More than any place I’ve ever lived, locals in San Antonio, Texas, tend to understand their city in terms of its four cardinal directions. News outlets here write the parts of town in title caps: North Side, South Side, West Side, East Side. Ask most people raised in San Antonio what those parts signify, and you’ll get the same answer:
North Side—white and wealthy
South Side—Hispanic and working class and/or poor
West Side—Hispanic and poor
East Side—black and poor
Of course, most people are wrong—truer and better things can be said about each of those sides of town. But the stereotypes persist as a rough description of the severe economic segregation that ranks San Antonio with the most inequitable and impoverished large cities in the United States. Here, neighbourhoods of boundless opportunity are a short drive from neighbourhoods that lack basic infrastructure. Some zip codes in the city hang a twenty-year gap in life expectancy between them.
When my family moved to San Antonio six years ago, I didn’t know any of this. Like most newcomers with kids, my wife and I landed in the North Side with the algorithmic help of Zillow and GreatSchools.org. But when I finally got to know my new city, I came to see that the algorithms were driven by a history of racial injustice that had shaped who could live where, which neighbourhoods were subsidized and which were not. I began to understand that what we call “the system” is not only very large but also very local, down to my street and my own home.