Environmental Communication

  • Edward T. Hall


During a study of inter-ethnic encounters it was discovered that behavior of blacks and whites varied in the way in which space was handled. Territoriality was much more evident in the black neighborhoods, and territorial boundaries were closely related to group boundaries. Within the black territory there was apparently much more visiting back and forth and much less concept of what the whites call “trespassing”. Indeed, the term trespass was virtually meaningless to our black subjects, whose territory is a group concern rather than a private or personal matter. Within black communities block clubs are apparently an urban adaptation of rural social organization with a well defined territorial context, patterns for raising the young and social controls that are shared by the mature adults. In the black community we found, viable social groups that were extraordinarily effective and cohesive. However, these groups could not withstand the assaults of dislocation and relocation that accompany urban renewal. To our knowledge they have not reconstituted in the high rise public housing projects where architecture, paternalism and bureaucracy combine to destroy initiative as well as to foster dependence.

If housing projects are to be designed in terms of black culture, they should be congruent with the informal, social, and territorial realities of that culture. Public housing for blacks should be planned to organize and not disrupt or separate functions. Overall distances should be held to a minimum and massive scale should be avoided, for there is something about the intimacy of black culture that is anti-thetical to Zarge anonymous masses. In addition, there should be functions for the group to perform, alleys to be paved, yards to be kept up, lots to be cleaned up, houses to decorate, children to correct and be involved with. Otherwise group cohesiveness does not emerge. In the absence of group support and involvement of the type indicated, marginal individuals seem to lead extraordinarily fragmented, precarious lives in which the territorial alternatives may not include even venturing across the street. In their present form, high rise apartments enhance fragmentation of social relationships and, therefore, they can be said to be dysfunctional for many blacks. An added complication is the aftermath of the experience of being uprooted and displaced by urban renewal plus the fact that the housing is almost without exception designed, built, and administered by a white establishment including unions that are, for the most part, anti-Negro.


Public Housing Black Community Urban Renewal High Rise Black Culture 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1971

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  • Edward T. Hall

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