Recent figures suggest more minorities are moving to the suburbs (see here and here). But looking at evidence from Detroit (see a related story here), historian Thomas Sugrue suggests blacks moving to the suburbs may encounter a lot of the same issues they faced in the city:
So far, Detroit’s black suburbanization has followed a well-trodden path. Those blacks heading outward from Detroit aren’t moving to all suburbs equally. Rather, they move into places with older houses, rundown shopping districts and declining tax revenues. Such towns also typically have poorer services and fewer job opportunities than wealthier suburbs — where, despite strong antidiscrimination laws, it is still harder for blacks to find housing.
It’s not clear that this new migration is a positive step, even if it allows blacks to escape the city and its troubles. For whites, suburbs have often been a big step up — but as long as most blacks find themselves in secondhand suburbia, the American dream of security, prosperity and opportunity will remain harder to achieve.
This term “secondhand suburbia” is an interesting one. Perhaps this term lines up with the concept of “inner-ring suburbs.” A number of commentators, notably Myron Orfield (in texts like American Metropolitics), have discussed how inner-ring suburbs, those closest to the big city, have many of the same issues of the city: large and growing minority populations, declining white populations, limited tax bases, crowded conditions and an older housing stock, crime, and more. Sugrue’s phrase, however, seems to emphasize the racial transition these suburbs, probably classifiable as “inner-ring suburbs,” are experiencing as he describes how these “second-hand” places are changing over from white to black. The implication is that these places are hand-me-downs: the whites used them up and are now using their wealth to move further from the city.
In the long run, if these suburbs don’t offer suburban opportunities but simply reproduce problems like residential segregation, has anything been gained?