The new asymmetry of segregation

A while ago, in one of his dumber moments, the urban economist Ed Glaeser wrote a report for the Manhattan Institute called “The End of the Segregated Century.” The headline came from the finding that all-white neighborhoods – meaning, literally, neighborhoods in which there existed not a single non-white person – were basically extinct for the first time in American history. Glaeser admitted that, of course, there were a good deal of the opposite type of neighborhoods – ones in which there were literally, or virtually, no white people – but minimized them by pointing out that most had declining populations. The emphasized takeaway was “the end of segregation.”*

Many people at the time pointed out that this conclusion was exceedingly silly. More recently, though, Dan Keating at Wonkblog took Glaeser’s data and drew a much more insightful, and important, conclusion: Segregation still exists, but “The End of the Segregated Century” does show that it’s changed in a really dramatic way over the last 40 years. Where once residential segregation was more or less symmetrical – over here we have overwhelmingly white neighborhoods, and over here overwhelmingly black ones – contemporary segregation is asymmetrical. White neighborhoods are increasingly mixed with Latino and Asian families (and a handful of African-American ones), while black neighborhoods are still basically all-black.

Keating illustrates that change by highlighting neighborhoods that are more than 85% white or 85% black in various cities around the country:

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 2.39.03 PM Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 2.39.14 PM Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 2.39.25 PM

I had actually made a very similar series of maps before this was published, although I think Keating’s are easier to read. In mine, every neighborhood is colored according to a “segregation index,” which is just the percentage of residents who belong to the area’s largest racial/ethnic group. As a result, you can’t directly see which areas are mostly white and which are mostly black, but you can see a bit more detail in changes over time.



Every decade since 1980 has seen the gradual integration of neighborhoods all over Cook County, turning the heart of the Chicago metro area from a place where the typical neighborhood was 90-95%, or more, of a single ethnicity, to one in which those kind of communities are relatively rare.

Except for black neighborhoods.

Which have remained almost uniformly 95%+ black.

Ironically, this shift is partly explained by another Glaeser paper. In “The Rise and Decline of the American Ghetto,” he and another economist named Jacob Vigdor use data on housing prices, levels of segregation, and legal context to suggest that the forces that built and sustained black-white segregation from the early 20th century until about 1970 are different than the forces that sustain it today.

The theory goes that up until 1970, segregation was enforced through what Glaeser and Vigdor call “collective action racism”: that is, white people got together and decided to, say, legally prohibit the sale of homes in white neighborhoods to blacks, or use the housing finance system to keep blacks in certain communities, or build public housing in such a way that it maintained segregation. Outside of the legal system, whites organized formally and informally to intimidate blacks who moved into their neighborhoods. Sometimes, that looked like racist signs and vandalism. Sometimes, it looked like bombings, beatings, and riots.

This is the polite version.
This is the polite version.

But the Civil Rights era eviscerated a lot of the legal and financial systems that kept blacks and other non-whites out of white neighborhoods. (Even if it didn’t create new systems to reverse those wrongs.) Outright discrimination on the part of realtors or home sellers became much more risky. (Although it’s still quite common.) Slowly, it became unacceptable – from the point of view of both white peers and the police – to respond to a black person in your neighborhood by throwing a bomb through their window. (Though high-profile segregatory violence continued through the 1970s and beyond, especially around the issue of school integration.)

What didn’t change, however, was whites’ overwhelming preference not to live around black people. So segregation has declined only very slowly, thanks to what Glaeser and Vigdor call “decentralized racism.” By “decentralized racism,” they mean essentially shunning: whites won’t move to black neighborhoods, and they will flee their own neighborhoods if too many black people move into them. One result is that while in the pre-Civil Rights era, blacks paid more for housing than whites – because they were forced into relatively small, overcrowded neighborhoods with an inadequate supply of homes – today, whites pay more than blacks, in part because whites bid up prices in the limited number of communities with a sufficiently small number of black people. (Raising the possibility of racial arbitrage – a possibility which, as we discussed, has so far gone unfulfilled, because non-blacks apparently really don’t want to live around black people.)

Another way to visualize this is to show the change in the “segregation index” from 2000 to 2010.


Despite noticeable shifts all over Cook County – from the desegregating suburbs in the southwest, west, northwest, and north, to the increasingly-segregated (white) North Side, (Latino) far Southwest Side, and (white-becoming-black) south suburbs, the established black ghettos on the city’s West and South Sides are almost totally unchanged.

Why does this matter? There are a number of things, but one in particular, I think, is that it suggests one of the problems with segregation: the issue is not just that white and black people live in different neighborhoods, but that black neighborhoods are shunned in a way that other ethnic enclaves – from Pilsen to Chinatown to the Indian-Pakistani Devon Avenue – are not, and in a way with really powerful negative consequences for successful businesses, schools, wealth building through homeownership, and so on. This is one reason that I’m so allergic to the rhetoric around violence in Chicago: treating the entire black South and West Sides as if they were “war zones” – places where you take your life in your hands just visiting – is one of the main ways that the shunning of black neighborhoods is openly justified among whites and other non-blacks. It’s why a bunch of ten-year-olds wrote an open letter to the rest of the city begging you not to be afraid of them.

There are, however, a handful of places where black neighborhoods are integrating in Chicago. I’ll go over them in more detail in a future post.

* It’s a pattern that recurs with some frequency: Glaeser does excellent empirical work, and then draws odd conclusions from the very useful numbers he finds.


12 thoughts on “The new asymmetry of segregation

  1. From the map it looks like DC actually has seen a number of neighborhoods go from segregated black neighborhoods to integrated ones within the actual city, especially west of the Anacostia river, albeit with a large increase in black segregation in PG county. Any Idea of why this might be happening there?

    1. Yeah – my guess would be that a) DC is one of a handful of American cities (NYC and SF being the others I can think of) with middle/upper-class demand for housing that just ridiculously outstrips supply, thanks to the federal government and its myriad well-funded institutional hangers-on, which puts pressure on whites who want to live near high-amenity neighborhoods to move into areas they wouldn’t otherwise consider; and b) DC was a majority-black city up until relatively recently, which means there were very few affordable non-black neighborhoods available to whites who wanted to live near the high-amenity center. (Unlike, say, Chicago, which has managed to gentrify huge swaths of the city without really touching any black neighborhoods by filling in the large number of Latino and working-class white areas.)

  2. According to your article in August of 2013, the west and south sides are the only areas of the city with increasing murder rates. That may not make them “war zones” but it certainly does make them places not to live if you have other options.

    1. *Some* of the South and West Sides. Bronzeville, for example, has seen one of the steepest drops in the city, but has mostly not seen much integration.

      1. Okay so I’m a big wind bag, but these two comments address mine below. I think the jury is out on Bronzeville. I think it has recently become poised for gentrification. The West & South Loop bubble/collapse was just last housing cycle, and now those neighborhoods are really becoming vibrant. I think as the blue line corridor gentrifies and the next wave of expansion occurs you will have a lot of evidence one way or the other. I think Chinatown is it’s own animal, but by comparing Pilsen, Bridgeport, McKinley Park, and Bronzeville you will have some good data to point to.

        But I think the Blue Line gentrification got started because Wicker Park/Bucktown was near Lincoln Park/River North, not just the loop, and not just because it was a Hispanic neighborhood rather than a black one.

      2. Also worth mentioning in Bronzeville is that ALL the property located East of MLK Boulevard (West of the Metra Electric/ Burnham Park obviously) and between I-55 (25th street) and 35th street, a 1.2 mile stretch, is owned by one Real Estate company, Draper & Kramer. It’s two huge pieces called Prairie Shores and Lake Meadows, and recently Curbed picked up a rumor that Lake Meadows may be on the table for redevelopment:

        Below that, with a small gap in between lies the former Ida B. Wells housing project that CHA is very gradually (and of course somewhat controversially) redeveloping into “Oakwood Shores”:

        Further West, by the train, you also have the IIT campus, which probably both helps and inhibits development at the same time (much like UIC I imagine).

        And don’t forget Lakeside, which is WAY down there by Indiana:

        Now THAT’s a bold project!

      3. Thanks for all the thoughts. And yeah, the Prairie Shores/Lake Meadows stretch of Bronzeville is really interesting for a number of reasons, contemporary (which I’ll write about soon) and historic.

        Lakeside, I’ll believe when I see.

      4. You wrote below that you plan on writing about the Prairie Shores/Oak Meadows portion of Bronzeville. I’m impatiently waiting for your post. I am not a patient person and when promises are made I expect them to be upheld. Like KOCO (Kenwood Oakland Community Organization) I refuse to accept any good that comes from you as long as it’s not exactly what I want!

        It’s a very curious area indeed, demographically as well as geographically. I’m sure you already planned on it but I would suggest you include the magestic mile of concrete to the north that serves as storage for hundreds of semi trucks. With the value of that land, I can’t imagine the best use of it is to store big, beautiful orange Schneiders. To me it seems that the barrier that is McCormick place to southward development would not be nearly as effective if this parking lot saw more than trailers on its premises.

        Maybe it’s a protective ordinance for the land rights of trucks? Since we’re not allowing them on LSD, we had to give them “right to return” to lakefront land?

        OK, I’ll stop. Looking forward to your post……………………………………..patiently

      5. Ha! Guilty as charged. I suppose it won’t help if I tell you that I’ve already run all the numbers and made the maps I want, and am just waiting myself for an editor to say yes or no to publishing it somewhere else? To the extent I have the power to say, I promise it’ll be up in the next week or two. I’m pretty eager myself to get it out of my to-do pile!

        I agree that the weird land use between, I guess, 31st and 26th is really notable. I’m not totally sure what to make of it. Do you know when it became truck/taxi storage?

      6. Unfortunately I haven’t been around long enough to remember anything else on the land. Alot of the plans I remember reading about for this land over the years involve elevating whatever structure is being proposed above the existing concrete. Even some of the Olympics plans were calling for elevated structures above the trucks. Then this summer some Trib article suggested putting the Lucas museum there…………elevated!

        Talk about preservation. It has boggled me for quite a while also. But the preservation of the parking lot that keeps popping up is just strange.

        The trucks are obviously used for exhibitions at Mccormick. Some buses park there for the museums which serves a need. Also some people use it as a boondock to park their RVs while in town. That’s what I call it…”The Boondocks”

        It does serve some need in the city but those factors hardly justify its complete disruption of the urban fabric on some very valuable land. If only south loop development could pogo-stick over Mccormick. If a big developer picks up the Lake Meadows site and ponders big plans for a “planned community” I’d also like to see the city sell them the Michael Reese site and then muster “The Boondocks” from McCormick.

        When you figure in the Michael Reese site and Lake Meadows you’re talking about a HUGE amount of land. The parking lot runs even north of 26th. I’d say to around 2300-2400 south. It should all be ripped up. I’m sorry Mccormick but I just don’t think any type of parking lot belongs on that land. Divert the trucks to vacant land somewhere else. There’s plenty of it.

        The land would then stretch from say 24th to 35th and King Dr to the lake. Its infinitely more feasible than Lakeside. In a three or four years it might make more sense to suitors I’d say. End of speculative rant.

        Good luck with publishing and don’t let whiny commenters like me rush you. Take your time.

  3. Good post Daniel.

    I haven’t read the Glaeser piece, but I think the title “The End of the Segregated Century” is spot on. However I agree the conclusion “The End of Segregation” is way off. The 20th Century (plus the 2000-2010 decade) saw a tremendous arc as the US kicked off by feeling the effects of the agricultural & industrial revolutions and the invention of the automobile; the US urbanized its population and went through the Great Depression, the rise of the suburb, the Civil Rights movement, the reign of “collective action racism”, the rise of crack/cocaine and other drugs and the resulting war against them, the internet/cell phone revolution, a shift toward urban gentrification, and a major housing bubble.

    All that led up to where we are today. I think we can appreciate progress we’ve made between 1950 and today and at the same time, acknowledge that there are millions of US citizens (many of them black) who are in situations of distress that are at least partially caused by the circumstances of the community they are born into. We are not done yet, although I am optimistic as to what the future will look like in another 65 years time as long as people like yourself keep fighting the good fight. Rome was not built in a day.

    As to your comment:
    “This is one reason that I’m so allergic to the rhetoric around violence in Chicago: treating the entire black South and West Sides as if they were “war zones” – places where you take your life in your hands just visiting – is one of the main ways that the shunning of black neighborhoods is openly justified among whites and other non-blacks.”

    I appreciate the way you approach the topic. And I agree that the rhetoric can get quite hyperbolic, take on racial overtones, and ignore the differences between different neighborhood enclaves on the south & west sides. I also think that blaming the people who live in those neighborhoods for their circumstances is generally wrong and unproductive. And let me state in no uncertain terms that while there is obvious “correlation” between overwhelmingly black neighborhoods, crime, and poverty, I vehemently oppose anyone who asserts that there is “causation” between blackness and the latter two.

    However, I think you go too far when you say these neighborhoods are still shunned just because they are made up of black people.

    Here are two sets of maps of Chicago that are “race blind”: 1. the homicide rate maps you created, and 2. the CPS socio-economic tier maps:

    As you said: “By the late 2000s, the most dangerous part of the city had nearly fifteen times more homicides than the safest third.”

    It’s fairly obvious that anyone would choose to “shun” the worst areas on these maps, which by the way mostly overlap with each other. The fact that they also happen to be black neighborhoods is not what drives my decision to avoid them.

  4. “treating the entire black South and West Sides as if they were “war zones” – places where you take your life in your hands just visiting – is one of the main ways that the shunning of black neighborhoods is openly justified among whites and other non-blacks.”

    The problem is that it’s not necessarily untrue, and thinking of the concern as a prejudiced point of view doesn’t fix one of the core causes of the segregation. I grew up the only white kid on my block in the seventies and I was jumped roughly once every other year (three times, and one attempted abduction), at least one of those had me pretty messed up- and I didn’t even think it was unusual at the time. It just seemed to be how everything worked.

    Until that part gets fixed, and to be fair here the city has done some good work in this regard- for example, quick grafitti cleanup means I can’t tell where gang boundaries are like I used to, or just the overall drops in crime rates which open up a few areas like rogers park/logan square/cabrini as an option that wouldn’t have been there a decade or two ago means that the filtering in is going to happen on the margins. No one’s going to drop into the middle of englewood, it will be approached from the edges. How to encourage this further, I’m not so sure other then just general neighborhood improvement.

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