Today we’re releasing our latest CityReport: America’s Most Diverse, Mixed Income Neighborhoods.
In this report, we use Census data to identify those neighborhoods that have the highest levels of both racial/ethnic and income diversity among all urban neighborhoods in the US.
We were motivated to take on this analysis, in part, because so much attention is focused on the cleavages and segregation of American cities. There’s little question that we’ve become increasingly divided by income, and that racial and ethnic segregation still underpin the persistence of poverty and the lack of opportunity for too many Americans. And while our country is divided in many ways, we thought it would be helpful to look at those places where our growing diversity was reflected in a neighborhood that was occupied by households of every economic strata.
That’s what this report does: we look at the places that have the highest levels of racial/ethnic diversity, measured by the likelihood that any two randomly selected neighborhood residents would be from two different racial/ethnic groups (white, black, Latino, Asian or other). We constructed a parallel measure of income diversity based on the representation of five different household income groups in a neighborhood. In both cases, we identified the neighborhoods that are in the top twenty percent of all urban US neighborhoods based on each of our measures of diversity.
Our core finding is that there are more than 1,300 such neighborhoods in the US that are home to nearly 7 million Americans. While about half of these neighborhoods are in just three large metro areas (New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles), nearly every large US metropolitan area has at least one neighborhood that is among the nation’s most diverse, mixed income neighborhoods.
One challenge we face in reporting our results is that the word diversity has become a colloquial euphemism for “people of color.” This report uses the word diversity in a more precise, mathematical context: diverse means people of different racial and ethnic groups, not simply people of color. A neighborhood that is 100% Asian or 100% Latino or 100% white or 100% black is not diverse.
Our interest in identifying diverse, mixed income neighborhoods is heightened by the growing body of social science research that shows the widespread negative effects of segregation for cities, for neighborhoods, for families and especially for children. The American Dream, that any child can grow up to achieve success, has been effectively denied to many of those who grow up in neighborhoods that are segregated, where children are cut off from resources and networks that lead to opportunity.
In a sense, these diverse mixed income neighborhoods may provide examples and insights about how we can fashion our cities to be more inclusive.
At least some of the neighborhoods we’ve identified as the most diverse, mixed income are those that are also frequently described as gentrifying. Gentrification is a hot topic in all three of the metro areas we count has having the most diverse, mixed income neighborhoods (New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco). Places like Bedford-Stuyvestant, San Francisco’s Mission District, and downtown Los Angeles all show up as being among the most racially and ethnically diverse, and mixed income of any metropolitan neighborhoods.
The big question, going forward, is whether rapidly changing gentrifying neighborhoods can maintain thise income and ethnic diversity, or whether they will inexorably transition to being all upper income and predominantly white. The available evidence suggests that there’s little likelihood of that happening. Of the neighborhoods that transitioned to multi-ethnic status between 1970 and 1990, fully 90 percent were still multi-ethnic in 2010. In addition, what happens in these gentrifying neighborhoods is subject to public policy. Cities that use the increase in property values and attendant tax revenues from revitalization to help support affordable housing construction can help assure that gentrifying neighborhoods remain accessible to a wide range of income groups. In addition, how we invest in public space can create opportunities to build bridging social capital between new arrivals and long time residents.
For the full report, including metro level data and maps, visit our CityReport page here.