Book Review Preview: Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus

By Benny Carlson

Stefanie Chambers, Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2017).

On November 6, 2016, two days before the U.S. presidential election, Donald Trump branded the Somali community in Minnesota “a disaster”. On February 18, 2017, he pointed to Sweden as a failed immigrant country. These statements make it interesting to highlight the situation for Somali refugee immigrants in the U.S. and Sweden. Now, very timely, a book about Somalis in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, and Columbus, Ohio, written by political scientist Stefanie Chambers of Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, has been published. She has compared the “incorporation” of Somalis in these city environments in a systematic way, using 14 political, economic and social indicators and a rich empirical material, not least interviews with 114 respondents. Her conclusion is that although much remains to be done, the Twin Cities come out on top of Ohio according to most indicators.

If one compares Somalis in Minnesota and Sweden, the former community does not appear as “a disaster”. Over a five-year period (2011-15), employment among Somalia-born in Minnesota (age 16-64) was 62 percent, compared to 26 percent in Sweden. (The figures are going up in Sweden, though; in 2015 they were 31 percent.) Self-employment over the same period was 5.9 percent in Minnesota, 0.7 percent in Sweden. Furthermore, I have myself interviewed several Somali entrepreneurs in the Twin Cities and have been impressed by their patriotism and belief in the American dream. To brand this whole community “a disaster” is apparently counterproductive for the group – it may increase the risk of identity problems and radicalization among young people – as well as for the U.S. in general, where the American dream seems to be fading in segments of the middle and working classes. This branding apparently rests on scanty knowledge. Fortunately, this knowledge gap will to a large extent be filled by Stefanie Chambers.

The full book review will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Urban Affairs.

Benny Carlson
Lund University School of Economics and Management

The Reviews are Coming in on the New JUA!

By Jeanette Eckert

As Editor-in-Chief Igor Vojnovic wrote on the blog last month, 2017 is an exciting year for the Journal of Urban Affairs. A new publisher, new cover art, several planned special issues, and more issues per year are among the changes, and we’re getting great feedback already. But don’t just take my word for it. Here’s Professor Jonathan Davies, a member of the JUA Editorial Board:


We hope everyone is enjoying the new JUA as much as Professor Davies! What do you think so far? Feel free to let us know!


Jeanette Eckert is a doctoral candidate and instructor at Michigan State University and is the Social Media Editor for the Journal of Urban Affairs.

Book Review Preview: Good Neighbors

By Dennis E. Gale

Sylvie Tissot. Good Neighbors. (London and New York: Verso, 2015)

A study of Boston’s South End, Good Neighbors examines the once-declining neighborhood’s revitalization from the 1960s to 2010. Tissot’s ethnographic approach yields a multi-layered account of her interviews and observations of South End residents, as well as insights gleaned from print media. We “hear” the voices and words of gentrifiers and observe their tastes in interior decorating, dining and yes, even alcoholic beverages. Several pages are devoted to the culture and class distinctions of gentry preferences for various dog breeds. We also glean insights from neighborhood activists, preservationists, realtors and others.  Tissot’s methods, alas, leave precious little room to address the city renewal agency’s role and tactics in catalyzing reinvestment. Nor is there much in the way of statistical evidence or maps to document the demographic or physical changes that ensued. Thus, some readers may wish for a more holistic perspective.

When the Boston Redevelopment Authority undertook the South End’s renewal in the mid-1960s, small numbers of homes were already being renovated by new in-movers. Mob violence in several cities and widespread criticism of urban renewal’s wholesale neighborhood clearance strategy persuaded the BRA to capitalize on the South End’s nascent gentrification. The Authority increased citizen participation in planning, minimized housing demolition and concentrated on rehabilitating existing structures. The stated goal was a diverse neighborhood of social classes, races and ethnicities with market-rate and subsidized housing. Good Neighbors traces the outcome of this diversity policy. Tissot argues that as the decades passed, the neighborhood’s increasingly up-market residents, businesses and historic preservationists became progressively more resistant to new affordable housing. Their economic and class hegemony allowed them to impose their own tastes and preferences on substantial areas of the South End. Although the community’s current diversity exceeds levels found in most of Boston, it is found wanting by the author.

Of special note is the sarcasm Tissot reserves for her gentry informants. While gaining their confidence and availing herself of their good will, she acknowledges her own class biases against bourgeois privilege. Flirting with deception, she seems to assure readers that – in effect – the ends justify the means. As is the fashion now in some scholarly circles, Tissot seems to surrender the goal of objectivity, leaving readers to decide for themselves how much credence to place in her not infrequent subjective assessments.

The full review will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Urban Affairs.

Dennis E. Gale
Professor Emeritus, Rutgers University
Lecturer, Stanford University