The Great Neighborhood Divide

Walk across I-83 in Mount Vernon. On one side is predominantly young white professionals living in old estates-gone-high-rent-apartments. On the other side are predominantly African American communities saturated with vacant homes, homeless citizens, and alcohol outlets. How quickly Baltimore’s neighborhoods can change.

A recent opinion piece by Robert Sampson, highlights this neighborhood divide, what accentuates it, and what may be working to level the playing field.

As Sampson highlights:

  • Racial segregation modestly declined in recent decades but the data still reveals that approximately 60 percent of blacks or whites in metropolitan areas across the country would have to move to achieve racial integration.
  • Nearly a third of African-American children born between 1985 and 2000 were raised in high-poverty neighborhoods. The same number for whites is 1%.
  • Affluent black residents typically live in poorer neighborhoods than lower income white residents
  • The odds that a  child raised in the bottom fifth of income rise to the top fifth as an adult is lower for those who grew up in cities characterized by racial and economic segregation
  • Only a small proportion of communities have experienced America’s mass incarceration where as others are relatively unaffected by the prison boom.
  • growing up in concentrated, disadvantaged neighborhoods lowers children’s verbal skills and IQ
  • Downward mobility is much more severe for African American communities. In Chicago, a study found nearly a third of black infants born in low poverty ended up in high poverty neighborhoods, compared with 2 percent of white children.
  • the neighborhood divide is generational: according to an NYU study half of black families in the United States had lived in the poorest twenty-five percent of neighborhoods in consecutive generations since the 1970s. This number is 7% for white families

Current policies and practices only deepen the divide including:

  • exclusionary zoning
  • red lining
  • withdrawal of public services
  • the segregation of low-income public housing
  • “stop and frisk” policing concentrated on minority populations
  • school funding tied to property values
  • political fragmentation of metropolitan areas where certain localities continue to exclude

Sampson touches on policies and programs that are working to challenge this geography including the Obama administration’s place based initiatives and local mixed income housing developments in New Jersey.

To read the piece in its entirety click here

Read more about the work CPHA is doing to combat the neighborhood divide via the Opportunity Collaborative.


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Michael Snidal

Michael Snidal

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