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Meet America's most diverse neighborhoods - some may surprise you

Kaid Benfield

Posted February 27, 2013 in Environmental Justice, Living Sustainably

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  Rainier View, 9 miles from downtown Seattle (via Google Earth)

Seven of the ten most diverse neighborhoods in America are suburban.  None of them are in the evolving, creative-class city and inner suburban districts that many of us normally think of as undergoing change.  Taken as a whole, average home values in the ten are slightly higher than those in other neighborhoods, and the most diverse are growing faster and their home prices are increasing somewhat faster that in other neighborhoods.  Visually, they strike me as very middle class, though their settings range from beautiful to drab.  They look like America.

This all comes from some fascinating data-crunching on metropolitan-area zip codes by Jed Kolko and his colleagues at the real estate analysis firm Trulia.  I'll say more about that but, first, I want to get into some of the examples.

  South Natomas, 4.5 miles from downtown Sacramento (via Google Earth)

  South Natomas

  South Natomas in relation to Sacramento (via Google Earth)

Number ten on the list is zip code 95834 in South Natomas, a suburb of Sacramento.  It's not far from downtown by large-metro standards, but as you can see from the image it's right up against farmland at the edge of the development footprint.

Kolko and crew used a very interestng (and, in my view, very appropriate) measure of diversity:  they looked at ethnicity data from the Census for every zip code in the 100 largest US metros.  Those whose largest ethnic group share were relatively small - for example, if there were more Latinos than any other ethnic group but their share of the total was only 30 percent - were considered more diverse.  The range for the top ten for the largest ethnic share was relatively tight, from about 26 percent to about 29 percent.  (South Natomas is at 29.2 percent.)

Interestingly, three of the top ten are on the island of Oahu in Hawaii:

  Kapolei, #9, is 22 miles from Honolulu (via Google Earth)

  Kapolei

  Kahuku, #6, also on Oahu (via Google Earth)

  Kahuku

  Wahiawa, #5, on Oahu (via Google Earth)

  Wahiawa

  3 of the 10 most diverse neighborhoods are on the Island of Oahu (via Google Earth)

Honolulu is the only large city on Oahu; the rest of the island consists of pockets of suburbia amidst other suburbs and large natural areas.  The closest of the three especially diverse neighborhoods is Kapolei (top photo in this series), a 22-mile ride from Honolulu.

I used the Trulia data to choose representative street images of the diverse neighborhoods, in each case choosing a block whose housing prices were roughly at the midpoint for the zip code as a whole.

  #8 Dorchester, 3 miles S of downtown Boston (via Google Earth)

  Dorchester

  Dorchester in relation to Boston (via Google Earth)

To me, the most urban-feeling of the ten is number eight Dorchester, only three miles south of downtown Boston.  My organization, NRDC, has been doing some work in Dorchester, helping the Talbot Norfolk Triangle district formulate a sustainability plan.  Although economicially distressed, it is a neighborhood of awesome people and community pride, as well as a solid community development corporation and neighborhood association.

  #7 Rainier View, 9 miles from downtown Seattle (via Google Earth)

  Rainier View

  Rainier View in relation to Seattle (via Google Earth)

Number seven Rainier View is nine miles south of downtown Seattle.

Dorchester notwithstanding, I was really struck by the locations of the ten and how few of them met the stereotype of an inner-city, mixed-race neighborhood.  This is consistent with data reported by Brookings and Urbanophile author Aaron Renn to the effect that immigrants are enlivening our suburbs, especially inner-ring suburbs.

Some of the ten are decidely not inner-ring, though. 

  Lakemont is 24 mi west of downtown Houston (via Google Earth)

  Lakemont

  #4 Lakemont in relation to Houston (via Google Earth)

Lakemont is still developing and a whopping 24 miles west of downtown Dallas.

  #3 Treasure Island, in SF Bay (via Google Earth)

  Treasure Island

  Treasure Island in relation to San Francisco (via Google Earth)

Number three Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay is a special case, neither city nor suburb.  I didn't have time, unfortunately, to go deep into the data to understand why it is so diverse.

  #2 Queens Village, 14 miles E of Midtown NYC (via Google Earth)

  Queens Village

  Queens Village in relation to Manhattan (via Google Earth)

Number two Queens Village is also somewhat of a special case.  It is 14 miles from Manhattan, yet it is not suburban in character.  The vastness of New York City and its surroundings creates spatial circumstances unlike those anywhere else in the country.

  the most diverse neighborhood in America is in a heavily auto-dependent subrurb NW of Dallas (via Google Earth)

  Irving

  the Broadmoor Hills/Song section of Irving in relation to Dallas (via Google Earth)

Going by zip code, the most diverse neighborhood in the country is the Broadmoor Hills/Song section of Irving, Texas, 14 miles northwest of Dallas.  Zip code 75038 is 26% Asian, 25% Black, 23% Hispanic, and 23% White.  That sure reads like balanced diversity to me.

Now, there all sorts of limitations in this sort of analysis including, for example, strong religious-group identity and diversity within the larger categories measured by Census data; both "white" and "black" contain many sub-groups that aren't picked up.  Any of us could nit-pick it to death.  But it's still a pretty good general indicator, in my opinion, of relative levels of diversity and fascinating in what it reveals.

  where 7 of the top 10 are in relation to the continental US (via Google Earth)

The US population as a whole is 63.7 percent White, 16.3 percent Hispanic or Latino (counted as one group in the Trulia analysis), 12.2 percent Black or African American, 4.7 percent Asian, 0.7 percent American Indian or Alaska Native, 0.2 percent Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, 0.2 percent "some other race," and 1.9 percent "two or more races."  Kolko's article gives a more specific description of the company's analysis.

The article also provides much more in the way of findings, including diversity analyses of metro areas as a whole (of the top 100, San Jose is the most diverse; Pittsburgh, the least).  There's also a county map of the country shaded to indicate the range of diversity; it shows lots of diverse counties across the southern half of the US and stretching north along the Atlantic Coast.  There are specific metro-area maps for New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Franciso, and Washington.  Go here for the whole shebang.

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Kaid Benfield writes about community, development, and the environment on Switchboard and in other national media.  For more posts, see his blog's home page.  Please also visit NRDC’s Sustainable Communities Video Channels.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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