How segregated is New York City?

Update: I wrote this in the comments, but several people have asked about it and not everyone makes it down there: this post focuses on white-black segregation because that, for various social and historical reasons, has been by far the most significant geographic separation in American cities, certainly in the Midwest and Northeast. But by far the second most significant separation – white-Latino segregation – is also very extreme in New York. The same Census analysis that found NYC was the second-most-segregated metro area in terms of white and black people found that it was the third-most-segregated metro area in terms of white and Latino people. That’s obviously not the end of the story either, though. If you know about or are curious about some other aspect of segregation, leave a comment.


The online reaction to the recent reports on racial segregation in New York state’s public schools reminded me, yet again, that most people think of New York as an integrated city, and are surprised or incredulous when that impression is contradicted.

This is somewhat jarring, since virtually every attempt to actually measure racial segregation suggests that New York is one of the most segregated cities in the country. This University of Michigan analysis of 2010 Census data, for example, suggests that New York is the second-most-segregated metropolitan area in the U.S., exceeded only by Milwaukee, and that about 78% of white and black people would have to move in order to achieve perfect integration. (Chicago’s corresponding number is just over 76%, good enough for third place.)

Why is this so surprising? One obvious reason, I think, is that most people’s conception of New York is limited to about 1/2 of Manhattan and maybe 1/6 of Brooklyn, areas that are among the largest job and tourist centers in the world. As a result, they attract people of all different ethnic backgrounds, especially during the day, even if the people who actually live in those areas tend to be monochromatic. Imagine, in other words, trying to judge racial segregation in Chicago by walking around the Loop and adjacent areas: you would probably conclude that you were in a pretty integrated city.

But it goes beyond that, I think. Segregation in New York doesn’t look like segregation in Chicago, or a lot of smaller Rust Belt cities. For one, there just aren’t very many monolithically black neighborhoods left in New York. Here, for example, I’ve highlighted every neighborhood that’s at least 90% African American:


Were we to do this in Chicago, half the South and West Sides would be lit up. But in New York, black neighborhoods have become significantly mixed, in particular with people of Hispanic descent. This is a phenomenon Chicagoans are used to in formerly all-white communities – places like Jefferson Park or Bridgeport, which as recently as 1980 were overwhelmingly white, now have very large Latino and Asian populations – but in New York, it’s happened in both white and black neighborhoods.

That said, white folks in New York have still on the whole declined to move to black areas, except for some nibbling along the edges in Harlem and central Brooklyn. That means that instead of measuring segregation the way we might in Chicago – by looking for very high concentrations of a single ethnic group – it makes more sense to look for the absence of either white or black people.

Here, then, I’ve highlighted all the places where white people make up less than 10% of the population:


It’s a lot. And, correspondingly, here are all the places where black people make up less than 10% of the population:


It’s also a lot. And if we put the two maps together, we see that these two categories cover the overwhelming majority of NYC:


The same pattern holds pretty well if we lower the threshold to no more than 5% white or black:


And there are even a significant number of areas that are truly hypersegregated, with fewer than 2% of residents being either white or black:


Because I now love GIFs, here’s a summary GIF.


What does all this tell us? For one, it confirms graphically what the Census numbers suggested, which is that the median black New Yorker lives in a neighborhood with very few white people, and vice versa.

But it also suggests a racial landscape that looks different from that of Chicago, and lots of other American cities, in important ways. In particular, where Chicago has a relatively simple racial geography – white neighborhoods at various levels of integration with Hispanics and Asians to the north and northwest, black and Hispanic neighborhoods to the south and west, with only a few small islands like Hyde Park and Bridgeport that break the pattern – New York’s segregated neighborhoods form a more complex patchwork across the city. That means that while a North Sider in Chicago might go years without having to even pass through a black neighborhood, lots of white New Yorkers have to get through the non-white parts of Brooklyn or the Bronx to reach job and entertainment districts in Manhattan or northern Brooklyn.

I imagine that structural-geographic fact, combined with New York’s relatively high level of black-Hispanic integration, goes a long way to explaining my anecdotal experience that white New Yorkers tend to be less ignorant and scared of their city’s non-white neighborhoods than white Chicagoans are of Chicago’s. (There’s some interesting research that suggests white people tend to be more sympathetic to brown people, and their neighborhoods, than black people and theirs.) There’s also, of course, the fact that Chicago’s segregated non-white neighborhoods tend to have much higher violent crime rates, and much more modest business districts, than New York’s, although that’s likely both an effect and cause of their relative isolation.

All of this is another reason that I’m kind of excited about the growing entertainment and shopping district on 53rd St. in Hyde Park, since the more that the South Side has “neighborhood downtown” strips that draw people from across the city, the more likely North Siders and suburbanites are to travel through the black and Latino neighborhoods that surround them, observe that many of them are actually quite nice, become less committed to shunning them, and thus contribute less to the social and economic dynamics that have created the institution of the ghetto, and the poor job prospects, failing schools, and high crime rates that accompany it.

In conclusion: New York is super segregated, but the numbers aren’t everything.

Also, let me have another Talk To Me Like I’m Stupid moment: suggestions for books about the racial history of New York? What’s the equivalent of Making the Second Ghetto or Family Properties? I’ve already read Caro’s Moses book.

About these ads

36 thoughts on “How segregated is New York City?

  1. A lot of the segregation statistics assume everyone is white or black, which creates problems in cities where the white + black population is only a small majority. As an artifact of methodology, they tend to show a lot of integration in metro areas that are nearly all-white, like Salt Lake City.

    • There aren’t very many large metro areas that are that white. But point taken – just looking at the dissimilarity index for blacks and whites is an imperfect measure. That said, New York also ranks as the third-most-segregated metro area in the country in terms of whites and Hispanics. That’s not a bulletproof number either, obviously, but I think the general takeaway that New York is highly segregated isn’t really disputable.

  2. I actually think that it’s a little too simplistic to look solely at where people live when thinking about racial segregation or integration. In NYC thanks to the subway as well as our workplaces, we’re in regular contact with people of all races. Yeah, NYC might not be a rainbow paradise, but there would be a lot more racial animosity were it not for the fact that people of all races come together fairly often and at least see each other as human beings (for the most part).

  3. Agreed. It would help to see the numbers for Hispanic, AAPI and mixed race populations too.

    On another note, in this piece you point out that while New Yorkers may live in highly segregated neighborhoods, they move through and possibly work/play in more mixed neighborhoods. Obviously location of residence has a very direct effect on the diversity of neighborhood schools, but I would also argue that segregation shouldn’t just be measured by residence. Especially in New York where people live in tiny apartments that they might not spend much time in except while they’re sleeping, an individual could have a diverse experience of the city during most of his/her waking hours.

  4. New York isn’t the proverbial melting pot, it’s really more like a collage of colors. People choose to live where they will, there are no institutionalized restrictions. People are free to move about where ever they want, subways lead the way. That there are such neighborhoods is just an outcome of our choices.

    • This is very much not true. A few Google searches should be enough to convince you of that, if you’re interested in learning. Try “redlining,” “Sweet Land of Liberty,” and “neighborhood composition rule” for starters.

      • I’m very familiar with redlining and that has set forth much of the segregation. However, what is in play now that restricts an African-American household from moving to a <5% African-American census tract? Also it should be noted that immigrant populations, especially first and second generation, find it desirable to live in communities where the majority of residents are from the same county/region of the world.

      • The idea that centuries of coercion can be undone in a few years seems pretty self-evidently silly to me. The legacy of enforced segregation isn’t just that white and black (and Asian and Hispanic) people woke up one day and found themselves in separate neighborhoods; there’s a ton of social and economic baggage that goes with it. I don’t really understand how that could be controversial.

        Not to mention, of course, that there’s still a decent amount of discrimination in the housing market.

  5. Why are you using color as a basis for segregation and not income? This is the barrier to living in some neighborhoods and is likely the cause for the racial makeup of certain locations but race isn’t the factor here.

    • That is a very complicated question. The short version is that race is a relevant variable in terms of social cohesion, economic and political power, and so on. A longer version I went through here.

  6. Um, as far as I can tell my comment was truncated oddly? I said:
    So by saying 5% of whites live in Prospect Park are you implying that >5% of blacks do live there? Or at JFK airport? Why are those areas even colored?

  7. You might want to filter your dataset to include only areas where more than a trivial number of people live, including Central Park, Liberty Island, Jamaica Bay, JFK and LGA. The latter three make up a significant portion of Queens though I don’t think they necessarily change the overall picture.

  8. Just out of curiosity: what percentage of the population are African-Americans in New York City? If they make up 8% of the population, the fact that a given neighborhood has less than 10% African-Americans doesn’t mean there’s segregation; it just means the distribution is what you would expect in an unsegregated neighborhood.

  9. On most of these maps, large parks, airports and uninhabited islands are counted as non-white areas. This seems misleading.

    • True! A smarter blogger would have created some sort of filter to get rid of very low-population Census tracts, although a lot of times they link up big empty areas with other populated areas, so that likely wouldn’t have solved the entire problem.

  10. “The mosaic of subcultures requires that hundreds of
    different cultures live, in their own way, at full intensity,
    next door to one another. But subcultures have their own
    ecology. They can only live at full intensity, unhampered
    by their neighbors, if they are physically separated by
    physical boundaries. ”

    –Christopher Alexander, “A Pattern Language”

  11. I wondered what “perfect” integration would look like for you? I can’t find the article, but there was a study showing that black respondents would prefer to live in an integrated neighborhood that had a 50/50 mix and white respondents would prefer to live in an integrated neighborhood that had a mix that matched the demographics of the area. A 50/50 mix is impossible because of our demographic breakdown. I am trying to figure out how 78% of folks would have to move to make a 75/25 mix.

    • Yeah, obviously there’s a difference between statistically “perfect” integration, which is literally no concentration whatsoever, and what people actually want. The research suggests that blacks and whites tend to want some amount of integration, but white people are generally comfortable with a lower level of integration than black people, which leads to problems.

  12. There’s a fine line between segregation and homophily.

    In my own research in Philadelphia I’ve found that while there are a lot of census tracts that are +90% black there are only 8 that are +90% white (non-hispanic). Of those 8, two of them are on the suburban fringe of the city. Perhaps counter-intuitively 5 of the 8 are working poor to poor white neighborhoods.

    Given the presence of Chinese, Korean, Puerto Rican, Italian enclaves, etc It would appear that the middle class in Philadelphia (I would suspect NYC as well) is reasonably well integrated in terms of residence. Even the wealthiest neighborhoods are mostly in the 70-85% white range.

    It’s the lowest end of the income spectrum that experiences the highest levels of segregation.

  13. We could have a lot more fun analyzing the why’s of “segregation” if the maps would give us the usual common neighborhood-names of the shaded areas. .Also stating the make-up of dominant populations of ethnic majority-minorities. Is it possible these areas of “segregation” have priced-out lower-income folks. Or are simply exceedingly desirable waterfront property that is passed down from generation to generation. Or follow immigrations’ ebbs and flows from those respective countries. As a lifelong “white” resident of the Bronx I highly doubt that their is much insidious segregation here. Whatever vestiges of higher priced real estate Blacks are priced out of, I too am priced out of. I am in a neighborhood that Whites have dwindled down to nothing and so I am a segregated minority am I not? I certainly feel Isolated in that I have nary a racial peer group to associate and identify with. From my perspective, I would entitle the article as “the myth of segregation in New York City”. I would ask to what good end is this article written? Better to analyze the surrounding largely wealthy surrounding counties of New York City, where the representatives of “White-Flight” reside and the many-many truly “segregated” communities are likely located.

    • I mean, I’ve written about economic segregation pretty extensively here, but racial segregation is mostly *not* an artifact of economic segregation. So I don’t really accept that economics is the only relevant way to interpret this.

  14. First, there are some neighborhoods that are both less than 10% black and 10% white, particularly in the Bronx where there’s a majority Latino population, and Queens in majority Asian tracts. You could have them show up as a separate color or your combined map instead of choosing between your two categories.

    Second, I haven’t found a great book on segregation in NYC on par with Family Properties. That being said, there is an excellent book on Brooklyn by Craig Steven Wilder called A Covenant With Color (

    I frequently talk with students and community organizations about the history of redlining and disinvestment, focusing on the Bronx. Instead of waiting for an academic to write it, I’m working on a simple version that would be suitable for high school level readers.

    As per some of the other comments, I will usually place a layer for parks and airports over this kind of map to minimize the criticisms.

  15. I’m going to a add a few comments on NYC that might be insightful even though they’re a bit of a nitpick. First, I’m not sure if this a good assumption:

    But in New York, black neighborhoods have become significantly mixed, in particular with people of Hispanic descent.

    You’re assuming those neighborhoods were entirely black at one point and then hispanics came later for some reason. I don’t think that’s a good assumption, I’d guess they arrived at roughly the same time. Large-scale migration of hispanics into NYC started mainly in the 50s, and was mostly Puerto Ricans, looking at wikipedia numbers it looks like the Puerto Rican influx was slightly earlier than the black migration, which continued into the 60s and later. The poorest Puerto Ricans settled in the some of the same areas as blacks. The South Bronx was roughly equally hispanic (Puerto Rican) and black around 1970, today it’s about 2/3rds hispanic but with a more diverse mix of hispanics. The housing projects also become dominated mainly by blacks and Puerto Ricans, though some projects are mostly blacks and others mostly hispanic, though I suppose. Hispanics average significantly lower income-wise than blacks in NYC, and NYC Puerto Ricans tend to below average income-wise among NYC hispanics, I’d guess Puerto Ricans were poorer than blacks then, too. Unskilled, discriminated against with the added difficulty of a language and cultural barrier. The many that had little money moved to the cheapest and worst neighborhoods the city had to offer, which often had a large black population. In many ways, back then, it makes sense to group hispanics and blacks together, especially pre-1980. But…

    It appears blacks triggered faster “white flight” than Puerto Ricans. Many Puerto Ricans lived amongst blacks, but there were many more mixed white & Puerto Rican neighborhoods than white & black neighborhoods. For example, Williamsburg, Brooklyn pre-gentrification was mixed Puerto Rican and white (mainly Italian-American); still has some Puerto Ricans left. I think there were a number of other similar neighborhoods, but not so many stable mixed white-black neighborhoods. If you look at sites with old maps by race, such as (you’ll need the professional edition), the black population was far more concentrated than the hispanic population. Looking through by decade, you can see census tracts near a black neighborhood shift from mostly not black to mostly black. Want to guess which neighborhoods would have a quick decrease in white population? Check the black population map a decade before, areas adjacent would lose whites. Hispanics weren’t as segregated, which suggests that white flight was more of a racial than just an economic thing. Violent crime rates were higher among the black population, but in the late 70s/early 80s the hispanic/black difference was small, suggesting both populations were equally “ghettoized” in some sense, but fear of blacks seemed to cause more white flight than fear of hispanics.

    Hispanic Murder rate dropped more than blacks, probably partly from heavy immigration starting in the 80s onward as well dismantling of drug gangs. 2011 rate was 1.4/100k for whites, 5.9/100k for hispanics, 14.6 for blacks and 1.5 for Asians.

    Here’s a screenshot of a map of black population in NYC, 1970 [didn't take a screenshot of a similar map for hispanics]–rZIwBiaNxs/Us7eQ-jROBI/AAAAAAAAEyA/ct5NRZckEqI/s720/ny%25201970%2520-%2520%2520Black.png

    Chicago looked very different in 1970:

    both from socialexplorer. It appears the equivalent of the South Bronx in Chicago in the 70s/80s would have been entirely black, rather than mixed black-hispanic. From what I can tell “white flight” in NYC came in two types:

    1) Sudden very quick transformation from mostly white to minority. Usually more often from an influx of blacks then hispanics, and occurred in the poorest white neighborhoods, but generally mainly by near an increasing black population (block busting). Usually had white flight in the 60s or early 70s. South Bronx, Northeast Brooklyn are the best examples.

    2) Gradual decrease of white population, starting later maybe in the 70s. Younger generations of whites slowed moved away, I heard them being described as “grandma neighborhoods”, since the non-transplant whites are older. They have often have some white population left, and a large immigrant population, but almost no black people (sometimes every possible race besides black). Southern Brooklyn and a lot of Queens are good examples of these places. While they were majority white, blacks were often discouraged from moving in by implied threats of violence.

    Here’s an odd pattern. The three blackest zip codes in NYC are actually well off by city standards:–black-population-percentage–zip-code-rank.htm?hl=13202&hlst=NY&yr=8000

    Top on the list (zip code 11411) has a median income of $81k/year, median home price of $404k. 93% black, 38% foreign born. Random streetview:,-73.736204&spn=0.03488,0.084543&client=safari&oe=UTF-8&hnear=Cambria+Heights,+New+York+11411&gl=us&t=m&layer=c&cbll=40.696835,-73.736204&panoid=LAh9PCxf_WyzGSSEZDONzw&cbp=12,30.1,,0,-3.46&z=14

    My guess is it’s too expensive for poorer hispanics (mostly owner-occupied homes), and whites or middle-class hispanics see little reason to move there, while some middle-class blacks want to move to a nice black neighborhood. Of course it was white at one, a bunch of synagoues in the area stand out as an odd relic, a couple have been bought by churches. Again, the white flight must have racial rather than economic as it’s not really any poorer than white neighborhoods in that area of Queens/Nassau.

    The black population of NYC has a large immigrant contingent, but instead of black immigration breaking down segregated neighborhoods, it helped keep their setup. Since 1980, the black population has had a large domestic out-migration with the black numbers balanced by black immigration (mainly from the Caribbean but also from Africa). I saw numbers saying in 2000, 40% of NYC’s black population was either foreign born or had one foreign born parent. Most black immigrants moved to existing black neighborhoods, keeping the same segregation pattern. One interesting exception is some neighborhoods in Queens, there’s a section that’s mixed asian-black-hispanic. The largest black area of NYC [Northeast Brooklyn, with a larger black population than South Side Chicago] hosts the West Indian parade annually (maybe the city’s largest parade):

    There are a number of neighborhoods in NYC that experienced white flight that have no black people. Sunset Park, Brooklyn has few white people, it had large-scale white flight around the time of de-industrialization around 1970. Puerto Ricans replaced the exiting whites, but no blacks. Today, western half of it is hispanic (mix of Puerto Rican and Mexicans), the eastern half is Chinese. The switch between the two groups happens in about a block, it’s a bit jarring. Continue east further, and it’s almost entirely Hasidic Jewish (Borough Park) with another quick transition. Almost no blacks today in any of those places. Washington Heights switched from White to Dominican rather quickly, you have it labelled as <10% black, though it has plenty of black hispanics.

  16. Manhattan (south of Harlem) looks more diverse to me than the Chicago Loop / Near North Side though I haven’t spent much time in Chicago. Maybe because the Chicago Loop is more office only than Manhattan [not quite a fair comparison as Manhattan south of Harlem has one million], there’s probably other reasons. There’s few mostly white subway lines in NYC, in Manhattan it’s not that common for a subway car to be mostly white. The local black accent sounds sounds less southern and closer to the traditional city accent in NYC than Chicago.

    I’m not sure if the neighborhood business districts in minority areas would change perception much. New York City business districts in minority areas tend to get ignored by white New Yorkers. Fordham Road in a poor area of The Bronx has some of the highest pedestrian counts in the city (at least outside of Manhattan, might be busier than Michigan Ave.):,+Bronx,+NY&hl=en&ll=40.862414,-73.89636&spn=0.017396,0.042272&sll=42.32959,-72.6634&sspn=0.136044,0.338173&oq=fordh&hnear=Fordham+Heights,+Manhattan,+Bronx+County,+New+York&t=m&z=15&layer=c&cbll=40.86227,-73.895884&panoid=zR9kDiM0mgcnp0krhm4zYQ&cbp=12,94.66,,0,4.29

    busy part is between Webster and Jerome Ave. It’s just off the map of white New Yorkers, it draws minorities from outside the neighborhood but not many whites. Maybe white Chicagoans are more frightened of a commercial area in poor minority areas, and white New Yorkers just ignore them. Downtown Brooklyn has the Fulton Street pedestrian mall with a mostly black clientele, with a decent selection shops though lean towards lower-end. By sales, it’s one of the higher ones in the city, with sales making up for the low-end. But there’s a perception among whites that the pedestrian mall is doing badly and needs to spruced up with “better stores” added. The local whites in that area tend to go to Manhattan for shopping while blacks from further away in Brooklyn go to the Fulton Street Mall. From what I can tell, the South Side is lower in density than other parts of Chicago, so perhaps it discourages dense business district, most poor minority areas of NYC are denser than Chicago’s North Side. I think in the high-crime 80s white New Yorkers fear of minority area was much higher [think the South Bronx of Bonfire of the Vanities or a Billy Joel song where his list of crazy things he did was walk in Bed-Stuy alone]

    • The South Side is generally less dense than the North, but it’s still mostly 10,000-20,000 people per square mile (in the populated areas – there are a lot of industrial patches), which is more than enough to support local business strips, but for a variety of reasons there aren’t very many in black areas. Hispanic neighborhoods, on the other hand, have a ton: 18th St. in Pilsen has long been a bustling business and Mexican bohemian area, and it’s been gentrifying for several years now; 26th in Little Village is supposedly the second-busiest commercial street in the city, after Michigan. You won’t see too many white people there, but it’s still miles closer to the average white Chicagoan’s consciousness than, say, 79th or 75th in black Greater Grand Crossing and Chatham.

      • I’ve noticed hispanic immigrant neighborhoods tend to feel busier pedestrian-wise than I’d expect for the type of neighborhood / town. In any case, while the South Side may be dense enough, it’s lower density compared to poor NYC neighborhoods might it more difficult. Neighborhoods in the western half of the Bronx average around 60,000 to 90,000 per square mile in populated areas, minority areas Brooklyn somewhat lower, maybe 40,000 to 70,000. That Queens view I posted is similar density-wise to the South Side of Chicago but it’s much wealthier.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s