Why do ghetto day care centers look like prisons?

Collected images.
Oct. 8 2009 6:55 AM

Iron Bars and Razor Wire

The forbidding, prisonlike architecture of ghetto day care centers.

Click here to launch a slide show on ghetto day care centers.

In poor urban communities, day care centers present themselves as places where "miracles" occur, as places where minority children are given "tender loving care" and can experience "love in action" in an otherwise hard world.

I am constantly amazed by the contrast between the lofty ideals expressed on the facades of inner-city day care centers and the mean, barred, and windowless buildings they occupy. Often, they occupy former movie theaters, stores, or old industrial buildings in the midst of decaying neighborhoods. Others occupy fortified prefabricated buildings. Children spend their days in windowless rooms or on playgrounds surrounded by cyclone fences topped with razor ribbon wire. When they go out for a stroll, they walk, holding hands, along streets lined with empty buildings and vacant lots filled with trash and rubble.

Advertisement

Those who work in these day care centers tell me they have to "build them like that" to prevent their equipment, furniture, and even food from getting stolen. The fortress look, they say, is a consequence of the surroundings. Day care center workers say the gritty exteriors protect interiors that are clean, safe, and colorful places where children are given fresh fruits and healthy meals and are well cared for.

Some centers in these photos, such as the Box of Joy Developmental Center in Detroit, have gone out of business. Others have added new signs in an attempt to brighten up an otherwise prisonlike building.

I am surprised at how little America's inner-city day care centers have changed over the years. Although they may be a key to their little charges' success in life, their grim appearance suggests the permanence of the American ghetto.

Camilo José Vergara is a 2002 MacArthur fellow whose books include American Ruins and How the Other Half Worships. You can see more of his photos on his Web site and can contact him at camilojosev@gmail.com.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.