The Urbanist Musings of Pete Saunders

White Urbanization/Black Suburbanization – A Followup

The Johnson family from the ABC sitcom series Black-ish.  The Johnsons, an upper-middle class family living in suburban Los Angeles, amusingly deal with issues of identity in the burbs.  Source:

In last week’s post on this subject, I focused on broader national trends identified through analysis of the twenty largest urbanized areas in the U.S. (defined as contiguous areas with more than 1,000 inhabitants per square mile).  In this post I will offer some observations of the dynamics within urbanized areas.

Before I start, however, I would like to offer a shout-out to the U.S. Census Bureau for its continued production of American Community Survey data.  People who have dabbled in demographic research have long been reliant on census data released once every ten years, and then using other means to identify trends for periods in between the decennial censuses.  The ACS now can provide reliable data annually, without resorting to another data source that may be inconsistent with census data.  That means that today trends can be identified as they happen, in ways that were unthinkable 10-15 years ago.  I can envision, for example, that by the time the 2020 Census comes out in a few years, a demographer could look at the data I’m analyzing now and conduct a year-by-year analysis between 2010 and 2020.  That’s fascinating.  I know the Census Bureau and ACS has been under threat in recent years; here’s hoping it stays.

Again, here are the top twenty urbanized areas, and the percentage rates of growth for whites and blacks in principal cities and in suburban areas between 2010 and 2014:

A few observations:

Cities that have more recently reversed their population growth rates appear to have higher percentages of white population growth; cities that rebounded earlier or have yet to decline have lower rates.  Detroit, Atlanta and Washington, all cities whose population had declined for decades, lead the way in terms of white population growth.  All three were once black majority cities; DC has recently relinquished that title and Atlanta is not far behind.  Cities that reversed their declining trends in recent decades, like New York or Boston, or still-expanding Sun Belt cities, like Houston or San Diego, show lower levels of white population growth.

Black population growth in cities appears to be strongest in cities that have a suburban development character.  The three cities with the strongest black city growth are Miami, Phoenix and Minneapolis/St. Paul.  Miami and Phoenix (the Twin Cities less so) are known as cities with development patterns that mimic suburban areas of older cities, and black residents may be attracted to that pattern in the respective cities.

With the notable exception of the Bay Area, the greatest loss of black city residents may be in the Rust Belt.  Detroit, San Francisco/Oakland, Chicago and St. Louis lead the way in terms of black population loss.  While suburban numbers are growing in each urbanized area (again with the Bay Area being the outlier), the figures are not as strong as the population loss in the cities.  That suggests that significant number of black Rust Belt residents might be leaving Rust Belt metros altogether.

Below is a table that establishes an “urbanization factor” for the twenty largest urbanized areas.  Here, I subtracted the suburban growth rate from the city growth rate, by race, to find any relationship in the respective city/suburban growth rates.  It looks like this:

(One quick note: I neglected to change the table headings for this table.  These aren’t actual percentage changes in city/suburban population by group, but differences between city/suburban changes.  I’ll correct this later.  My apologies.)
The higher the number, the greater the rate of urbanization by group.  The lower the number, the greater the rate of suburbanization by group (on a percentage basis, not in absolute terms).  Detroit leads the way on both sides of the table — it shows the highest level of urbanization by whites as well as the highest level of suburbanization (or leaving the metro altogether) by blacks.  Detroit appears to be following the same path as Washington, Atlanta and Baltimore, all current or former black-majority cities that are experiencing rapid black suburbanization.  Other cities on a similar path, without being black-majority cities, include Chicago, Dallas, Boston and Seattle.
I’m still conducting analysis on the data, and will also be adding more cities/metro areas to the list.  Please watch for more.

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