Myron Orfield on how to help keep the suburbs, like those of Chicago, diverse

Myron Orfield is known for his efforts to argue for more comprehensive metropolitan cooperation and planning. In this piece at Atlantic Cities, Orfield explains how to help the suburbs remain diverse:

Yet, while integrated suburbs represent great hope, they face serious challenges to their prosperity and stability. In America, integrated communities have a hard time staying integrated for extended periods. Neighborhoods that were more than 23 percent non-white in 1980 were more likely to become predominately non-white (more than 60 percent non-white) during the next 25 years than to remain integrated. Illegal discrimination — in the form of steering by real estate agents, mortgage lending and insurance discrimination, subsidized housing placement, and racial gerrymandering of school attendance boundaries — is causing rapid racial change and economic decline…

By 2010, 17 percent of suburbanites lived in predominantly non-white suburbs, communities that were once integrated but are now more troubled than their central cities, with fewer prospects for renewal. Tipping or resegregation (moving from a once all-white or stably integrated neighborhood to an all non-white neighborhood), while common, is not inevitable. Stable integration is possible. However, it does not happen by accident. It is the product of clear race-conscious strategies, hard work, and political collaboration among local governments.

Critical to stabilizing these suburbs are the following strategies:

  • Creation of local stable integration plans with fair housing ordinances, incentives for pro-integrative home loans, cooperative efforts with local school districts, and financial support of pro-integrative community-based organizations.
  • Greater enforcement of existing civil rights laws including the Fair Housing Act, especially the sections related to racial steering, mortgage lending discrimination and location of publicly subsidized affordable housing.
  • Adoption of regional strategies to limit exclusionary zoning and require affluent suburbs to accommodate their fair share of affordable housing.
  • Adoption of metropolitan-scale strategies to promote more integrated schools.

This tipping point phenomenon goes back to the research of Thomas Schelling who identified points where residents will start leaving a neighborhood with an influx of certain new residents. Research suggests that whites start leaving more diverse neighborhoods when the neighborhood becomes roughly 10-20% non-white.

It’s too bad Orfield doesn’t go further with this and talk about suburbs where this has successfully taken place. In his book American Metropolitics, Orfield talks primarily about inner-ring suburbs that now have more diverse populations. The Chicago metropolitan region maps included in this post are fascinating: between 2000 and 2010, a number of suburbs became more diverse. I’ve included the 2010 map from the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity below:

Some quick observations:

1. The diverse suburbs have moved far beyond just the inner-ring suburbs.

2. The south and west suburbs are most diverse. There are a number of African-American suburbs just south of Chicago and the diverse population west of Chicago is primarily Latino with growing numbers of Asians.

3. The wealthier North Shore suburbs are the largest pocket of predominantly white suburbs though there are a number of these white suburbs sprinkled throughout the region. It is interesting to watch how these suburbs adapt to the growing diversity around them.

4. The most diverse suburbs appear to be ones with cheaper housing and more manufacturing and service jobs. There are some wealthier more diverse suburbs such as Oak Brook but I suspect the diversity in these suburbs is not also class diversity.

So Orfield’s four recommendations would help preserve this map and even increase diversity? Without much metropolitan cooperation, the Chicago suburbs have become more diverse. Perhaps Orfield might argue the suburbs would be even more diverse if metropolitan efforts had been undertaken. However, these maps obscure several important features such as social class and availability of nearby jobs.

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