles (THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF COMMUNITY, Chicago: Univ of Chicago Press 1972) and by Albert Hunter (SYMBOLIC COMMUNITIES: THE PERSISTENCE AND CHANGE OF CHICAGO'S LOCAL COMMUNITIES, Chicago: Univ of Chicago Pr 1974). I found myself wondering the extent to which the Janowitz/Suttles/Hunter group had resurrected a real tradition of the Chicago School's support for neighborhood theory, or whether they had romanticized the Park/Burgess era.

Incidentally, while Miller might be correct that the Chicago School people of the 1930s preferred metropolitan interventions to neighborhood ones, my understanding of why interest in neighborhood theory declined was that the growth of mass society theory seemed to make neighborhood theory irrelevant or incorrect. Mass society theory grew because of European totalitarian movements and the belief that community decline was responsible for authoritarian politics. American social scientists anxiously began looking for evidence that similar social trends (the decline of community, the growth of authoritarian political movements like McCarthyism) would undermine democracy in America. Janowitz book was written specifically to counter this nihilist fear, arguing that incentives for community building existed in mass society. (That explanation, incidentally, comes from a class I took with Morris Janowitz on urban social policy in about 1977.)

Carl Milofsky Department of Sociology and Anthropology Bucknell University ========================================================================= Date: Sun, 14 Jan 1996 15:24:31 CST From: Wendy Plotkin <U13972@UICVM.BITNET>

Thanks to Carl Milofsky for his comments on my abstract of Zane Miller's essay, "The Role and Concept of Neighborhood in American Cities," in Robert Fisher and Peter Romanosky, COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION FOR URBAN SOCIAL CHANGE: A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1981). [To obtain a copy of the abstract and Carl's comments, send e-mail to with the message: GET NEIGHBOR HISTORY]

As I looked back over Miller's essay, in most cases what Carl said augments Miller's argument (and my summation of it), not necessarily contradicting it.

What I said was:

"The settlement house movement followed, and, according to Miller, failed to achieve greater significance due to its domination by middle class organizers from outside the community."

This was based on Miller's statements:

"Most settlements, however, developed `institutional' programs whose vitality stemmed from the voluntary efforts of outside and usually middle-class residents, and which failed either to organize the community effectively for social, political, or economic change or to elicit widespread and persistent participation in the settlements' programs by the neighborhoods' inhabitants. To be sure, settlement workers played a major role in various citywide, state, and national reform movements, but their status as outsiders, combined with the mobility of the populations they tried to serve, inhibited their effectiveness as agents of community organizations."

Thus, Miller is not speaking specifically to what caused the decline of settlement houses so much as to what limited their effectiveness (assuming that ineffective institutions do not always decline).

The point Carl raises about Toynbee is an interesting one -- he asserts that the decline of settlement houses in Britain came with the arrival of the centralized, national welfare state, making the localized efforts of the settlement house insignificant in comparison. In the U.S., I have a sense that settlement houses declined by the 1920s, although the U.S.' own welfare society did not arrive until the 1930s. Thus, can it be said that the settlement houses faced the same fate in the U.S. as in Britain? Or is it the professionalization of social work in the U.S. and the perception of settlement houses as amateur in their efforts that accounts for their initial loss of influence in the U.S.?

Carl and Albert Hunter have contributed a paper about Toynbee Hall that will allow us to look more closely at settlement houses as early examples of middle-class approaches to community organizing.

A major point of the abstract is that the Chicago school of sociology dismissed neighborhoods as meaningful units of organization. Carl comments that the Chicago school of sociology argued that modernization had brought a "mass society" in which neighborly characteristics of an earlier "gemeinschaft" type society were absent. Miller does describe this aspect of the thought of the Chicago school, but I did not mention them in including only the commentary on mobility and flux within the city that Miller sees as the cause of loss of neighborly ambiance.

What Miller says, specifically, is:

"The metropolis, or metropolitan region, now seemed a community with a distinctive culture. Louis Wirth, the prominent `Chicago-school' sociologist, laid out the principal characteristics tersely in his essay, `Urbanism as a Way of Life,' the grimmer side of which raised the specter of `mass society' rendered unstable by the prevalence of anomie and alienation, and the brighter side of which raised the prospect of a new era of cosmopolitanism, urbanity, and tolerance...."


"Zorbaugh, like Park and Burgess, still considered the city an appropriate unit of study and action within the metropolis, and still viewed it as an organism. They, however, saw it as essentially pluralistic in its composition, as much the product of competition as of cooperation. And they manifested a new and special interest in the individuals who inhabited the city, particularly because of the way in which the process of city growth impinged upon personality and seemed to be producing a new way of life, one very different from the informal, gemeinschaftliche, neighborly small community that they associated with the rural community, the village, or with pre-modern cultures generally, and that they believed the leaders of the first neighborhood organization movement mistakenly read into urban residential areas in the late nineteenth--and early twentieth-century American big city."

My mention of mobility came from the continuation of this discussion in Miller:

"For Zorbaugh, neighborhood, in the traditional sense, could not and did not exist in local areas of big cities, which consisted of mosaics of mobile economic and cultural groups in conflict and in transition. That basic fact, he contended, undermined the neighborhood organization movement, which rested upon an assumption of permanence, stability, common territorial interest, and cooperation at the local level."

Miller also mentions that the Chicago school identified areas inside the city that had some cohesion that were larger than neighborhoods:

"And while the same mode of thought permitted the existence of territorial subcommunities within the larger and basic territorial community, of little subcommunities within the larger metropolitan community, it did not posit the existence of neighborhood as a primordial social force."

This is followed, however, by Miller's statement:

"Indeed, disillusionment with the earlier twentieth-century emphasis on the significance of neighborhood in urban life received its most salient expression in the 1920s from the Chicago-school sociologists. By the end of the decade, Robert Park and Louis Wirth had abandoned it entirely, and, as early as 1926, Ernest Burgess began to express his doubts."

Here, Miller cites Albert Hunter, "Introduction" in ERNEST W. BURGESS ON COMMUNITY, FAMILY AND DELINQUENCY, ed. Leonard S. Cottrell, Jr., Albert Hunter, and James F. Short, Jr. (Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 1973), pp. 3-9 and Jean B. Quandt, FROM THE SMALL TOWN TO THE GREAT COMMUNITY: THE SOCIAL THOUGHT OF PROGRESSIVE INTELLECTUALS (New Brunwick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1970).

The significance of the "mass society" argument to neighborhoods is made apparent in its rejection by Morris Janowitz in the 1940s. Janowitz argued that a modernizing society could continue to include within it components of an older, more consensual society in which neighborhoods offered important ethnic and other institutions binding the individuals who resided within them to each other.

Carl argued that in mentioning Janowitz, Miller missed others who argued for the existence of community before Janowitz. On looking back, I see that Miller does mention antecedents to Janowitz, although not the two whom Carl mentions. One of these is Scott Greer, of whom Miller writes:

"Ironically, Scott Greer credited Morris Janowitz of the University of Chicago with the rediscovery of local community, though Janowitz might have selected Frank Sweetzer or William F. Whyte."

In an earlier footnote, Miller mentions Maurice R. Stein, Robert C. Wood, Roland L. Warren, Willis D. Hawley & Frederick M. Wirt, Arthur J. Vidich, Joseph Bensman, the Greers, and Horace Cayton and St. Clair Drake and their works as "symptoms of the rediscovery of local community."

Again, the point of the abstract was to emphasize the peaks and valleys in the perception of the neighborhood in American social thought as a significant social unit.

I am curious about comparative aspects of this concept on an international level, and whether the "neighborhood" went through similar perceptual permutations in other cultures and nations.

Wendy Plotkin COMM-ORG ========================================================================= Date: Sat, 27 Jan 1996 10:05:04 CST Posted by Stanley Wenocur <SWENOCUR@SSW2.AB.UMD.EDU>

Re settlement houses and decline, you are correct that settlements were already in decline in the 1920's. In 1910 a study of settlements in the U.S. found 413. In the 1930s the Nat'l Fed of Settlements estimated there were 230. This wasn't just a decline in numbers, but also in voices for social reform. The settlements had begun to emphasize informal education, recreation, socialization for children, youth and adults thru clubs, classes and various other "cultural" activities -- social group work.

Activism in the settlements was not necessarily widespread anyway, and much of it by settlement leaders was of an advocacy variety rather than a grass roots organizing variety. Neighborhood residents themselves rarely controlled the settlement houses; they did not govern their boards of directors.

Stan Wenocur School of Social Work University of Maryland-Baltimore

[Stan is the author, with Michael Reisch, FROM CHARITY TO ENTERPRISE: THE DEV'T OF AMERICAN SOCIAL WORK IN A MARKET ECONOMY, 1989, U. of Ill. Press.

The comment of mine to which Stan is responding was itself a response to Carl Milofsky's observation that settlement houses in Britain declined with the emergence of the British national welfare state. I wrote:

In the U.S., I have a sense that settlement houses declined by the 1920s, although the U.S.' own welfare society did not arrive until the 1930s. Thus, can it be said that the settlement houses faced the same fate in the U.S. as in Britain? Or is it the professionalization of social work in the U.S. and the perception of settlement houses as amateur in their efforts that accounts for their initial loss of influence in the U.S.?

For an abstract and the full discussion of Zane Miller's article "The Role and Concept of Neighborhood in American Cities," send e-mail to with the message, GET NEIGHBOR HISTORY or gopher to and select H-Net E-Mail Discussion Groups/H-Urban/Seminars/Seminar on History of Community Organizing/Additional Discussions & Postings/Neighborhood History & Theory.

An example of an attempt at "grass-roots organizing" by a settlement house leader is included in Jane Addams' TWENTY YEARS AT HULL HOUSE, Chapter XIII: Public Activities & Investigations. In the chapter, Addams describes her attempts to organize a group of Irish-American working class women to assist her in revealing the inadequacy of city garbage removal services in the neighborhood, and to advocate for improvement in services. Although Addams' description is sketchy, she appears to attribute the difficulty in obtaining assistance to the fact that the women were often too tired after a day of work to participate in this effort, and were in some instances deterred by ideas that such work was inconsistent with existing gender roles of the time.

For a copy of the chapter, send e-mail to with the message GET TWENTY YEARS or gopher to and select H-Net E-Mail Discussion Groups/H-Urban/Seminars/Seminar on History of Community Organizing/Papers/The Force of Tradition at Toynbee Hall.

-- W. Plotkin, COMM-ORG] ========================================================================= Date: Fri, 9 Feb 1996 10:33:28 CST Posted by Amanda Seligman

In terms of the earlier discussion on the Chicago school of sociologists' views on neighborhoods, I'd recommend the following two books:

1) Thomas Vernor Smith and Leonard D. White, CHICAGO, AN EXPERIMENT IN SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1929)

[This book of essays by various participants is a mixture of descriptions of the work and thinking of the Local Community Research Committee. The LCRC was largely responsible for defining Chicago's Community Areas for purposes of data gathering, as seen in their compilations of tract-based census data for 1920, 1930, and 1934, and the "Local Community Fact Book" Series.]

2) Charles Bowden and Lew Kreinberg, STREET SIGNS CHICAGO: NEIGHBORHOOD AND OTHER ILLUSIONS OF BIG-CITY LIFE (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 1981)

[As you can doubtless gather from the title, this interesting little volume argues that there never were any such thing as neighborhoods in Chicago, that they were invented by busy-body social scientists and imposed on the city, and that any local activists who aspire to a sense of neighborhood are falsely nostalgic and just fooling themselves (here Bowden and Kreinberg refer specifically to North Lawndale, one of the community areas on Chicago's West Side, which was devastated by fires set in rioting after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in April 1968.)]

Amanda Seligman Northwestern University Department of History

[For the earlier discussion, send e-mail to with the message: GET NEIGHBOR HISTORY


Gopher to and select: H-Net E-Mail Discussion Groups/ H-Urban/Seminar on History of Community Organizing/Additional Discussions and Postings/Neighborhood History and Theory


WWW to gopher://

-- W. Plotkin, COMM-ORG]