Posted on October 31, 2011

Census: The New U.S. Neighborhood Defined by Diversity as All-White Enclaves Vanish

Carol Morello and Dan Keating, Washington Post, October 29, 2011


Around the region and across the country, the archetypal all-white neighborhood is vanishing with remarkable speed. In many places, the phenomenon is not being driven by African Americans moving to the suburbs. Instead, it is primarily the result of the nation’s soaring number of Hispanics and Asians, many of whom are immigrants.

The result has been the emergence of neighborhoods, from San Diego to Denver to Miami, that are more diverse than at any time in American history.

As the nation barrels toward the day, just three decades from now, when non-Hispanic whites are expected to be a minority, these global neighborhoods have already begun remaking the American social fabric in significant ways. Their creation and impact have been especially pronounced in the Washington area, where minorities are now the majority.

A Washington Post analysis of 2010 Census data shows a precipitous decline in the number of the region’s census tracts, areas of roughly 2,000 households, where more than 85 percent of the residents are of the same race or ethnicity–what many demographers would consider a segregated neighborhood.

In the District, just one in three neighborhoods is highly segregated, the Post analysis found. A decade ago, more than half were.

In the Maryland suburbs, one in five neighborhoods is dominated by one race or ethnicity, down from almost a third in 2000.

The biggest drop has been in Northern Virginia, where only one in 20 neighborhoods is a racial or ethnic enclave. No suburb is more diverse than Fairfax County, where just 2 percent of neighborhoods are segregated.


Black and white

But some of Washington’s black communities are being bypassed as diversity sweeps through the region.

Wards 7 and 8 in the District are virtually all African American, and many of the neighborhoods have become even more segregated. As a result, more than half the city’s black residents live in segregated neighborhoods, while almost no whites do.

More striking is what’s happening in Prince George’s County, one of the few places in the country that is simultaneously growing in size and growing more segregated as whites leave and the black middle class shifts to the suburbs.


As recently as 1990, whites in the Washington area were more likely than blacks to live in enclaves. Now the positions are switched.

Washington’s two contradictory trend lines are playing out nationwide.

“It’s a glass-half-full-half-empty story,” said the Urban Institute’s Margery Turner, an expert on housing patterns. “Predominantly white neighborhoods are no longer as homogeneous as in the past. They’ve opened up tremendously. And yet, white people are, in general, not moving into neighborhoods that are predominantly black. Majority black neighborhoods are remaining majority black, or becoming more majority black, at the same time white neighborhoods are opening up.”

Demographers contend that Americans still live primarily among people who are like them. Much of their evidence comes from places such as Milwaukee and Detroit that have stopped growing or are shrinking. These places, mostly in the Midwest and Northeast, have not attracted the Hispanics and Asians fueling growth and diversity elsewhere.

John Logan, a sociologist at Brown University who coined the phrase “global neighborhoods” to describe the changes he has been studying for three decades, said the typical pattern is for Asians and Hispanics to move into white neighborhoods, paving the way for white acceptance of more blacks.


Logan noted that it is still rare for whites to move into minority neighborhoods, and white flight continues to shape many communities.

Washington is a case study in how the arrival of Hispanics and Asians is altering the country. {snip}


Nine out of 10 whites in the region still live in neighborhoods where they are at least a plurality, if not a majority. But the neighborhoods where more than 85 percent of residents are white are growing rare.


Logan said the rest of the country will catch up to Washington eventually.

“As whites are a smaller share of the population, inevitably what it means is whites are more and more going to share communities with other groups,” Logan said. “The all-white neighborhood is being re-created on the far periphery of metropolitan areas. But aside from that, it’s becoming a thing of the past.”


The rise of global neighborhoods can create upheaval and tension.


Often, though, the flare-ups are not over hot-button political issues but over mundane matters such as parking, trash and the language of newsletters.

“We have a cultural gap,” said Maria DaSilva, who immigrated to the United States in 1965 from Brazil and is active in her civic association in Wheaton. “We have people who have been in the community for 40 to 50 years–and a wave of new people–who practice the way they lived in their country of origin.”


Demographers have found that there are still tipping points, where the increasing presence of one ethnic group makes the other groups feel uneasy, though much of the research focuses on the dynamics of whites and blacks.

Roderick Harrison, a Howard University sociologist and former head of racial statistics at the Census Bureau, said studies show that whites start to abandon a neighborhood when blacks exceed 30 percent. That’s the same point, however, where blacks start to feel comfortable in a neighborhood.

“They feel vulnerable” when it’s less than 30 percent, Harrison said. “You want to see people like you at the supermarket.”