Mayors Bloomberg and Giuliani Oversaw NYC’s Segregation Increase


Folks have been in a real reflective mood during these waning days of the Michael Bloomberg Administration. Sunday’s New York Times, for instance, dedicated much its New York section to detailing and assessing the three-term mayor’s rule–from his sweeping quality-of-life accomplishments to his “tireless coddling” of Wall Street to his regular attendance at a favorite restaurant.

As much of this retrospective reminds us, the narrative arc of Bloomberg’s era picked up where his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, left off. Despite differences in temperament and political tactics, the mayors’ combined 20 years in City Hall tell a cohesive tale: New York City’s transformation into a modern, healthy, smooth-operating metropolis that proudly stands as “America’s safest big city.”

But the social contract Bloomberg and Giuliani drew up has some important fine print at the bottom. During their tenures, New York City has also stood as America’s most increasingly segregated big city.

In The Atlantic‘s September issue, the magazine published illuminating stats from an Urban Institute study that measured segregation using a metric called the Index of Dissimilarity. The Social Science Data Analysis Network (SSDAN), which compiles the index scores among its Census analysis, explains the measurement this way: “If a city’s white-black dissimilarity index were 65, that would mean that 65% of white people would need to move to another neighborhood to make whites and blacks evenly distributed across all neighborhoods.”

The numbers show that America’s major urban centers have been experiencing a dramatic upswing in neighborhood diversity. Between 1970 and 2010, nine of the 10 biggest metropolitan regions in the U.S. became less segregated. Dallas, which had the largest decrease, saw its dissimilarity index score drop by 31.8. Philadelphia, which had the ninth largest, experienced a 10.4 point drop.

NYC was the outlier–the sole top-10 city to see an increase in segregation. Its index score rose by 1.5 over the past 40 years. But the lion’s share has been recent. Between 2000 and 2010, the the city’s segregation rate grew by .9 percent, from 54.4 to 55.3. The divide is sharper when you isolate white-black segregation, at 85.3, and white-hispanic segregation, at 69.3.

New York, in fact, had the highest dissimilarity index score among the 318 cities listed in the SSDAN’s 2010 Census analysis.

To be sure, these numbers reflect only one thin slice of a city’s racial dynamic. After all, Dallas’s index score doesn’t account for Texas’s voter ID law.

At the very least, though, the stats reflect the two-headed force of gentrification and a stagnant affordable housing policy. Evidence A, of course, is Brooklyn (and B is probably Harlem). From Williamsburg and Fort Greene to Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights, we all know the story: Many white people get priced out of their Manhattan neighborhoods and move east; many minorities get priced out of their Brooklyn neighborhoods and move farther east, or out of the city altogether. Between 2000 and 2010, Brooklyn’s black population fell by 6 percent. Yet over that span, the black population in East New York jumped by 13 percent.

In the most recent census, East New York was 1.9 percent white, Brownsville was 1.2 percent white, and the Upper East Side was 81.1 percent white.