Thursday 16 December 2010

New US data shows falling segregation and the suburbanisation of poverty

The US Census Bureau has released data from its American Community Survey, which over the last five years surveyed an incredible 10 million addresses resulting a dataset that is both granular and richly informative. But more importantly, the New York Times has used the data to produce some cool maps which attracted a lot of attention over the past few days. You can explore the data here as you can see, they have adopted for their ethnicity maps a style quite similar to the Bill Rankin/Eric Fisher maps I copied for my own map of London.

While the data seems to show that the long trend of falling segregation has continued and perhaps even accelerated, there are still some remarkably segregated major cities in America, such as Detroit and Philadelphia. I was particularly struck by the ethnic distributions in Los Angeles, where the coastal areas seem to be dominated by white people, while there are huge swathes of predominantly Hispanic areas further inland. Probably not surprising to your average American, but it was news to me.

The new data also includes information on income and housing costs, and over at Discovering Urbanism they have been looking at income changes in inner cities as compared to suburbs. Do go read the full post, but the basic message is that incomes seem to be rising in city centres and falling in many suburbs. This is consistent with what has been called (using the US spelling) the 'suburbanization of poverty', and with research suggesting that people increasingly value the lifestyles offered by inner cities now that crime has fallen and deindustrialisation has cleaned up their environments. This urban renaissance is of course a double-edged sword, in that there is a risk of these newly gentrifying city centre areas becoming unaffordable for the poor and hostile to new housing supply, while poverty rises in suburbs arguably less well-equipped to cope with it.

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