I was lucky to have grown up in a small city called Montclair, New Jersey. Montclair was one of the first places in the United States to embrace racial integration with open arms. One of the many ways this was carried out later on was by giving people the option to go to any school they choose via public bus. However, although the town holds up it's progressive reputation, it has always been a challenge for people in Montclair to fully integrate within their neighborhoods and schools. People have a tendency to divide themselves for a number of complex reasons. I found these maps really interesting from a cultural perspective, as people tend to segregate according to their culture and class.
Recently, cartographer Bill Rankin produced an astounding map of Chicago, which managed to show the city's areas of racial integration.
Eric Fischer saw those maps, and took it upon himself to create similar ones for the top 40 cities in the United States. Fisher used a straight forward method borrowed from Rankin: Using U.S. Census data from 2000, he created a map where one dot equals 25 people. The dots are then color-coded based on race: White is pink; Black is blue; Latino is orange, and Asian is green.
He did a good job not to color code in any politically incorrect fashion... The results for various cities are fascinating: Just like every city is different, every city is integrated (or segregated) in different ways. Washington, D.C., for example, has a stark east/west divide between white and black:
However, other cities present better pictures of racial integration. The San Francisco Bay, for example. While some parts of San Francisco are very, very white, large tracts of the outlying bay communities such as Oakland are quite integrated -- perhaps partly because no one minority totally dominates a single area:
San Francisco, California
Along with being generally more integrated, SF also has many more Asians, as evidenced by all the green.
Detroit, meanwhile, is marked by the infamous Eight Mile beltway, which serves a precise boundary for the city's black and white populations. Integration is almost non existent:
Here's an interesting question: What do we, as a society, want to see in maps like this? I think it's safe to say that the clear separation of races in Detroit is a symptom (or cause) of serious social problems. At the same time, it seems unrealistic to expect perfect integration and it's unclear if we should want that anyway. It's great that our cities have vibrant ethnic neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, here's what San Antonio looks like -- a city which demographics often point to as the future of the post-race Southwest, where whites and Hispanics live together without boundaries. While you can see there's a predominance of Latinos near the city center, you can also see that Latinos are completely evenly integrated throughout the rest of the city -- there's really no such thing as a rich, whites-only enclave (the large version in particular bears this out):
San Antonio, Texas
Check out NY's incredible density!
Fascinating, right? Originally, Rankin created the mapping methodology because he was frustrated with the way racial boundaries continue to be mapped. Usually, ethnic neighborhoods are shown as homogeneous, sharply bounded swathes of color. But obviously, living in a city tells a much different story -- and the nature of the boundary areas are at least as important to the identity of any city.
Hope you learned something about culture! Please leave comments!