There is a major demographic shift going on that’s been identified in the 2010 U.S. Census but largely missed by the MSM (I really don’t like that phrase, but it does apply). African Americans are migrating from large Northern cities and relocating to the suburbs or back to the South.
This article from USA Today nearly a year ago speaks to this in Chicago, Cleveland, Atlanta, Oakland and St. Louis. But the same pattern is evident in New York, Washington, DC and of course in Detroit.
The cities that have added African Americans? Indianapolis and Philadelphia are notable among Northern cities; however, Charlotte, Nashville, Austin, Phoenix, Las Vegas – traditional Sun Belt locations – showed boosts.
This quote from demographer William Frey sums it up:
“In the Northern cities, a lot of young blacks who might have grown up in cities are leaving maybe the entire region,” says William Frey, demographer at the Brookings Institution who analyzed the data. “They’re going to the Sun Belt and particularly the South. The ones who stay in the area want to move to the suburbs.”
It’s easy to see why this has happened. Blacks are moving for the same reasons others made the move in recent decades: better job prospects, especially for low-skilled or little-educated workers, are often common in the Sun Belt. It’s the same transition that’s taken place for the last 60 years by other groups.
But things are different now. And blacks may end up being on the outside looking in.
My fear is that many blacks will move to the suburbs or the South at precisely the same time that the transition back to cities gains momentum. Many will find themselves attracted to the suburban lifestyle at the same time that sustained high gas prices make driving less viable, that jobs begin to migrate from the suburbs back to cities.
Furthermore, blacks are moving south to locations that could be at the forefront of climate change. Much of the South from Atlanta westward to Texas has been dealing with a years-long drought that has put water management issues on the table, while temperatures have been creeping upwards. Meanwhile, Northern cities, particularly those in the Midwest, have access to the water that Southern cities will later crave.
It reminds me of an encounter at a public meeting when I was a planning consultant. I was working on a neighborhood planning project in a predominantly black neighborhood adjacent to an expanding downtown. There was genuine concern that downtown growth would swallow the old neighborhood. Our approach was to show residents how to embrace the new types of development that could occur on the edges of the community – mixed use and multifamily development – while preserving the single family character of much of the area. We emphasized that communities around the country were embracing new development patterns after learning how unsustainable the low-density, conventional suburban pattern had become. This approach was met with silence from the community.
Finally one gentleman spoke up. He said, “In those other communities, didn’t people have a chance to try out their white-picket-fences before realizing they wanted something else?” We agreed, they did. Then he said, “Well, we want our chance to find out it doesn’t work.”