Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lessons from Watts

According to my research, the Watts Riots were caused by a build-up of underlying racial tension between African Americans and the white Anglos. High unemployment, poor public maintenance, lack of convenient public transportation, and other significant social factors all led to the riots.

These aspects of the Watts Riots are well-known and are usually the subjects addressed when discussing the event. However, what's perhaps more interesting and much less known is that the neighborhood actually deteriorated even further after the riots occurred. Despite the various efforts to rejuvenate the district, the citizens of Watts have reported that the area has seen minimal improvement (note that you need to log in to ProQuest to view the webpage).

How could the neighborhood continue to decline in spite of the success of the programs aimed at improving the area? The answer is two-tiered: many of the programs were only short-term solutions, and the citizens who benefited tended to leave Watts as soon as was financially possible. A major problem with many of the projects focusing on contributing to the area's regrowth is that the solutions were only temporary. Improving the streets and public transportation are meaningless if these improvements are not maintained.

Additionally, considering the poor state of the Watts neighborhood, many of the citizens who found employment and financial aid through the new community-based programs left the area once it became financially viable to do so. From their perspective, it would be better to live in a slightly more expensive area if that meant escaping the poor conditions of Watts.

What can be learned? The answer is long-lasting solutions to underlying social problems. Had the programs and projects aimed at helping the Watts district simply maintained their efforts, the neighborhood would have avoided further decline. Although continuing these programs may cost more, the payoff would be worth the money considering the consequences are widespread unrest and eventual rioting.

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