Diversity and Segregation in New York City

Monday, March 19, 2012

Richard Alba, distinguished professor of sociology at CUNY and acting director of the Center for Urban Research discusses a new study on segregation in New York City and what it means to our understanding of diversity. Alba is the author of The Next Generation: Immigrant Youth in a Comparative Perspective, edited with Mary Waters, and Blurring the Color Line: The New Chance for a More Integrated America. And Jenifer Bratter, associate professor of sociology and the director of Race Scholars at Rice University, explains why Houston was recently declared the most diverse city but also a still segregated city.

→ Click here for a set of interactive maps from the Center for Urban Research showing segregation in the New York City metropolitan area.  


Richard Alba and Jenifer Bratter

Comments [24]

emjayay from Gravesend Brooklyn

One factor that the maps do not address because they are within the "white"
demographic is the existence of large numbers of Hasidic/Ultra Orthodox Jews in NYC. This group of course makes themselves distinct in appearance and language from everyone else, even has their own police etc. and clusters in certain areas. This is a factor that maybe is more of an issue to NYC residents than the self segregation of other groups.

Mar. 19 2012 11:26 AM
emjayay from Brooklyn

I live in the Bensonhurst/Bath Beach side of Gravesend. Clicking back and forth between 2000 and 2010 shows a lot of increase in Asian numbers, as expected. Unfortunately the map isn't able to show more complex information about who the less than 50% populations are.

One noticeable thing that stays the same 2000/2010 is islands of black majority in southern Brooklyn and I suppose elsewhere as well. These are big housing project areas. The existence of public housing projects has created these stable islands of black people - state subsidised islands of permanent intergenerational dysfunction. This is an issue which we are apparently unwilling to address or even mention.

Mar. 19 2012 11:16 AM

ALL cities are segregated more or less - it's a question of what kinds of interfaces exist between the segregated groups. NY is special among American cities in the public transit. Even NYers who live, work and shop apart will find themselves face to face on the subway, twice a day, every day. It makes a difference -- I've lived in Berkeley too (where residential streets are routinely closed to unwanted traffic) and while a lot of different people do live cheek by jowel who can afford the same housing there's nothing like the kind of universal visibility available here. The interfaces here may not warm and fuzzy, but you do SEE everyone. If you look.

Mar. 19 2012 11:14 AM

Specialized Public High Schools where students from all boroughs of NYC study are probably the most diverse and egalitarian places in the city. Every time I go to attend a Parent Association meeting at such a high school, I am amazed at the different ethnicities and languages I come across, unlike any other place.

Mar. 19 2012 11:09 AM
rosario from Brooklyn

NYC is "self-segregated." There is NO neighborhood that is "off limits" to a person given race or ethnicity. It is self-segregated as a result of immigration. Any immigrant group of size has always clustered among relatives and likewise co-ethnics in a neighborhood. Over time, these clusters change due to immigration, but the trend toward clustering remains the same. There is nothing that a Chinese immigrant is doing in 2012 that and Italian immigrant didn't do in 1912. And, for this reason, I think that NYC is the most truly diverse city in the United States. Though people do not want to accept or understand it, cultures need a degree of segregation in which to gestate and thrive. This is true diversity: language, culture, ritual, etc. I've been in Berkeley, CA, where one of the callers was from, who touted the diversity of that area. Yes, it's a "physically" diverse place of people from different so-called races, but it's totally WHITE-bread and has none of the actually culturally diversity of NYC. That's alright, but it begs the question. What do people really mean when they talk about diversity?

Also, I completely agree with Prof. Alba about resources. In a place such as NYC, where we all pay taxes to the same government entity, unlike Long Island, then it's imperative that economic resources are distributed across all neighborhoods equally. That's what I don't see. That's probably the diversity we're talking about: poor vs. middle vs. rich.

One last thing, why is Hispanic the only ethnic group that matters? Is a white Hispanic any more diverse than a Syrian or a Greek or an Italian? For a country that talks multiculturalism, we are awfully reductive.

Mar. 19 2012 11:09 AM
Morgan Paar from Manhattan (work in the Bronx)

I can't disagree with caller Jennifer and Richard Alba more. I lived in Berkeley for 3 years and in San Francisco for seven and Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco are MUCH more segregated than NYC. We might have 'ghettoes' where groups of people live, but when you take the subway in Manhattan or sit in an average restaurant or bar, you will have much more diversity in NYC. Plus, I can walk into one of these NYC 'ghettoes' and usually you do not feel like an outsider or feel threatened where I definitely do in the Bay Area. I guess it depends on how you define "segregation." On a city whole, NYC has more groups of people living and working in decent harmony as opposed to the Bay Area.

Mar. 19 2012 11:00 AM
Randi from Brooklyn

The maps are very interesting. Great work and thanks for sharing!

Mar. 19 2012 10:59 AM
R U Good or Bad?

I'll live next to anybody!

As long as they:
Don't throw garbage out the window;
Respect driving and traffic rules;
Make their kids do their schoolwork if they're in my kids' class;
At least try to speak english;
Respect America as a good place they are expected to contribute to.

If they disrespect the above rules they need to be tossed. Obviously.

Mar. 19 2012 10:58 AM
Jim from Weehawken

Is it right to calculate diversity solely based on which neighborhoods people live in? As a living experience, work and other activities take New Yorkers throughout the city - on foot, rather than driving past each other enclosed in their cars - and thereby encounter people of other ethnic and racial groups very frequently.

Mar. 19 2012 10:58 AM

I lived in Reston, Virginia outside Washington, D.C., Fells Point in Baltimore, and Capitol Hill in Washingon, D.C. before moving to New York in 1995. I am not sure if the statistics back this up but, at the time, it struck me that New York City seemed trememdously segregated. It seemed that while people may have worked in the same office, they all went home to separate neighborhoods based on their ethnicity. It also seemed to me that people seemed much more likely to talk about race and talk about it in judgemental terms. Too me, it seems that all of these things are still true.

Mar. 19 2012 10:57 AM
Erin R. from Harlem, NY

I'm a little confused about the segregation rankings. I moved to Harlem from St. Louis, MO (like a previous caller, without visiting first) last August. St. Louis is a strongly segregated city--probably the most segregated in the whole Midwest--as opposed to Harlem, which is incredibly integrated in my experience so far. How can we lump all of New York City together in terms of being integrated or not, when there are so many differently integrated areas? Also, where's St. Louis on that list? I thought it would be near the top.

Mar. 19 2012 10:57 AM
Inquisigal from Brooklyn

This data does not surprise me. Most neighborhoods in NYC seem to perpetuate this kind of segregation because whatever group of people who live there, and dominate the neighborhood, want to keep it that way. Every time I've moved to a new neighborhood, I've been either subtly or blatantly harassed. From an enviro-liberal white woman renter who felt she had the right to insist I take my shoes off when I entered our rental building and not allow guests to smoke on the stoop, to black kids who threw rocks at me and called me a white b**ch when I first moved to Bed-Stuy 10 years ago - my take on it is that generally, people are uninterested in getting to know people different from themselves. Which is sad.

My solution, though, has been to just engage people as much as possible and see if they will scale back their reactions, and just relate human to human. I am happily now living on a very friendly and diverse block in Bed-Stuy where people of all colors and gender preferences seem to want to experience diversity.

Mar. 19 2012 10:56 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Liberals are the biggest hypocrites. They talk the talk, but few walk the walk. They hastened mightily to "integrate" others, but far more reluctant to do so themselves.

As for "segregation," it is only natural for "birds of a feather to flock together" but unfair to accuse everyone who prefer to "live with their own kind" as segregationists or separatists. It is okay for a group to want to prefer that they marry within their own group, but LEGAL segregation, or segregation based on unfair real estate practices is clearly illegal today and cannot be condoned. OTOH, native American "indians" are allowed to keep non-tribal members off their native lands reserved for them. SO there are many complexities when talking about segregation in practice.

I personally have lived in majority black and latino areas, not out of choice, but because every neighborhood I ever lived since 1949 became majority black and non-white over the last 65 years of my life. I personally have no problem living alongside anyone of any race or religion or ethnicity provided they let me live in peace. Live and let live is the only true solution to a multiethnic, multiracial, multireligious society as most western societies have become.

Mar. 19 2012 10:55 AM
Robert from NYC

I like that, salad bowl. But I prefer to see it as a delicious stew with individual vegetables and meat mixed and contributing to the delicious gravy.

Mar. 19 2012 10:55 AM

When I first moved to the city from Chicago in 1985, I had a similar sense of NYC being even more segregated than Chicago -- in a CLASS sense: even though residential neighborhoods were distinct in Chicago, there was a very strong black middle class that's presence was felt throughout all commercial sections of the city.

Mar. 19 2012 10:55 AM
amalgam from NYC by day, NJ by night

Funny, because I've heard a few Londoners say how the expected diversity of NYC isn't as apparent as it is there. I've asked them if they have been out of Manhattan into the other boroughs, with greater ethnic concentrations, which, of course, they have not.

Mar. 19 2012 10:54 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Hmm - why is always more about race than class?

Mar. 19 2012 10:54 AM
Milton Lai from JH

Wait, is that right? Houston is more diverse than NYC? Are you talking about Racially diverse or ethnically diverse? I live in Jackson Heights Queens and this comes as a huge shock to me.

Mar. 19 2012 10:53 AM
Ralph from Miami, FL

I think these measures of diversity are all wrong. We assume all blacks are the same, all Latinos are the same and all Whites are the same. Caribbeans are not African Americans, South Asians are not Chinese, Italians are not Irish. Can we look at these surveys with more intelligence?

Mar. 19 2012 10:53 AM
Robert from NYC

Great maps.

Mar. 19 2012 10:52 AM
Steve from Flatbush

Only a white person in a white neighborhood would think that New York isn't segregated.

I've lived in Bed-Stuy (two separate times), Prospect Heights before the white horde came to colonize it (I, too, am white, albeit poor, and I have a hard time identifying with people of the same color that are significantly more moneyed.), Park Slope (I had to try it; see what it was like to live amongst "my" people, and it was a drag), Gowanus, Downtown Brooklyn (when a 1-bedroom was 800 bucks) and Flatbush.

From what I've seen, the only "diverse" neighborhoods are the ones white people are taking over or have taken over. What makes those nabes diverse are the people who haven't yet been displaced or the ones that can afford to hang onto their homes due to subsidy.

Otherwise, anyone without money -- which in this city often corresponds to skin color -- is marginalized in ethnically homogeneous ghettos.

Mar. 19 2012 10:52 AM
Antonio from bayside

Isn't it a no-brainer in a way. You'll see diversity but it's dependent upon economics and education. Most folks with means now live by transit and in a more walkable setting. Poorer people live in the outer rims because it's cheaper...

Mar. 19 2012 10:52 AM

I have lived in Boston, San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles...all diverse cities, every race creed and color...why is it important to be diverese...

Mar. 19 2012 10:49 AM
PV from nj

I always tell people that NYC is pretty balkanized. Having seen cities in Europe kinda reinforced that opinion, especially London

Mar. 19 2012 10:48 AM

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