The tyranny of place

This piece in the Boston Globe about two technology incubators trying to make a go of it in Roxbury and Dorchester, two heavily minority, poor neighborhoods in Boston, highlights an almost fascistic focus on place that seems to be hardening in the U.S. No one in the story is saying you can’t be from a poor neighborhood and still succeed. They’re just saying you can’t succeed by staying in the neighborhood.

That’s a long-standing meme in American life. We want to cross the tracks and not look back. Go after opportunity and not stay where you are, mired in the mud. Whether it’s Dana¬† and “go West, Young man,” the separation of Jim from his childhood home in My Antonia, the bitter reviling of small-town midwestern life by Sinclair Lewis, Tom Bissell mocking his hometown, Escanaba, in Harper’s in 2000,¬† or references to flyover country, the vast majority of the U.S. is simply irrelevant, from the perspective of place.

But Roxbury and Dorchester are just a few miles from Cambridge. Cambridge is overflowing with entrepreneurs; rents are absurd. Can we really not shift locale by a small distance?

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