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

The Slatest

Ben Bradlee Dead at 93

The legendary Washington Post editor presided over the paper’s Watergate coverage.

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.
Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

Walmart Is Crushing the Rest of Corporate America in Adopting Solar Power

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 1:47 PM The Best Way to Fry an Egg
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 5:38 PM Justified Paranoia Citizenfour offers a look into the mind of Edward Snowden.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.