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Micropolis: A Look at the Least Diverse Neighborhood in the City

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The Brooklyn 'burbs: homes in Midwood can be big, just like the families (WNYC/Arun Venugopal)

Brooklyn, known for its multitude of ethnic enclaves, also has the distinction of being home to the city’s least diverse neighborhood.

All 1,488 residents of this section of Midwood, Brooklyn, classified themselves as white during the recent census, data shows. Of all the census tracts in New York City — 2,168 — it is the only one with a 100 percent homogenous population.

Although all residents consider themselves white, five of them additionally classified themselves as Hispanic, which is not a racial but ethnic classification.

In a city historically known for its diversity, the eight-square blocks of Midwood — bound by Avenues K and M and 23rd and 27th streets — that comprise census tract number 36047075400 unique. It is also one of the city’s largest Jewish neighborhoods.

The streets of the city’s least diverse neighborhood are leafy and dotted with mid-sized homes and mansions with lush lawns. The main subway stop is Avenue M on the Q train. The street is lined with kosher bagel shops and travel businesses catering to people destined for Israel.

"We have no problem selling homes in this area," said Steve Epstein, a 71-year-old retired teacher who once served as the head of the neighborhood association.

He said “there’s no discrimination” against non-Jews in the neighborhood, but others are less likely to feel comfortable living in the neighborhood.

Epstein, who also runs the nearby Zionism Museum, said residents include doctors, teachers, tradesmen and rabbis.

The city's average household size is 2.58, according to the Department of City Planning.

In some orthodox Jewish strongholds, like Borough Park, it’s more like 3.6. But here, it's even higher -- 3.9 people per household.

Quite a few of those kids can be found playing basketball on this Friday, right before getting ready for the Sabbath.

"What do we say in this neighborhood?" Epstein asks one group of boys, all of them wearing yarmulkes.

On cue, the boys shout "Am Yisrael Chai!" The Jewish people live.

Some of the boys are cousins, and their fathers, standing nearby, say proximity to family is a big reason for living in the neighborhood.

That, and the fact that a handful of synagogues are within walking distance, says Epstein, adding that orthodox Jews don't drive anywhere on the Sabbath.

Chaim Deutsch founded a civilian police force in the neighborhood in the early 90s, and claims the block is "the safest block in the nation."

The NYPD and FBI couldn’t confirm.

“While New York is America’s safest large city, there’s no crown for individuals streets,” NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said. “Having said that, we’re not challenging Bedford Avenue’s claim to the title."

Micropolis is WNYC’s ongoing series on street life and other corners of the city.

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Comments [25]

M Pearle from NYC

Remember that diversity, according to Harvard's Robert Putman, is associated with lower social capital and community cohesion. So the homogenous nature of this place may be a good thing.

Jul. 13 2012 07:51 AM
David from Flushing

I was pleased to see that our Flushing Meadows Park and an adjoining Jewish Cemetery have a diversity rating of 78.

May. 25 2012 12:20 PM
Becky from Rockaways

Isn't Breezy Point, Queens the least diverse?

May. 10 2012 08:02 PM
Noah from Midwood, NY

This is such BS. I live in Midwood (Avenue M) and see all types of people from every part of the world. You can also find sushi, bubble tea, Indian products within a four block radius. It's way more diverse here than what you'll find in 90% of Manhattan. Least Diverse Neighborhood my ---.

May. 10 2012 12:30 PM
Stanley Ditmas Park from Ditmas Park, Brooklyn

I holding no brief for the neighborhood one way of the other, and grant that it is uncomfortably monochromatic, but wish to point out a statistical and cartographic factoid that is ignored by the article. The tract in question with a diversity rating of 1 is also one of the smallest in population (almost no multiple dwellings, for instance). Such a small sampling is likely to result in less diversity. Also, the blocks in question do not have any commercial strips. The reference to travel agencies and bagel shops refers to nearby tracts, such as the one directly west of Ocean Avenue, which has a population over twice that of the one in question, many multiple dwellings, and, while still largely white and orthodox Jewish, has a diversity rating of 36. I point this out only to caution writers and commentators from drawing too stark conclusions from a single (and I think misused) data point.

May. 09 2012 05:07 PM

The "defenders" of Midwood still seem to ignore the low "diversity index" scores of all the neighboring census tracks on the map. But, it's not their fault. They've done nothing wrong to wish to buy property and live in a neighborhood which feels comfortable to them.

Take a look overall: the least "diverse" areas tend to be the most "white" and well-to-do, whatever the racial or religious background of the residents (Irish, Jewish, "hipster"! haha). Self-selection in the real estate marketplace often creates that result (at least in rent-stabilized New York).

What seems just as problematic is the notion that Cypress Hills, Woodhaven, and Richmond are considered "diverse." They're not terribly diverse insofar as the dominant ethnic and racial identities there are somewhat uniform. Uniformly non-white, as I understand it. Thus, being racially or ethnically homogeneous would not make them diverse... but simple another ethnic enclave where the neighborhood identity is a symptom of socio-economic and housing inequality.

May. 09 2012 01:19 PM
Moses Gates

WNYC needs to dig a little deeper. That tract, according to 5-year ACS data, is 7.7% Arabic ancestry (who are "white" according to the census), about 15% foreign born, and about 20% speak a language other than English at home. Not huge diversity indicators as far as NYC goes, but not deserving of the "Most Homogenous Neighborhood" label, and definitely not the unwelcoming shtetl this article portrays it as.

May. 09 2012 01:16 PM
em from Queens

The methodology for these statistics seems oversimplfies and strange.Is a white person really the basis for determining "non diversity"? I this is particularly odd in a city that is magority non-white. I am sure that area counted as "most diverse" in using this methodology are probably non-white ethnic enclaves themselves.

May. 09 2012 01:01 PM

I agree from Jon from Washington Heights, in the city as large as NYC the ethnic composition of a particular 8 block area doesn't really mean anything. (unless of course, if you rarely leave that 8 block area). I'm a white Ukrainian man who lives in Bed-Sty, where most of my neighbors are black. But again, I spent most of my waking hours in Manhattan or Williamsburg.

May. 09 2012 12:59 PM
Bryan Swirsky from Miidwood, Brooklyn

CORRECTION: I live in "Midwood", not "Midwoon" and that last sentence should read: "Shame you guys only choosing to brighten one corner of the area. And then paint yourselves in it!"

Autocorrect failure!

May. 09 2012 11:32 AM
Richard from Flushing

In Flushing the passersby, the signs, the merchants, the restaurants, the churches, and the bank employees seem to be overwhelmingly Korean. There's a plethora of nail salons and massage parlors. The tenants of my apartment building are predominantly Korean. It seems at times that I've expatriated to Seoul and that an occasional subway trip to Manhattan is necessary to restore my sense of belongng.

May. 09 2012 11:31 AM
Bryan Swirsky from Midwoon, Brooklyn

Wow! The reportage fails to mention how a) redistricting created that 'enclave' and b) how diverse Midwood actually is. When I walk down any high street - Aves J and M and Kings Hway - I hear Russian, Creole, Turkish, Spanish, Hebrew, Yiddish, , Mongolian, Chinese, Uzbeki, Farsi, Hindi and English spoken publicly. I think Park Slop and Carroll Gardens and Brooklyn Heights are way less diverse than my Midwood neighborhood. Shame you guys only chose to brighten one corner of the area. And then paint yourselves in in!

May. 09 2012 11:22 AM
Richard Grayson from Apache Junction, AZ

I'm sure the Census figures are accurate, but you know, going through the neighborhood, at least around the train station on M & E. 16th, you see a multiracial, multiethnic crowd. People may not live in the census tract, but they work there or shop there or hang out there. It's not really noticeable, and while I'm not surprised, I don't feel anyone non-Jewish or non-Orthodox or non-white is made to feel uncomfortable there.

I used to go the Elm Theatre on Avenue M back in the late 60s and early 70s. Believe it or not, it was an "art" house and that's where I saw Cassavette's "Faces" and Robert Downey Sr.'s "Putney Swope" and many foreign films. The NBC studio in the neighborhood was home to many shows, from my favorite soap opera "Another World" to "The Cosby Show" and a dozen others. There are some cool streets, like Elm Avenue, which still are remnants of an earlier street pattern that don't conform to the grid. The newsstand there was where a kid in the neighborhood could find The Village Voice and Variety and The East Village Other back in the day. The B9 bus goes through it on its way between Kings Plaza and Bay Ridge.

Really, take a walk through the neighborhood and you will see it is a nice place even if you are not of same background of the people who live there. They weren't the same kind of people that lived there when I was growing up, and they won't be the same kind of people living there in 20 or 30 years. That is the beauty of Brooklyn (and many other places in our ever-changing city and country).

May. 09 2012 11:08 AM
jsb16 from NJ

I understand how a place could be "0% diverse." That would mean that every individual in the area shares some important characteristic.

I don't understand how any place can be "100% diverse." Does that mean that every individual is a different race/ethnicity/gender/religion/sexual orientation combination from the rest?

Or has WNYC fallen into the trap of using "diverse" as a euphemism for "non-white" again?

May. 09 2012 10:46 AM

For those (mostly from Midwood) who have come here to defend your enclave against statistics, you doth protest too much.

Using the map above, almost the entirety of your neighborhood is fuschia, pink, and white. The only sections which are bluish are those which immediately border Flatbush. Borough Park displays virtually the same degree of homogeneity.

Say what you will about how lovely your neighborhood is. That's fine. But self-selection has created what centuries of assimilation and struggle have tried to combat.

May. 09 2012 10:43 AM
Ellen Honigstock from NYC

Very interesting. Can you post the methodology that was used to get to these numbers?

May. 09 2012 09:25 AM
Flyover from Manhattan

Whatever happened to the motto "Diversity is our Strength," as coined by the ADL and subsequently adopted as an American motto by Pres. Clinton (who added the word “greatest”)? Further, Americans have been drilled insistently into thinking that the beauty of our nation is immigration and assimilation. Apparently there is an exception for jewish people.

If WNYC was to present a report on a purely "white" gentile enclave in our city, the tone would be different, in fact it would be scathing, condescending, and painted with racist overtones. But this ethnic/racial group is different. Are there different shades of “white?”

As mentioned by other postings, it appears this “racially” pure neighborhood is under threat by growing communities of non-jews or, god forbid, undesirable jews. I see this segment as a planted “advertisement,” a clarion call, to come and live in our wholesome neighborhood – if you match our racial requirements. Of course, the cleansing mechanism to purchase homes is the community’s private secondary market. Although they claim not, we all KNOW discrimination is being perpetrated

This is all so disgusting - shame on WNYC for being a part of it. You’ve just lost a listener.

May. 09 2012 09:04 AM

Dear Eddie Brown: The difference between the two scenarios you describe is that "minority groups" (btw whites are a minority in NYCV), especially those who are not white, cannot easily move into white neighborhoods because of institutional racism - redlining by banks, realtors steering different people to different blocks, building owners keeping out people of color, hiring practices that favor whites, lack of access to quality education decreasing earning potential and taking them out of the running for higher priced neighborhoods. As charming as Midwood and others like it may be, it can only be established and maintain itself by keeping out people of color. Realtors, building owners and residents collaborate to keep the neighborhood white.

May. 09 2012 08:43 AM
Judith from Midwood

I cannot help but echo Susan Altman's comment. The Midwood area is far larger than the eight block radius mentioned. If you look at the actual neighborhood boundaries, it closely resembles one if its neighbors, Kensington.

May. 09 2012 08:17 AM
BobT from Central Jersey, formerly from Brooklyn

It goes to show, bird's of a feather flock together, especially when they're Orthodox.

May. 09 2012 08:16 AM
MermaidD

So where does Breezy Point, Queens fall on the Diversity Index?
According to Wikipedia it is 99 1/2% white.

May. 09 2012 02:14 AM
Susan Altman from Midwood

Midwood is more diverse than this one census tract would leave one to believe. While Orthodox Jews are a large part of Midwood, there are many Russians, a growing Pakistani community and a smattering of people from many other groups.

May. 08 2012 10:00 PM
Eddie Brown from New York, NY

Yes Jon, this is odd. Seems that when a minority group moves into an area with many caucasians it is celebrated as diversity. However, when white people flock to an area known for being the home to other ethnic groups it is bemoaned as gentrification. Racism is where you find it.

May. 08 2012 10:00 PM
Jon from Manhattan

I live in an area of Washington Heights that is overwhelmingly Dominican with the small remainder split between Puerto Ricanos, whites and African Americans. I'd hardly consider it diverse. Yet, my daily routine brings me in contact with an incredibly diverse mix of peoples.

I don't quite get this neurotic fixation with whiteness or lack thereof and where one hangs their hat especially given the fact that most New Yorkers spend so much time outside of their small abodes. Someone please explain this to me.

May. 08 2012 05:43 PM
Graeme from New York, NY

Why are they defining Midwood as such a small area? Cherry-picking a census tract that represents a very small part of a large New York City neighborhood doesn't tell you ANYTHING. If you go by neighborhood definitions that almost everyone uses, Midwood is a large, diverse neighborhood.

A contrasting perspective of the Midwood area, by people who actually live there: http://themidwoodblog.com/?p=38

May. 08 2012 05:37 PM

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