Region’s Segregated Living Cited in New Data

Jay Rey, Buffalo News, December 21, 2010

The Buffalo Niagara region is one of the most racially segregated communities in the United States, according to an analysis of new census data.

The region–comprising Erie and Niagara counties–ranks as the sixth most residentially segregated metropolitan area in the country when it comes to whites and blacks living near each other.

That finding from the Brookings Institution isn’t surprising, because the Buffalo area historically has ranked high on similar lists and is not unlike other Rust Belt regions that have been slower to integrate than growing communities in the South and West.

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The real key to overcoming those historical patterns of black and white segregation is growing numbers of middle-class blacks migrating into white neighborhoods, Frey said, but Rust Belt regions such as Buffalo simply don’t have enough of that.

Metro Milwaukee, for example, ranked as the most segregated region in the country, followed by metro Detroit, New York, Chicago, Cleveland and Buffalo. Metro St. Louis, Youngstown, Ohio, Syracuse and Cincinnati came in just below Buffalo on Frey’s index.

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Consider the numbers:

* Of the more than 1.1 million people living in Buffalo Niagara, 81 percent are white, and 12 percent are black, according to census estimates released last week. Most of the region’s black population lives in the City of Buffalo, where there are almost as many minorities as there are whites.

* The only suburban communities with noticeable minority populations are Cheektowaga, where more than 7 percent of the population is black, and Amherst, where almost 5 percent of the population is black.

White flight and racially based suburban growth are big reasons why the region remains so residentially segregated, said Henry L. Taylor, a professor in the Center for Urban Studies at the University at Buffalo.

“You have communities that may look like they’re integrating today, but they start to transition,” Taylor said, “because when there’s a certain number of blacks, whites move out.”

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