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I understood the meaning of the phrase to be relatively benign and mostly used facetiously. Can it be viewed as offensive in contemporary conversation?

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It's also the phrase that's inscribed on Rodney Dangerfield's headstone. –  user54443 Oct 18 '13 at 17:31
    
I was sure that the origin of this is from the movie "Bionicle 3: Web of Shadows". A few beasts run across a path and a character named Matau remarks, "Well, there goes the ole neighborhood." –  user74271 May 6 at 20:08

3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

In the present day, the phrase could be used in a joking way to express disapproval of a newcomer who sets some precedent for change in the social environment.

I would caution, however, that it originated as an expression of resignation and disapproval of racial minorities moving into previously all-white neighborhoods. Key drivers of housing integration in the U.S. include Shelley v. Kraemer, a 1948 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial covenants were unconstitutional; the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which banned discrimination in housing; and court-mandated school desegregation busing which began in the 1970s.

Many in the white majority considered integration undesirable, either because they believed the newcomers would make bad neighbors, or because they believed that white disinclination to live in integrated neighborhoods would mean a decline in property values, and or both. If one minority household moved in, others would soon follow, and the neighborhood, it was said, would go into terminal decline.

This sense of the phrase is far from forgotten. Even if you intend to refer to some other characteristic of a newcomer, it may be interpreted as singling out his or her race, a phenomenon which is the basis for the entire South Park episode “Here Comes the Neighborhood.”

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Very interesting, thanks. It's one of those sayings that is easy to use without realizing what is being said. –  Drai Mar 1 '12 at 2:35
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+1 Excellent research. Any references should be very welcome, too. –  Kris Mar 1 '12 at 15:06
    
Actually, the Federal Housing Administration explicitly used race as a metric of "neighborhood desirability" so the fear of depreciation that @choster mentions was quite real and enforced by federal policy until the Fair Housing Act. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Housing_Administration#Redlining –  Charles Oct 18 '13 at 18:27
    
The phrase, depending on its age, have been applied to non-racial minorities such as German, Irish, Italians, or Eastern Europeans, or by one of those groups applying to the next one on the immigration parade. Mass Migration of African Americans into northern cities and then suburbs is a relatively recent (20th Century) thing, whereas tension between 'us' and 'these odd new fellows' is common and older. "No Irish need apply" was a common sight back in the day. –  Oldcat May 6 at 21:15
    
@Oldcat There is no denying that many other groups suffered serious discrimination, most notably the Irish, but according to the N-gram, usage for this particular phrase takes a sharp uptick from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. I seriously doubt that people of that era were writing about The Irish Problem. –  choster May 6 at 21:22

I agree with everything in choster's answer but the 'originated' bit. There goes the neighbourhood surely comes from the snowclone (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snowclone) "There goes X", as in

There goes our plan.

There goes the country (down the drain).

There goes all our money.

There goes his dignity.

etc.

While there is nothing racist or classist intrinsic in a neighborhood "going" (maybe a flood just washed over it), the connotation of "there goes the neighborhood" is indeed racist and/or classist. Tread with care.

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It can definitely be used both ways. I'm not certain of the origin, but the ngram is steady at zero until the early 1960s.

It seems to have originated during and because of the American Civil Rights Movement and desegregation, so I believe it does have racial connotations.

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