Racial Segregation in New York Lingers, Researchers Show in Map of the Racial Distribution in the United States


The Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia recently released an interactive map showing the exact racial and ethnic distribution in the United States. The map color-codes the country based on race and ethnicity figures from the 2010 census, assigning a dot to each and every one of more than 300 million residents. Sadly, the map shows us something we already know, or at least suspected: that the U.S., especially its cities, remain racially segregated, and New York is no exception.

Blue marks white people, green marks Black, orange marks Hispanic, and red dots signify Asian. While the city does not have it nearly as bad as, say, Detroit, there are fairly obvious transitions from “white” to “Black” neighborhoods or “Hispanic” to “Asian” neighborhoods. What’s more, the city shows the racial structure that we would expect: Bed-Stuy is still predominantly Black, and Park Slope is preeettty white.

In the days when segregation was legally sanctioned, landlords, realtors, and banks did what’s known as redlining: The practice of confining Black residents and homeowners to certain parts of cities to goose the real estate market.

Realtors wouldn’t show certain properties, landlords would refuse to rent, banks would deny mortgage applications to Black people wanting certain addresses, and so on. In essence, the higher the concentration of white people, the higher and more stable the home prices in that area.

The legacy of redlining has yet to disappear judging by the Cooper Center’s interactive website, and I can’t imagine gentrification driving up rent all over the city is helping–the map does make pretty striking visuals underlining that gentrification is as much a demographic phenomenon as it is an economic one.

And when talking about changing demographics, there’s always the nagging question of when’s the moment that a neighborhood’s creeping whiteness qualifies the area as gentrified.

It turns out that the exact opposite process–how many people of color does it take to make a neighborhood “bad”–is empirically verifiable. It’s called neighborhood tipping. Robust evidence suggests that once the concentration of Black neighbors reaches a particular threshold, adding one more Black resident will cause all white people to flee, an image that would be hilarious if it weren’t so disturbing.

So what about the reverse process? When did the Upper West Side become so white?And when will that splat of blue in southern Crown Heights overtake the rest of the neighborhood?

The question is mostly an academic one, since policy solutions that limit the number white people who can live in a census tract is a dumb way to address neighborhood change. Also because we don’t really need to know the precise ratio of white residents to non-white residents to sense that a place has been “revitalized”, to use my least favorite euphemism ever.

But it would be nice to know if policy makers were interested in figuring out what makes neighborhoods desirable: Is it the comfort of knowing you’ve got coffee shops and bars on every block, or is it in knowing that there are plenty of white people around to fill them?

A related and depressing thought: the map is a handy tool for figuring out the border between the Upper West Side and Harlem, for instance, for out-of-towners looking for a new place. Just look for where the Black people start and the white people end (though homebuyers were probably already making that determination with a more, shall we say, data-poor model.)

Send your story tips to the author, Raillan Brooks.