Mapping Segregation

Four decades have passed since the end of formal racial segregation in the United States, but as anyone can tell you, informal segregation remains a part of everyday life in many areas of the country. That becomes especially clear when you look at Eric Fischer‘s new maps of race and ethnicity in major American cities. In each of these new maps, one dot represents 25 people, and each dot’s colour represents a racial or ethnic group as defined by the US Census: non-Hispanic white is red, black is blue, Hispanic is orange and Asian is green.

Every city in the world is divided along some lines, be they ethnic, linguistic or economic, but what is shocking about Fischer’s maps is how many American cities remain starkly divided according to race. Just look at Detroit, where 8 Mile Road is visible not only as the border between city and suburbs but as the line of demarcation between black and white.

(Along with ethnicity, the maps also illustrate population density — the more densely-populated an area, the more opaque it appears on the map. What surprises me about the Detroit map, along with the starkness of the city’s racial divide, is how the city proper remains just as dense as the suburbs, despite massive depopulation.)

New York, probably the world’s most ethnically diverse city, looks a bit like a quilt, with different racial groups occupying distinct patches on the map. Manhattan below 96th Street is overwhelmingly white; central Brooklyn is mostly black; Union City in New Jersey, just across the river from Manhattan, is largely Hispanic. If the map were refined to individual cultural and ethnic groups, like Dominicans, Italians and Orthodox Jews, the city would look like even more like a mosaic. It’s more complicated than Detroit but just as segregated.

Is there a city that is perfectly integrated? The closest would appear to be San Bernardino, California, a sprawling satellite city near Los Angeles. White, black and Hispanic people seem to be scattered throughout the city in equal measure, with a fairly even distribution of Asian people, too.

All of these maps are based on data from the last US Census, which was taken in 2000. The results for this year’s census won’t be fully released until 2012. A lot has happened over the past decade — but has the pattern we see in Fischer’s maps changed?

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Monday September 27 2010at 09:09 pm , filed under Demographics, Maps, Society and Culture, United States and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

2 Responses to “Mapping Segregation”

  • C. Szabla says:

    Fascinating. There’s probably some degree of distortion that may result from the colors used and from viewing the maps at anything less than full size, but otherwise, it seems like suburban areas or sprawling cities — mainly in California, as well as quite a few suburbs of DC — were actually the most integrated places in the country in 2000.

    That may or may not have been true, but it’s important to remember that, in such suburbs, open space and car use segregates everyone from one another by default, and there’s potentially less face-to-face, on-the-street interaction between members of different races than in a “quilted” city like New York.

  • Muma says:

    Chris S: Nice article on Beijing, btw. Where I live, Silver Spring, MD, is pretty much exactly that sort of hyper diverse suburb; I live in a ranch house on car-centric street; the block population is a mix of Africans, Latinos, at least one Chinese family, and non-immigrant American Blacks and Whites. Does the car-centric nature of the area discourage interaction? I don’t think it does quite as much as you’d suspect–its more of a liminal area than a full-fledged suburb, but I probably should just write an article on it or something rather than post the hyper long comment this is becoming. Point–it really is diverse, integrated, and more interaction-prone than you might realize. It’s different.

    Both Chris(s): Detroit, of course, remains itself–but there was an article in the Free Press today about who the city-proper percentage White population seems to be growing rapidly. (People were quoted giving variuos reasons, but they seemed more like a mix of speculation and wishfull thinking than researched-backed analysis. Detroit kinda specializes in that sort of thing.)

    In any case, I don’t think I’ll be moving in.