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Economic segregation in cities

From Wonkblog:

Concentrated poverty is one of the biggest problems facing cities today, as more of the urban poor become isolated in neighborhoods where the people around them are poor, too. Growing economic segregation across cities, though, is also shaped by a parallel, even stronger force: concentrated wealth.

A new analysis from Richard Florida and Charlotta Mellander at the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute, which identifies the most and least economically segregated metropolitan areas in the United States, makes clear that economic segregation today is heavily shaped by the choices of people at the top: “It is not so much the size of the gap between the rich and poor that drives segregation,” they write, “as the ability of the super-wealthy to isolate and wall themselves off from the less well-to-do.”

Florida and Mellander created an index of economic segregation that takes into account how we’re divided across metro areas by income, but also by occupation and education, two other pillars of what we often think of as socioeconomic status. Among the largest metros in the country, Austin ranks as the place where wealthy, college-educated professionals and less-educated, blue-collar workers are least likely to share the same neighborhoods.

Notably, that top-10 list has four Texas metros. The Washington metro area comes in just behind these big cities, as the 26th most economically segregated in the country, out of 359 U.S. metros. Orlando, Portland, Ore., and Minneapolis, meanwhile, are the least economically segregated among the metros with at least a million people.

Before calculating their combined index, Florida and Mellander also looked at separate measures of segregation by income, education and occupation, and an interesting pattern arises across all three. Within a given region, such as Washington, we can think about income segregation, for example, in at least two ways: To what degree are the wealthy isolated from everyone else? Or to what degree are the poor concentrated in just a few parts of town? The wealthy can be highly segregated in a metro area (occupying just a few neighborhoods), even while the poor are pretty evenly dispersed (with low segregation).

The interesting pattern: By income, the wealthy (households making more than $200,000 a year) are more segregated than the poor (families living under the federal poverty line). By education, people with college degrees are more segregated than people with less than a high school diploma. By occupation, the group that Florida has coined the “creative class” is more segregated than the working class.

The problem of economic segregation, in other words, isn’t simply about poor people pushed into already-poor neighborhoods — it’s even more so about the well-off choosing to live in places where everyone else is well-off, too.

Click over to see the charts. The Trib and the Chron both reposted this story, while the Statesman reported on it; it would be nice if one or more of them did some followup to examine the particulars in some more detail. I haven’t read through the study yet, but intuitively it feels right, and at least as far as inner Loop Houston goes, I’d say gentrification is a big driver of it. The increased desirability of neighborhoods like Montrose and the Heights have transformed them from bastions of cheap housing with scattered pockets of poshness to exactly the kind of segregated areas Florida and mellander describe, where lot value alone far exceeds what used to be the cost of a typical house. I don’t know what if anything can be done about this, but I do think it’s an issue that the Mayoral candidates ought to be talking about, since it really is changing our city in a fundamental way. What do you think?

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One Comment

  1. Jules says:

    One thing the city could have done was make affordable housing a part of the $75M tax giveaway to the downtown apartment builders. According to an episode of “Blue Bloods” that I watched, NYC makes at least some builders set aside 20% of their apartments for low income residents. (I’ve also heard this from other sources).

    This could have been entirely possible, as the ordinance on which the 380’s are based requires either 25 full-time 40-hour-a-week jobs that last 5 years OR documented affordable housing. None of the 380’s do either.