Finding residential segregation in the Long Island suburbs

Long Island might be suburban New York but there are sharp racial divides across suburban communities:

Two villages, Hempstead and Garden City, lie adjacent to one another in Nassau County. Hempstead has a medium household income of $52,000. Garden City’s is $150,000. Hempstead, in parts, resembles an inner city—with bodegas, laundromats, low-rise apartment buildings. Garden City is a suburban idyll, with tree-lined streets, gourmet grocery stores, and large colonial-style homes. Garden City is 88 percent white; Hempstead is 92 percent black and Hispanic (split about evenly). The transition between the two villages occurs within one block, a visual whiplash. See for yourself. Travel up North Franklin Street on Google maps.

“Long Island is becoming more diverse, Nassau County is becoming more diverse,” says John Logan, a Brown University sociologist who has been studying demographics since the 1970s. “But within Nassau County there’s been hardly any change in the degree of segregation. The predominantly minority areas are becoming more minority. And the predominantly white areas are staying mostly white.”

That demographic story of Nassau County, Long Island, is the story of the nation’s suburbs at large. Zoom way out, and it looks like the suburbs are becoming more diverse—a welcomed reversal of the racist housing policies of the last century that kept minorities in the cities. But zoom in, block by block, and you see that within those suburbs, stark segregational divides like the one between Hempstead and Garden City still exist…

Here’s the one data point to make that case: When Logan controls for income, he finds that blacks and Hispanics who earn over $75,000 a year live in areas with higher poverty rates than whites who make less than $40,000.

This is an old and ongoing story. As numerous scholars have pointed out, one of the first mass suburbs in the United States, the Levittown on Long Island, refused to have black residents for years. And, even as more minorities have moved to the suburbs in recent decades, whites and minorities don’t always live in the same places.

Read more about sociologist John Logan’s findings regarding Separate and Unequal in Suburbia here.

The “most beautiful” McDonald’s in the US isn’t really in a McMansion

I’ve seen several references to this story about the Long Island McDonald’s that is in a 1795 house. A few details about the location:

Known as the Denton House, its bones date back to 1795, when it was constructed as a farm house by one Joseph Denton, a descendent of the founder of the village of Hempstead. In 1860, it was given a Georgian makeover, complete with gingerbread ornamentation, and throughout the 1900?s, found commercial use as a funeral home and a series of restaurants.

By 1986, it was abandoned and on the verge of falling down.

McDonalds purchased the property with the intention of tearing it down and replacing it with a standard McDonald’s restaurant. Thank God for the citizens of the New Hyde Park, who worked to secure landmark status for the building in 1987.

McDonald’s had no choice but to restore the property and work within the parameters of the landmarks commission, which ultimately resulted in their most beautiful restaurant in America (if you know of a better example, please let me know).

This is interesting in itself. However, I was also intrigued by another link to the original story that dubbed this Long Island McDonald’s the “McMansion of the Day.” Perhaps this is simply a play on words: it is a McDonald’s in a mansion so it cleverly could be called a McMansion. It wouldn’t be the first McDonald’s to earn the term; an Arkansas McDonald’s was also dubbed a McMansion.

But, perhaps this is an intentional use of the word McMansion with the typical meaning of a new, large, ugly house in the midst of suburban sprawl. If so, this is the wrong use. Yes, this particular McDonald’s is in the middle of suburban strip malls. However, this is truly a historic house, one that acquired landmark status. McDonald’s renovated the interior for their purposes but it still retains the appearance of an older mansion. People may not like that McDonald’s was able to do this to an older home but it is not really a McMansion in the typical understanding: it is not a new building, it was not originally mass produced (and McDonald’s changes probably weren’t mass reproduced in their other restaurants), and it doesn’t look ugly as the McDonald’s sign above the front door is pretty understated.

More “comfort architecture” on Long Island

Many homes are built in current styles, even if that style is a return to traditional architecture:

On an island where the traditional is king, most residences can easily be dated — Capes to the postwar Levittown era; ranches, split levels and then high ranches in the ’50s and ’60s, cedar-sided contemporaries in the ’80s, and during the McMansion boom in the late ’90s, “colonials on steroids.”

Over the last decade, many architects and builders have veered toward a more ageless, classic approach.

Some of the materials used to achieve that nostalgic charm, however, are increasingly 21st century, more energy efficient and durable. The exterior trim on the stone manor is a resin-based material called AZEK that looks like wood but is rot-proof. Ira Tane, the president of Benchmark Home Builders in Huntington Station, recently completed a gabled Victorian in South Huntington with fake cedar siding, a cultured stone facade on the front porch, authentic-looking but modern windows with “simulated” divided light panes, AZEK-type trim, fiberglass porch columns; composite porch rails and decking, “all of which contribute to a look that will stand the test of time.”

 Homeowners stick to traditional styling because “there is a real comfort zone in what is very familiar,” Mr. Tane said. “It conjures up a warm, fuzzy feeling. For eating, we have comfort food. For homes, we have comfort architecture.”

Two things stick out to me:

1. Even though these homes are built in a traditional style, they can be easily dated just as much as other homes like 1950s ranches or 1990s McMansions. If you look, for example, at the picture of the home at the top of the story, I think most people could tell it is recent construction. While the homes may have certain traditional style, I don’t think they are going to be confused with older homes.

2. The goal here is invoke tradition withiout really being traditional. As the story notes later, people don’t really want the “100-year-old house with 100-year-old problems.” So they simulate the sense of permanance and tradition instead AND they get all of the modern amenities including big closets and energy efficiency.

I would be interested to hear builders and others explain how these homes are really that much different from McMansions. Perhaps the main difference is that they are not as mass-produced on smaller suburban lots, though it sounds like a decent number of these traditional homes have been built. They are still large homes for wealthy people though they may be more energy efficient. Maybe these new traditional homes are just mansions which are at least not as common as McMansions. Would the same people who complain about McMansions also complain about these homes?