Posted on December 8, 2011

Cities Moving Beyond Segregation

Haya El Nasser, USA Today, December 7, 2011

The old residential neighborhoods spread across a 150-block area off majestic The Paseo Boulevard were mostly white before they became mostly black. Now, many are deserted.

Sitting vacant are about 1,000 lots along tree-lined streets east of Troost Avenue–a legal line of segregation for decades under Jim Crow laws enacted before the civil rights movement. {snip}

The emptying out of African-American neighborhoods in the heart of this city is bemoaned by many who are battling the decline. But in an unexpected twist, the flight of blacks to other city neighborhoods and nearby suburbs in Missouri and Kansas has created an unforeseen result that is generally greeted with optimism: desegregation.

Blacks’ move to suburbia has accelerated in the past decade, shifting the racial make-up of urban and suburban neighborhoods across the nation. The change is particularly striking here because of the area’s long history of racial segregation.

Black-white residential segregation plummeted from 2000 to 2010 in the Kansas City metropolitan area after rising during each of the previous three decades, according to one analysis of Census data.

Kansas City last year was the 36th most segregated metropolitan area among the 100 largest, down from 18th in 2000.

“It’s as much the fact that city ghettos are being broken up as the fact that suburbs are beginning to integrate,” says Kansas City native John Logan, a Brown University sociologist who did the analysis. “It’s one of the places that I would describe as a success in the making, after a long history of intense segregation.”


Kansas City’s black population is growing. The metropolitan area’s non-Hispanic black population climbed to 272,469, up almost 16% since 2000. Their share of the metro area’s 2 million people went from 12.8% to 13.4%.

“In the last decade, a lot of places that had very small black populations in 2000 now have 7% or 10% or 12% black populations, and that’s the range you can say they’re really becoming integrated,” says Logan, director of the US2010 Project at Brown University, which studies trends in American society.


Logan’s research shows that African Americans are more likely to move to neighborhoods that were once predominantly white after other minorities have knocked down racial barriers and settled in. This could be because Asians and Hispanics are more easily accepted at first or because whites in those neighborhoods are more accepting of diversity, Logan says.


Whites, on the other hand, still rarely move in to minority neighborhoods except in some urban areas where development has launched a wave of gentrification. In most cases, whites leave neighborhoods as they get more diverse and move farther from central cities, especially in the Northeast and Midwest, Logan says.


Here [Kansas City], black flight has more to do with the dismantling of the public schools.

The Kansas City, Mo., school district lost its accreditation from the Missouri Board of Education in 2000 and has been operating under a provisional accreditation since 2002. In September, the Missouri Board of Education said the district has not improved academic performance and had such leadership turmoil that it would yank its accreditation in January, paving the way for a state takeover within two years.

Once the schools lose their accreditation, families will be able to send their kids to other schools that border the district and the Kansas City district will pay transportation costs. This final blow to local schools may drive more people to suburbia.

“The quality of the school district is certainly something that caused whites and blacks as well to move out,” Tauheed says.


Former teacher Joann Boyd, 61, is a retired guidance counselor for the Kansas City, Mo., school district. She was one of the first blacks to move to Overland Park, Kan., in a neighborhood of duplexes in a suburb that was among the nation’s fastest-growing in the late 1990s.


Boyd welcomes the growing diversity in race and income in her community.

“It’s good,” she says. “In the ’70s when I first moved here, it was almost like I was the only one. I wasn’t as comfortable then. It’s like home now. There are more people like me here.”


A more negative fallout of Kansas City’s suburban explosion, especially for lower-income residents, was the lax lending practices that preceded the housing collapse. Unqualified buyers were granted mortgages, foreclosure rates soared and many families were evicted and went in search of affordable housing, often in older suburbs.

That dispels the notion that this movement to suburbia reflects rising incomes for African Americans, Tauheed says.

Aside from affluent black suburbs of Atlanta and Washington, D.C., “There’s been no increase (in incomes),” he says. Tauheed calls the decline in segregation a momentary change triggered by blacks settling into older suburbs close to the city.