Monday, August 8th, 2011

The Shifting Urban Geography of Black America

My latest post is online over at New Geography and is called “The Shifting Urban Geography of Black America.” This piece focuses on some of the latest Census results that show either limited growth or actual shrinkage of black population in many of their traditional northern and big city population centers. Combined with strong black growth in the south, some have posited a reverse Great Migration. I take a survey of this. While much research remains to be done, the story appears to be more nuanced than a monolithic Great Return.

Topics: Demographic Analysis

5 Responses to “The Shifting Urban Geography of Black America”

  1. Alexis says:

    Great post, Aaron. Do you think that any discussion relating cities’ high end and creative services platforms to the loss of the Blacks in NYC will inevitably have to wade into the messy territory of institutional bias and how that affects educational attainment and/or finding a job? It might be beyond the scope of geographical analysis but it seems like that’s the logical next step for this line of analysis

    Ta-Nehisi Coates’ (“A Modest Proposal” over at the Atlantic) has probably been one of my favorite takes on this topic. He has rightly pointed out that the discussion around these population losses (in Harlem, in D.C.) has been misguided because of the lack of agency attributed to Black populations. People are voluntarily leaving, and they are doing so for a variety of reasons. I’m not sure if areas in the Northeast are increasingly inhospitable to Blacks or if they have the means/agency to finally leave areas that were creating for them via redlining in the immediate postwar period. I’ve noticed that these migration articles tend to go hand-in-hand with the gentrification pieces to the point where the two phenomenons are being conflated which makes me think there’s a missing element to these discussions.

    Reading the discussions about the Black population numbers, it seems like people are concerned that cities are getting less diverse. The increase of Hispanic and Asian populations in NYC hasn’t been covered as much, which indicates to me that we are still seeing “diversity” within a Black/White framework.

  2. Justin says:

    Living in South Florida, I have to postulate that much of the black growth is from the Caribbean and not from some reverse migration.

  3. Jon Hendricks says:

    Intriguing question about institutional bias but before one leaps to that question I wonder, are blacks moving out of the nicer neighborhoods as well? I don’t know much about NYC. I ask because in Chicago, blacks left the metro and the city but blacks also moved into the Loop and many of the other nicer neighborhoods and suburbs. They were simply offset by other blacks leaving ghettos and some suburbs. There’s a great map from the U of Chicago depicting such at .

  4. Alexis says:


    Great question! One that I, unfortunately, don’t have. But apparently both non-Hispanic Black and White populations have dropped in the past decade, so some of these numbers might be attributed to the general out-migration in New York (which I think Aaron points out in his post).

  5. david vartanoff says:

    what I can report anectdotally from Oakland/SF et al is many older blacks who had bought homes in the 50s,60s as upper working class having reached retirement have cashed out in the insane CA housing market taking their money back south where they can live more cheaply. On my block near the Berkeley border the history is the first white to black sale occurred in 1956. By 1969 whites began moving back in as they were priced out of Berkeley. This seems to be similar on adjacent streets.

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