Tag Archives: Seattle

New Urban Ideal: Young, Progressive and White?

Portland. Seattle. Minneapolis. Besides being magnets for well-educated young people, what do these cities have in common?

According to Aaron Renn, creator of the Urbanophile blog, they all have a relatively low proportion of black people.

In an article published on New Geography, Renn asks, is the trend towards cities like Portland a form of nationwide suburban sprawl?

A city scene in Portland. No black people to be found.

A city scene in Portland.

Is it only a coincidence that cities with a high proportion of black residents are so often the most maligned, like Detroit, Cleveland and Youngstown?

If you’ve ever read the Urbanophile (and if you haven’t, you should), you’ll notice that Aaron is a great creator of charts.

He has developed some pretty convincing data to back up his argument.

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Portland and Seattle: 6% black. Austin: 8%. Denver: 10%.

I think Aaron has a point and this is an issue that doesn’t get the play it deserves in most of our discussions. Because racial issues and racial tensions shape our cities and our country profoundly, though not as overtly as they once did. This is especially true in the industrial Midwest.

On the other hand, there are some notable exceptions to Aaron’s rule. Atlanta, for one. New York and Chicago for another.

While I think Aaron has a point, I think the socioeconomic vestiges of a pattern of discrimination in housing, finance and education may be influencing residential decisions more than race at this point, or at least playing an increasingly strong role. The history of racial turmoil in Cleveland and Detroit and Chicago are still very ingrained in the cultural consciousness. In these cities, and the two events that had the greatest impact were the race riots and forced school integration, or busing.

Older generations in Cleveland are still programmed to the “us vs. them” turf battles between ethnic groups and blacks that played out the cities neighborhoods in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Last week, a professor of mine mentioned that his friend still refuses to drive through the Hough neighborhood, where riots took place in the ’70s, out of fear. My 47-year-old mother, a Toledo native, recently told me that every time she hears about Detroit, she thinks about the riots and how scary a place it’s always seemed.

Meanwhile a discriminatory education system continues to drive middle-class families out of the central city of Cleveland. Ohio’s Supreme Court has rules the state’s education funding system unconstitutional four times and still no relief for inner-city families.

So what’s the difference between Detroit and Cleveland and Chicago and New York? Well, not nearly as much as now until the ’90s when Chicago and New York began pushing minorities to the periphery, while in Cleveland and Detroit, whites continued their migration outward. While there is some concern about “rings of poverty” and endemic violence on Chicago’s South Side, studies have shown that cities where wealth trended inward perform better economically than where wealth flowed outward.

That said, I certainly wouldn’t call Chicago a model for racial integration.

Anyway it’s an interesting article and Aaron brings up a good point. I think these issues are very complicated, however. Everyone wants to be the journalist that pinpoints exactly what’s wrong with Detroit or Cleveland, when the truth is, cities are very dynamic places with a multitude of different forces at play.

Any input?

St. Louis? Youngstown? Memphis? Camden?

-AS

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