The White City


Among the media, academia and within planning circles, there’s a generally standing answer to the question of what cities are the best, the most progressive and best role models for small and mid-sized cities. The standard list includes Portland, Seattle, Austin, Minneapolis, and Denver. In particular, Portland is held up as a paradigm, with its urban growth boundary, extensive transit system, excellent cycling culture, and a pro-density policy. These cities are frequently contrasted with those of the Rust Belt and South, which are found wanting, often even by locals, as “cool” urban places.

But look closely at these exemplars and a curious fact emerges. If you take away the dominant Tier One cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles you will find that the “progressive” cities aren’t red or blue, but another color entirely: white.

In fact, not one of these “progressive” cities even reaches the national average for African American percentage population in its core county. Perhaps not progressiveness but whiteness is the defining characteristic of the group.

The progressive paragon of Portland is the whitest on the list, with an African American population less than half the national average. It is America's ultimate White City. The contrast with other, supposedly less advanced cities is stark.

It is not just a regional thing, either. Even look just within the state of Texas, where Austin is held up as a bastion of right thinking urbanism next to sprawlvilles like Dallas-Ft. Worth and Houston.

Again, we see that Austin is far whiter than either Dallas-Ft. Worth or Houston.

This raises troubling questions about these cities. Why is it that progressivism in smaller metros is so often associated with low numbers of African Americans? Can you have a progressive city properly so-called with only a disproportionate handful of African Americans in it? In addition, why has no one called these cities on it?

As the college educated flock to these progressive El Dorados, many factors are cited as reasons: transit systems, density, bike lanes, walkable communities, robust art and cultural scenes. But another way to look at it is simply as White Flight writ large. Why move to the suburbs of your stodgy Midwest city to escape African Americans and get criticized for it when you can move to Portland and actually be praised as progressive, urban and hip? Many of the policies of Portland are not that dissimilar from those of upscale suburbs in their effects. Urban growth boundaries and other mechanisms raise land prices and render housing less affordable exactly the same as large lot zoning and building codes that mandate brick and other expensive materials do. They both contribute to reducing housing affordability for historically disadvantaged communities. Just like the most exclusive suburbs.

This lack of racial diversity helps explain why urban boosters focus increasingly on international immigration as a diversity measure. Minneapolis, Portland and Austin do have more foreign born than African Americans, and do better than Rust Belt cities on that metric, but that's a low hurdle to jump. They lack the diversity of a Miami, Houston, Los Angeles or a host of other unheralded towns from the Texas border to Las Vegas and Orlando. They even have far fewer foreign born residents than many suburban counties of America's major cities.

The relative lack of diversity in places like Portland raises some tough questions the perennially PC urban boosters might not want to answer. For example, how can a city define itself as diverse or progressive while lacking in African Americans, the traditional sine qua non of diversity, and often in immigrants as well?

Imagine a large corporation with a workforce whose African American percentage far lagged its industry peers, sans any apparent concern, and without a credible action plan to remediate it. Would such a corporation be viewed as a progressive firm and employer? The answer is obvious. Yet the same situation in major cities yields a different answer. Curious.

In fact, lack of ethnic diversity may have much to do with what allows these places to be “progressive”. It's easy to have Scandinavian policies if you have Scandinavian demographics. Minneapolis-St. Paul, of course, is notable in its Scandinavian heritage; Seattle and Portland received much of their initial migrants from the northern tier of America, which has always been heavily Germanic and Scandinavian.

In comparison to the great cities of the Rust Belt, the Northeast, California and Texas, these cities have relatively homogenous populations. Lack of diversity in culture makes it far easier to implement “progressive” policies that cater to populations with similar values; much the same can be seen in such celebrated urban model cultures in the Netherlands and Scandinavia. Their relative wealth also leads to a natural adoption of the default strategy of the upscale suburb: the nicest stuff for the people with the most money. It is much more difficult when you have more racially and economically diverse populations with different needs, interests, and desires to reconcile.

In contrast, the starker part of racial history in America has been one of the defining elements of the history of the cities of the Northeast, Midwest, and South. Slavery and Jim Crow led to the Great Migration to the industrial North, which broke the old ethnic machine urban consensus there. Civil rights struggles, fair housing, affirmative action, school integration and busing, riots, red lining, block busting, public housing, the emergence of black political leaders – especially mayors – prompted white flight and the associated disinvestment, leading to the decline of urban schools and neighborhoods.

There's a long, depressing history here.

In Texas, California, and south Florida a somewhat similar, if less stark, pattern has occurred with largely Latino immigration. This can be seen in the evolution of Miami, Los Angeles, and increasingly Houston, San Antonio and Dallas. Just like African-Americans, Latino immigrants also are disproportionately poor and often have different site priorities and sensibilities than upscale whites.

This may explain why most of the smaller cities of the Midwest and South have not proven amenable to replicating the policies of Portland. Most Midwest advocates of, for example, rail transit, have tried to simply transplant the Portland solution to their city without thinking about the local context in terms of system goals and design, and how to sell it. Civic leaders in city after city duly make their pilgrimage to Denver or Portland to check out shiny new transit systems, but the resulting videos of smiling yuppies and happy hipsters are not likely to impress anyone over at the local NAACP or in the barrios.

We are seeing this script played out in Cincinnati presently, where an odd coalition of African Americans and anti-tax Republicans has formed to try to stop a streetcar system. Streetcar advocates imported Portland's solution and arguments to Cincinnati without thinking hard enough to make the case for how it would benefit the whole community.

That's not to let these other cities off the hook. Most of them have let their urban cores decay. Almost without exception, they have done nothing to engage with their African American populations. If people really believe what they say about diversity being a source of strength, why not act like it? I believe that cities that start taking their African American and other minority communities seriously, seeing them as a pillar of civic growth, will reap big dividends and distinguish themselves in the marketplace.

This trail has been blazed not by the “progressive” paragons but by places like Atlanta, Dallas and Houston. Atlanta, long known as one of America's premier African American cities, has boomed to become the capital of the New South. It should come as no surprise that good for African Americans has meant good for whites too. Similarly, Houston took in tens of thousands of mostly poor and overwhelmingly African American refugees from Hurricane Katrina. Houston, a booming metro and emerging world city, rolled out the welcome mat for them – and for Latinos, Asians and other newcomers. They see these people as possessing talent worth having.

This history and resulting political dynamic could not be more different from what happened in Portland and its “progressive” brethren. These cities have never been black, and may never be predominately Latino. Perhaps they cannot be blamed for this but they certainly should not be self-congratulatory about it or feel superior about the urban policies a lack of diversity has enabled.

Aaron M. Renn is an independent writer on urban affairs based in the Midwest. His writings appear at The Urbanophile.

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Alhtough Sometimes Generalized, Your Blog Makes A Lot Of Sense

Many of the comments below seem to take the authors points personally and go out of there way to righteously disprove some well written points and thoughts. While there are some generalizations, the article is in line with the way I feel at times as a resident of Austin. I moved here for lifestyle, tech work, and the concept that I was moving to a place that was progressive in thought and action for my black children. Although there are some wonderful people here the label of "progressive and diverse" is not the first thing that always comes to mind. Secular and self-centered are sometimes more descriptive labels for this town. The city is very segregated and at times not very accepting of other cultures and races. None of the adverse comments in previous posts addressed how they or their cities engage or interact with their current black populations but continually ask "what is diversity" or why is it important or what is the criteria for diversity. The black population in Austin continues to get smaller every year as its black professionals and middle class move to other places where they feel accepted. The poor areas of town are neglected and simply avoided unless there is some trendy bar or nightclub. Most people don't care if the people in those areas prosper because it does not affect them at all or randomly affects them in a negative stereotypical sort of way. They sometimes fail to look beyond their own issues (which is very human) and say stupid comments like some of the comments in the previous post made by Sinecurious

To me not planning for a truly diverse, progressive and accepting society is kind of like civic planning. If you don't plan for a road system that will be able to accommodate a growing population you will eventually have traffic, congestion and jaded people who feel forced to move to the next safe suburb.

ah, white liberals

I don't know how I found this blog or this particular article, but I had to laugh. It deserves a good flaming, though I suspect that the author is probably a good fellow. I realize this post is now over a year old, but folks have commented quite recently.

I certainly agree that "progressive" cities "should not be self-congratulatory about it or feel superior about the urban policies a lack of diversity has enabled". Why is this? It's because most liberals are pathetic, lying hypocrites who refuse to speak the truth.

My initial "drunk guy at the bar" response: What is it with (white progressive) people? "elle" from Brooklyn pretty much nailed it. How large, exactly, is the bubble that you people live in? About as large as Oregon, apparently.

Why is it so lamentable that there are places where "diversity" is so lacking? Has the author ever lived in an area with a large black population? Has he ever even lived on the fringes of a black neighborhood? Has he ever had to "Deal" with that kind of crap, ever? Was the author ever the only white person on the school bus, classroom, etc.? Has he ever been stabbed in the leg with a pencil (punched, spit on, verbally abused, etc.)...for being the only white person in the classroom?

Be careful what you wish for, is all I can say.

I live in fairly blighted, impoverished city in Upstate, New York which is about 12% black. The town is largely segregated, but there are neighborhoods that are "mixed". I probably live in the whitest part of town. I am not a townie; I have lived in the urban yuppie places.

I would challenge anyone to break down the violent crimes committed in most any US city on the basis of race only. Stranger-upon-stranger violent crime (armed mugging and/or aggravated assault) is the clincher, since it's what makes people move away. That's what people generally mean when they say, "that's a bad area". Most people can deal with blight, junkies, and hookers, but not many people like it when someone sticks a gun in their face and says, "give it up, motherf*&cker!". That's no fun. Do you have lots of that in Portland? Davis Square in Somerville, MA? Austin? etc. etc.

There is absolutely no excuse for armed mugging or unprovoked physical assault, even if you are poor and cannot find work. Be thankful that there are large cities in the United States where that kind of thing is relatively rare.

The author should refer to the Unabomber Manifesto. Here is a snippet from paragraph #29:

In all ESSENTIAL respects more leftists of the oversocialized type want to make the black man conform to white, middle-class ideals. They want to make him study technical subjects, become an executive or a scientist, spend his life climbing the status ladder to prove that black people are as good as white.


Why cannot you just accept that most African-Americans probably don't want to be around you (white progressives or whites in general)? They probably don't want to "enjoy" the things that white progressives find interesting, either. They don't want to listen to Stereolab or "This American Life", nor do they give a damn about whatever dumb fad is passing about through the white, liberal web/media Zeitgeist.

Why don't you just relax and stop worrying about "diversity"? Diversity is bullsh&t newspeak. Get over yourself.

If it really bothers you that much, you can always move to a more "diverse" area. Be a trendsetter, man!

Facts are Wrong

Thanks for the article, I appreciate your raising some interesting points, but essentially, most of your argument of "Whiteness" is incorrect. You can't measure whiteness by comparing % of black population. You realize that are many other races? I think your points are still somewhat valid from a 'class' discussion, but not a racial one.

So I pulled some data from the American Community Survey 2009 (Census data), and although they don't classify Hispanic in the same way as other races, I'm just using their percentages anyway (I feel it's a fair comparison if you're applying it the same in all metros). This also doesn't take into account all the races that do not fit into Hispanic, Asian, or African American (Native American, Islander, etc). It's just an approximation, but closer than yours.

What follows is an actual measure of whiteness:

Austin MSA is 31% Hispanic, 5% Asian, and 8% African American, leaving the city 56% white.

Minneapolis-St. Paul MSA is 5% Hispanic, 6% Asian, and 8% African American, leaving the city 81% white.

Portland MSA is 11% Hispanic, 7% Asian, and 4% African American, leaving the city 78% white.

Cincinnati MSA is 2% Hispanic, 2% Asian, and 13% African American, leaving the city 83% white.

To review:

Austin - 56% White
Portland - 78% White
MSP - 81% White
Cincinnati - 83% White

So, Cincinnati is the whitest of these 4 cities. Yes, this is metropolitan areas, not JUST the primary cities, but anybody talking about cities today realizes that the borders don't end at the traditional city boundaries, and an analysis that doesn't look at metros is pretty bogus.

What this DOES potentially show is some really interesting dynamics, where the so-called "progressive" cities that you're discussing, while less white than rust-belt cities, might have a higher concentration of white (or more realistically, better educated/higher income) people in the urban core.

Whereas in the older, rust-belt cities that suffered through white flight for years, the poorer/minority population is concentrated in the urban core, with the wealthier (and generally whiter) population lying in the suburbs.

So, there's certainly a lot to talk about, but The White City is clearly not an apt description.

This article is a perfect example of intellectual dishonesty

Guess what folks? There aren’t nearly as many African-Americans in the western states. I know this must be a shock to some of you, and it would seem as if the author is completely oblivious to this basic fact as well.

So, cherry-picking only WESTERN cities that are progressive, and then criticizing them for their lack of substantial African-American populations is about as intellectually dishonest as you can possibly get. This author should be fired if he hasn’t been already.

Even a first-year journalism student can simply take a look at a map of ethnic distribution across the US, and he or she will see that the majority of African-Americans reside across the southeast and within the large metropolitan areas. In the southwest we see many more Latinos, in the northernmost states we find the bulk of those with Scandinavian ancestry, and so on, and so on…

Sure, Austin doesn’t have as high an African-American population as Dallas-Ft. Worth or Houston, but you are talking about two of the most massive urban areas in the entire country (4th and 6th, respectively), in a state where the majority of African-Americans live within these massive urban areas. Do the readers of this article not realize how small an African-American population exists, for example, in a western state like Oregon? Naturally you aren’t going to find as high a percentage of African-Americans in a city like Portland as you are in the bigger cities to the east, but that goes without saying. So WHAT IN THE WORLD does that have to do with progressives? NOTHING. It’s like saying there aren’t enough Latinos in Maine, and then somehow blaming the progressives in Maine for it.

How much more obvious could this be, people?

Why didn’t the author look at the OTHER progressive areas in the country, like ones in the east? Even if we exclude the progressive areas in-and-around the massive eastern cities, there are still other progressive small cities and such, even in the southeast. Ever heard of Athens, GA? …or Chapel Hill-Carrboro, NC? These kinds of places are very progressive, and have African-American populations at or above the national average.

Oh no! The author’s blatantly-dishonest theory begins to shatter!

In fact, Chapel Hill-Carrboro is by far one of the most progressive places in the entire nation, with Carrboro electing an openly gay mayor, and the cities of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Durham harboring a HUGE illegal immigrant population due to their sanctuary laws (and the new nickname for the RDU-CH area is the “Cinco Circle”, due to an estimated 600,000 immigrants or more moving into the area over the past decade or so). On top of that, Chapel Hill-Carrboro offers hands-down the best public education K-thru-Doctorate of anywhere in entire country, and their local governments were among the first in the nation to condemn the invasion of Iraq and the abuses within the Patriot Act. How much more progressive can you get? The fact is that Chapel Hill-Carrboro is so progressive that it makes Berkeley and San Francisco look like a bunch of rich yuppies in comparison.

But… but… there must be lots of crime due to all those immigrants and African-Americans, right?!

Sorry to disappoint, but in fact it’s just the opposite. Chapel Hill and Carrboro each have an average of ZERO murders in a given year. It’s not only one of the most integrated and culturally-tolerant areas in the entire world, but it is also one of the safest.

Yeah, all that progressive-melting-pot stuff sure is bad. I think I’ll roll my eyes now.

This article is so unprofessionally-written that it is beyond laughable. The author should be ashamed of himself, as should anyone who can’t see how he has cherry-picked his statistics to perpetrate a bold-faced lie. Reminds me of a certain fake “news” network on tv...

Athens has tons of crime & poverty!

And Chapel Hill-Carrboro is 13% black. Looks pretty average to me.

But that's beside the point. It's not that black people ruin things. They don't. It's that racial division creates resistance to development of public infrastructure. You did a pretty lousy job of proving these cities are progressive on transit.

White conservatives are moving to the suburbs.

White liberals have are gentrifying the urban cores.

Neither side has solved the problem of racial division. They both just avoid it. I think liberals get a pass on this because conservatives are too invested in the idea of colorblindness.

BTW-I'm beginning to wonder if you're a troll. The phrase "melting-pot" has been out of style for decades.

I'm glad this article set

I'm glad this article set off an alarm that screams 'No More Mortgage' in someone else's head! While I do appreciate the reporting doing their best, I do feel like there were several gaping holes in their research. It IS true that the farther west you travel, the percentage of African Americans decreases. I hope they do a follow up to this article with some real facts.

On the contrary, mass transit is heavily used in Portland

@ elle, regarding "Portland- No one uses the public transit there anyways!"

I found your thoughts on race and racism thought provoking, but I have to say, I think your perception of the use of mass transit and cycling in Portland is inaccurate. I'm not sure what part of Portland you lived in, nor am I sure when you used the rail or bus transit, but clearly it was some off-peak Sunday evening... I'm used to standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the bus, light rail, or street car at commute time. Your co-workers who were joking about funding the mass-transit that "no one uses" must have had their heads in the sand as deep as you did while you were living here.

Equally laughable was your comment "Everyone drives in Portland! Did I just let out the dirty little secret? The bike paths go unused!"

Really? Have you ever been stuck in the queue on the approaches to the Hawthorne Bridge at commute time? I've been among dozens of cyclists at a time, waiting their turn to approach the bridge IN A HOWLING WIND AND RAIN IN JANUARY. Try it on a nice July morning, and it's two blocks of cyclists abreast. Plus, if you knew your cycling etiquette/city ordinance, you'd know that the people frowning at you for riding on the sidewalk had good reason to do so, since it's not allowed on downtown sidewalks (and it's ludicrous to do so, given the abundant bike lanes.)

I'm not being defensive when I say this (I'm mostly just puzzled,) but sorry that our fair city didn't work out for you. I hope whatever city you decide to inhabit henceforth doesn't get the same jaundiced view from you. A city is only as good or progressive as its citizens involvement in creating positive change allows.

Portland- No one uses the public transit there anyways!

I love the article, and love the responses even more. Let's all just be honest about these issues!

I can comment about two cities; Portland, Orgeon, and New York City (Brooklyn in particular). I'm a native New Yorker, and have lived in the city proper for 11 years, and before that the (planets away) suburbs of New York (Westchester).

I interned in Portland for a summer. Beautiful city. How clean the public transit system is compared to New York! It's like taking a train through a rain-forest. Note, it is not *underground (nightmare/hellhole) like New York's is either. Beautiful views of trees the whole ride... like being in a theme park. That being said, as someone who wanted to save money for the summer there, and use public transist and bike instead, NO ONE USES THE PORTLAND TRANSIT SYSTEM... VERY FEW. There's always a seat, and usually more empty seats than people. Everyone drives. It was a big joke among my co-workers that they were funding a transit system no one used. I was able to get around good enough on it, but it stops running around midnight.

Portland is SMALL enough that one can bike around it easily- that being said, no one does, and I was frequently frowned upon for riding my bike on the sidewalk (as all the mexican and asian delivery men do all the time in New York), and many times it was assumed I was a prostitute, just because it is so odd for a woman to be out out there past midnight on foot or bicycle (again, nothing like the city that never sleeps, NYC). New York has much more bike traffic. Everyone drives in Portland! Did I just let out the dirty little secret? The bike paths go unused!

Portland does have a seedy side, almost a gay redlight district that permits odd forms of public prostitution. I once saw a black hooker there with her face painted white, like some kind of odd kabuki get up. Strip clubs are very popular with the bored, progressive portlanders.

Meanwhile, back in Brooklyn, I live in a white immigrant area (working class) and I deal with reverse racism from blacks, asians, etc, somewhat frequently (although 99% of them are just fine to me, the times it does happen are very upsetting- and yes, I do fight back). Brooklyn is completely segregated, and even when rich yuppie whites move into black neighborhoods and gentrify it, the blacks and whites exist in parallel worlds; it is never really integrated, even if it is integrated. The cafes and bars are filled with whites.

So yes, both my friends in the expensive, all-white Village section of Manhattan, and people in Portland, and the whites I grew up with in the suburbs have no idea or common understanding of my experiences with race- you can't be a racist if you don't live around other races or experience racism yourself.

My ex-best friend in Portland was a black guy (the Obama election destroyed our friendship) who admitted he liked living in Portland because he could avoid big city racial tensions and because "it's pretty white". All of his male and female friends are whites- progressive whites who put him on a pedestal and idolize him because he is black.

Those who do not experience boots-on-the-ground diversity first hand (in neighborhoods, inter-personal relationships, roommate situations, work situations, etc) have no right to comment on it.

I recommend interracial relationships/"friendships"/marriage and more importantly, interracial divorce, as a way for others to lose that white guilt. Get screwed over by a black friend or non-white boyfriend or girlfriend... then tell me how much you pity them for belonging to some "oppressed group".

I'm an ex-liberal on race myself, and I would never have imagined in my wildest dreams I'd be writing any of this.

What does progressive mean?

Britain has just had a general election which has led to a Conservative led Coalition government. There was a brief attempt between Liberal Democrat and New Labour politicians to attempt a "progressive coalition" to stop the Conservatives forming a government. The fear being that this would be regressive. These self-styled progressives failed.

Yet the measures that the Conservative led Coalition government are pursuing are no different to those that progressives advocated:

-Tightening of immigration controls
-Foreign military adventures in the Middle East and Afghanistan
-Extension of the retirement age towards 70
-Dismantling of Welfare measures in the name of relieving "dependency"
-Forcing people to take low paid private work to reduce "worklessness"
-Pushing for pay cuts for public sector employees (>25% of workforce)
-Abandoning commitments to annual house building targets
-Strengthening the Town and Country planning legislation

It seems that any fool can call themselves a progressive. The word is reduced to flattering those with moralities. No doubt the progressive city administrations would dearly love to have greater social diversity. To be less conspicuously white.

What is not meant is the nineteenth century idea of progress, that raising productivity through industry could better support a greater population, and so that all in society might have a better standard of living. The workforce found they had to organise to demand that better standard of living from those who owned industry.

It used to suit capitalism to promote industrial development and the promise of progress. Now capitalism is in retreat from investment in industry, and in that retreat prefers to argue for environmentalism as a progressive morality.

It is not that the progressives are against blacks. They would be shocked to be accused of racism. It is that the self styled progressive capitalists want to make a virtue out of protecting the environment from people. By "people" they can't help but mean those who are seen as surplus to forms of employment that have less need for investment to raise industrial productivity.

It is progressive to aspire to being post-industrial in a world where industry can be expanded globally using more labour instead of machinery. If these progressive cities are able to be more white than most it is because most cities rely on their work being done by diverse populations in other places. Surely this is the geographic point that Aaron Renn misses.

It wouldn't matter if a city were all black. Self-sufficiency in a city is a green myth. The citizens would still depend to some extent on the work being carried out by other diverse people in Brazil, Russia, India, and China, and in other declining industrial nations with legacies of immigration. Of course there is no all black city in the developed world, and that would be no better than an all white city.

London is no different in that international interdependency. While less white than it used to be, being blacker or browner makes it no less progressive in the contemporary sense: being prepared to keep foreigners out, and not seriously opposing the killing of some singled out for military intervention. There is little chance that employees in London in all their diversity will organise themselves to demand a standard of living as would have seemed sensible at times over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Most with mortgages are hoping that house price inflation continues, and that they don't find themselves workless.

We've got to get over the post-industrial moralism of the term progressive, since the idea of progress has lost the nineteenth century materialist promise that capitalism could not, and still cannot, fully deliver.

There is no post-capitalist prospect at present. There is only austerity dressed up as post-industrial environmentalism by what claims to be progessive capitalism.

Ian Abley

Texas cities images are flat-out wrong

"Even look just within the state of Texas, where Austin is held up as a bastion of right thinking urbanism next to sprawlvilles like Dallas-Ft. Worth and Houston."

How is Austin held up as a bastion of right thinking urbanism? Austin has no light rail. Dallas and Houston do. And outside of the Austin city limits, there is very little control of development -- good or bad -- in the unincorporated areas. The state of Texas allows counties very little power. Outside of city limits, almost anything goes. In this sense, Austin can end up just as much of a "sprawlville" (and is already getting that way) as Houston and Dallas. The city of Austin has no control over what happens outside of its city limits. Where do you think most of the new developments and neighborhoods are going up? Heard of Cedar Park, Leander, Round Rock, Pflugerville, Buda? Likewise, just like the Austin city limits, there is zoning (Dallas) and land-use controls and ordinances (Houston) in each of those cities limits.

The Texas cities are all more alike than different. The overrated PR out of image-conscience Austin and overhype by the clueless national media seems to have some people convinced otherwise...

comments on white city article

while I appreciated your articulate thoughts on how race plays a huge role in the ways our nations cities develop and are viewed, I have some thoughts I'd like to share that run contrary to your point of view.
I have lived in two predominately white cities in my life, not because I was looking for that situation, but because my work happened to be there. in both of these places, the consensus is, that wherever there are large black communities, there is more crime, more next-door-neighbor noise, more loud booming car stereos sliding up the street at 4 in the morning. and these aren't just ignorant, aberrant thoughts bobbling around in the heads of some red neck hillbilly's heads, there is some truth in that, and that has to be acknowledged. It ought not be frowned upon so heavily that people would like to move to communities where they feel safe, comfortable ,and can have a sense of peace. Afterall, isn’t that why we don’t all live in trailer parks?

I have read this article

I have read this article twice now, and I have to agree with both the author but also with many of the commentors (definitely not everyone, though). Ultimately, you have to value diversity in order to agree with the author's argument, which is why I generally do agree with his conclusions. It is challenging to live in a heterogeneous environment because it is simply less comfortable. However, it has also enabled me to understand my neighbors and fellow citizens so much better through actually living among them! When I first moved to St. Louis four years ago fresh out of college, I thought this place was the most racist city in the country. However, I have seen over the years that we're not unique; everywhere where there is a large population of blacks you find racism, segregation and the like (mostly directed at blacks by everyone else). The point is, as others have pointed out, race is still number one when many people decide where to lay down roots. It is so easy to tell disenfranchised minorities that "in this day and age..." just get a job! As someone else has said, we first need to invest in our schools and our communities to ever expect to see a positive change. Until then, I will continue to choose to live in places where it is not only economically diverse but racially as well. I love my neighborhood and even while admitting its few shortcomings, I wouldn't trade it for Portland or Denver ever. St. Louis is progressive because we CHOOSE to live among people who aren't like us. Not to say that there aren't homogeneous neighborhoods or racial attitudes that exist still - many people refuse to live in the city limits, or north of Delmar if they're white, or east of Kingshighway even. But there is a growing population of us - black, white, whatever - who are throwing those old attitudes aside. It will take time, but I have hope for the future. BTW - I can afford to live in St. Louis. Not so much in Portland.

this article is upsetting...

...not because of the conclusions it draws but rather because it has been published as a 'new geography' article. As a geography student, this article greatly offends me. How can it offer this analysis (or lack there of) without unpacking why it might be that white cities would be (can be) more progressive? This article offers a superficial analysis. It is certainly not enough to write, "It's easy to have Scandinavian policies if you have Scandinavian demographics." Have we forgotten about the country's continued racism and segregated society? The United States, the great capitalist society, has such gross inequality based on racism that a situation where minorities and the poor (often correlated) need to work two jobs (often as single parents raising children). Not to mention the many other concerns and stresses that makes it hard or unrealistic to think about sustainability or biking to work. White Americans, white portlanders (to make generalizations like this article does) have easier more secure lives in terms of jobs, food, the safety and success of their children, etc. White people are generally able to focus on other issues beyond themselves; they are not dealing with the stress of rejection or reintegrating into society after being in jail for the past 20 years of their life. If Aaron Renn really wants to make this argument I suggest he think through it a bit more.

misleading article

I imagine there is a pretty straightfoward explanation: income, education, and race are all correlated. Instead of having race as the metric, we could substitute income levels and have a completely different conversation. I think the way the article is presented is horribly misleading and, frankly, irresponsible. It makes it a lot easier to be progressive when you don't have to worry about putting food on the table or keeping your kids safe, whatever your race.

Interesting reading (except for the statistical nit-pikcing)

I found Wescott's post ("And this is news?" or something like that) to be a remarkable addendum to Aaron's central observation, with which I concur. (I am knowledgeable about Seattle in particular, Portland somewhat similarly, Chicago as a native and Philadelphia as an urban college student. I'm now closer to Cincinnati, whose population dynamics I'm still trying to more fully grasp, but I suspect its deep minority poverty levels *may* have some historical roots in it being free land for slaves when the Ohio River separated free from slave areas. The less energetic among them didn't move on during the post WWII Great Migration northward is my working hypothesis.)

The lesson-in-a-nutshell to be learned from Aaron's piece is that demographics is key to an urban area's destiny and character. Portland is a prime example -- sheesh, its 'progressivism' is gonna be worse than I experienced (and fled) in 27 years in Seattle.

For those interested in learning more on demographic 'herding' behavior', see Thomas Schelling's "Micromotives and Macrobehavior" chapter 'Sorting and Mixing', especially the 'A Self-Forming Neighborhood Model' section. He presents a nice intuitive spatial model using coins.

Broad Brush


Thought provoking article and insightful comments. A few thoughts...

We should be careful about making broad sweeping assertions as in "progressives" do this and "conservatives" do that and then deploying those labels to explain behavior or even worse, motivation.

Yet, the article poses interesting questions - why is it that so called urban "progressives" are often highly concerned about amenities such as dog parks, coffee houses, hip restaurants and art house cinemas. How about fellow citizens, who may be different, by race, class, wealth, ethnicity or any of myriad classifications? Well, not so much. The simple, but complex answer is that, as a nation, as a world for that matter, we're all a part of the same hypocrisy (to paraphrase Michael Corleone of "The Godfather" film), progressives included. Contradictions and illogic abound, that's what makes us human.

I live near Boston, certainly by any measure a "progressive" city and in the bluest of the blue states to boot. It's a highly walkable city, with great public transportation. However, the once dilapidated downtown area is rapidly becoming a series of gated communities rising into the sky. Just as sheltered, just as isolated as the much decried suburban McMansion communities. Now here’s what’s interesting - these new city-dwellers are actually working to create a "Disneyland" version of urban living!

Artists are being forced out of their lofts to make way for luxury condominiums, under the heading of "adaptive reuse," reuse which, ironically, has no use for the long-time residents. The marketing of the projects co-ops the artist cache, yet the local artists face extinction. Both the reusers and those that are used are almost exclusively white. The notion that race or ethnicity explains all urban dynamics just doesn't hold up to close scrutiny. In fact, the upscale progressives would likely be more welcoming and accepting of an Ivy League-educated black than a blue-collar worker from nearby South Boston. Upon closer inspection, you will find that some neighborhoods, which are celebrated for their diversity and progressiveness are actually quite segregated at the sub-neighborhood, block-by-block, house-by-house level. The most diverse section of the city is underground, in the subway system. Sit on the train, look around and you see America…

Wonder what explanations Malcolm Gladwell or the folks over at Freakomics would offer..?


I know it's been a fad for awhile for white apologists to write articles in which they presume to know what black people want ("...not to be racist or anything") but if lack of appropriate minority percentages in a city is a "problem" that prevents it from being accurately touted as "progressive" - what is the solution? Do you think minorities (black folks in particular, to fit with the author) should be loaded into a cattle car and shipped to certain cities in order to beef up selective statistics? Did he do any research into the importance of family within the black community, or other priorities of minority populations that make living in the Pacific Northwest impractical - or is it just assumed that the only reason for a predominantly white population is because minorities have been unofficially banished?

Cities like Atlanta prove that predominantly black cities can be just as progressive, thriving, and economically booming as the so-called white cities mentioned in the article. As much as the author would like to further the opinion that minority communities need to be "saved," we're perfectly capable of saving ourselves.

What these "progressive" cities lack

Though the statistical analysis is a bit messy (it always is when comparing today's sprawling, multi-jurisdictional cities), I applaud the author's initiative in adressing the racial divide between cities seen as "progressive" and the older, post-industrial cities that are percieved as being behind the curve. I think the big issue here is the presence of large black populations who have been hit by the twin 20th century hardships of disappearing manufacturing jobs and persistent racism. This results in concentrations of poor blacks in large areas of these cities and becomes a drag on places trying to bring back middle and upper class people, mostly whites, who want to live in a safe and comfortable URBAN environment.

A couple thoughts:

1. The difficulty in growing and enhancing a city with a large and concentrated population of poor black people lies in both breaking the cycle of poverty and changing perceptions that in urban areas, race=class. Kids who grow up in areas of concentrated poverty face an enormous uphill climb and the odds are severely stacked against them. Sure, there are some who can overcome the odds, but let's not delude ourselves into thinking that urban poverty can be curtailed simply by people "pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps".

Secondly, we need to abandon the idea that racism is dead, and accept that there are still divisions within our society that need to be rectified. Seeing a bunch of black people on the street and saying aloud "this area is pretty ghetto" or "better roll up the windows" may not seem to be harming anyone, but it reinforces an invisible barrier between human beings and defines an entire race as both inferior and dangerous. As long as these ideas persist, upper class whites will largely avoid cities with large black populations.

2. There will always be poor areas, but the best option we have for advancing our cities is to break the cycle of poverty for younger generations. Investing heavily in schools and providing avenues for job training and paths to entry-level, middle class jobs is how this poverty can be alleviated, but it is neither cheap nor easy. We as a nation still have not reversed the damage that slavery, segregation, redlining, and racial hatred have had on our black populations. That is the legacy that burdens the so-called "non-progressive" cities. Just because the "progressive" cities do not have as big a problem with urban poverty does not mean that they are a model for the future. They simply have a cleaner slate to start with. As for the people who flock to Portland out of frustration with Cleveland, it is understandable, even justifiable to seek out a more comfortable place to live, but it is also selfish and anti-social to run away from problems rather than working to fix them. Perhaps we should have abandoned lower Manhattan after 9/11 or let New Orleans die after Katrina? What is needed is a national commitment to rebuild urban education and job training, so that we can finally reverse a problem that we as a society created in the first place.


this article articulated ideas that i have been mulling over for a while , having grown up in austin and now living in seattle. what really bothers me about these cities is their relentless self-identification as progressive bastions when the kind of progressivism they offer actually seems to really lack any kind of racial justice lens. the dominant culture of these cities seems to me to basically be a white liberal one that at its best pays lip service to the issue of racism and never really ever challenges racism on economic, social, or cultural fronts. i dont think that the racism in these "progressive" cities is necessarily more insidious than it is in other cities of similar size, but it certainly feels more hypocritical. also, the actual lower population size of people of color in these cities makes it so that this dominant culture can kind of stifle any challenge to its self-image. that said, i have found in each of these places communities of color that actively assert their own progressive perspective and contest the white liberal one. cant say how these communities compare to similar ones in cities thought of as "less progressive" however. i have the feeling that they are not that different, that whether its a "liberal" city or not, they are fighting against the racism and economic and other inequalities that exist in our society everywhere.

A better title might be "The White County"

Using county demographics tends to understate the actual diversity of the cities in question. Thinking about diversity only in terms of black and white is also not very diverse, it seems to me. Seattle, for instance, is about 68 percent white, or 32 percent non-white. That doesn't mean that there is not a color-line in Seattle - south Seattle is predominantly non-white, while north Seattle is predominantly white (although increasingly Asian). There are convergence zones, however - Capitol Hill is the most diverse community in Seattle and also the most dense.

West coast cities also tend to have larger Asian populations and smaller black populations for largely historical reasons. Asian migration to the west coast dates back to the 19th century, while much of the black migration occurred beginning with WWII to work in wartime industries (ships, planes, etc). Black migration to the rust bucket began much earlier.

That said, transit-oriented development policies and urban growth boundaries can have the effect of driving minorities out of their traditional central urban neighborhoods, which are rapidly becoming gentrified (reverse white flight, I suppose). In Seattle, that increasingly means that the non-professional working class and the working poor, more likely to be non-white than not, is increasingly being driven to the urban fringe (Renton, Federal Way, White Center, etc.), where they have much poorer access to transit, social services, medical facilities, etc.

Atlanta has "Boomed"?

One issue the article failed to consider is the crime rate. Atlanta, residents endure three times the rate of violent crime that residents of the next largest city, Columbus, have to put up with. So how is this added into the mix that labels Atlanta some sort of New South Mecca? Ooops, I forgot, mentioning crime rates of cities with large minority populations is PC verboten. 'Scuuuse me!

Gee, I wonder if the ascendancy of these so-called "progressive" white cities has anything to do with values and behavior? Oooops! There I go again. Exit, staaaage right

white city

The cities mentioned as progressive white enclaves have one thing in common that makes them so attractive, and that is their embrace of the "creative class". They welcome different points of view and have a generally live and let live attitude. It's literally a more positive energy. It's not a diversity quota that you'd expect from the Post Office. If young educated people are moving to Austin or Portland, it's not because they don't want ethnic diversity, they are searching for creative diversity. By the way, that includes the exceptance of gays, who are a very distict minority group in their own right. I'm gay, and I live in Denver, and this city is very welcoming. By the way, Denver is only 50% white, and I DO like the ethnic diversity (large Latino population too). But to say that the black community is the "big kahuna" of diversity is not true. A black neighborhood is no more diverse than a white neighborhood. I wouldn't want to live in Salt Lake or Boise either, which are very white, but very conservative. Some of the progressive cities mentioned in the article simply have a more welcoming and forward-thinking personality.

White people heaven

Hey Aaron,

It seems you are getting quite a bit of flack about your stats...stats aside as a 'minority' resident of Austin for 6 years I can say that amongst my nearest and dearest I refer to places such as Austin as white people heaven. Portland and Seattle as well. Bus systems are for us poor minority folks while the high-falutin 'New Urbanist' ideas like walkable communities and transit are for white folks...or for us minority tokens that have made good, pulled ourselves up Horatio Alger style, got some education and some 'manners'- you know 'whitened up.' Be honest Austin, Portland, Seattle, etc. You know you don't have mass populations of poor minorities crowding you out in at your walkable coffee joint or teeming into your neighborhoods...or *gasp* attending school with your young, urbane, hipster children!

Thank you! As another

Thank you! As another 'minority' resident of a "progressive" city, I just let out a sigh of relief from reading your comment - too many people focusing on the stats and not the reality of the article. I've always felt that the bus system was meant for us poor folks who ain't got no other way to get to the welfare store, and the light rail train was for the upper-middle class, white, stay at home mom whose trust fund recently purchased a house in the newly gentrified neighborhood. She just thinks it is so "progressive" and spectacular that the city prioritizes new street car programs and LOOK! another coffee shop just opened down the street next to the children's boutique clothing store!

P.S. Anybody else notice how those walkable coffee joints, gelato shops, etc. close incredibly early and are not open on weekends? My feeling has always been that it's done that way to avoid the working class. But what do I know about these places and why they do the things they do?

The article uses a

The article uses a provocative title to bring up some interesting questions:

Does “progressive” necessarily mean ethnically diverse?

and, does ethnic diversity require a certain percentage of African Americans?

There are a hundred ways to go with this discussion (many of them explored already), but I think the basic question is “Are these cities being unfairly held up as progressive role models?” Your answer depends largely on how you answer the first two questions above.

For what it’s worth, my answer to the first one would be “maybe, but not necessarily” – that progressiveness may include ethnic diversity but does not require it. In fact, as pointed out in the article and several comments, ethnic diversity may hinder advancement of some progressive goals.

On the second question, my answer would be “no”. This lack of a large black underclass in the large cities of the northwest is surely more a fluke of history, and not a knock against them (although this relative lack of African Americans does make for a handy criticism for folks who don’t like some of these cities’ progressive/liberal policies). From what I can tell these cities do a relatively good job of integrating their recent immigrants and ethnic minorities, offering them economic opportunity and a vision of a better life for their children.

On the other hand, for African Americans, Atlanta and Houston seem to do equally well.

So we’re still left with the basic question: Should the “non-black” cities be held up as role models for city planning? Perhaps this focus on the “Portland model” by the academic-journalistic complex (apologies to Eisenhower) is in large part due to this group consisting of mostly educated, white people, and the tendency of these people to over-romanticize old, northern European cities?

In short, maybe cities like Indianapolis would be wise to consider bus rapid-transit and more small business loans in place of the now standard light rail system.

White City

Of course, it's quite possible these places are progressive because of, not in spite of, their lack of African-American citizens:

Not to pick a fight Alex,

Not to pick a fight Alex, because I think your post is a good one overall, but I find it strange someone from San Antonio would find Austin's relatively small Black population weird. I find that strange because San Antonio's Black population makes up an even smaller percentage of the city than they do in Austin.

selection bias

"If you take away the dominant Tier One cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles you will find that the “progressive” cities aren’t red or blue, but another color entirely: white."

Why eliminate the Tier One cities? You offer no rationale for this & I can think of none other than that it skews the population in your favor. Your entire premise is based on a biased dataset. It's like saying if you take away all the oceans planet Earth is nearly 100% land.

Another Reason

Another reason for leaving out the "tier 1" cities is that those cities are large mainly because they started that way and are now living off their legacies. The "progressive" cities the author is talking about like Portland, Seattle, Denver, and Austin were rather obscure mid-sized cities until recent decades. Their growth has directly coincided with their push to be "progressive."

And by the way, I would not consider San Francisco in that "tier 1" group -- It has gotten whiter and whiter in recent years, which has cause no small amount of controversy.

My rationale is that no one

My rationale is that no one realistically expects other cities to try to become NYC, SF, or Chicago. If you are Indianapolis, no one touts those cities as legitimate role models for you. But lots of people suggest that Portland would be a good model to follow.

Provocative Article Suffers from Flawed Logic

A fascinating article, but ultimately flawed. First of all, cities cannot control their ethnic makeup the way private employers control their workforces. Secondly, the plausibility of someone moving to flee from African Americans while appearing progressive and hip does not demonstrate that anyone has actually done this. I have written a more thorough response on my blog where I am also conducting an informal poll.

The Digital Millwright

Race Prevents a True Discussion from Happening

Like with all things having to do with race, the real problem here is that we are forced to talk about the issues in a faux polite manner... That is, we are forced to avoid the actual issues at all costs.

First of all, Atlanta may be the Capitol of the New South, but let's please dispense with the fantasy that it is a city anyone would want to copy. Yes, the city has "boomed" for various reasons (one of the main ones being that Atlanta is the largest city in one of the most economically dynamic regions of the country), but it is also a cesspool of crime and corruption. The mainly white professional class that works in those gleaming downtown towers retreats at night to largely-white enclaves such as Dunwoody or Buckhead, or to satellite suburb cities like Alpharetta, Newnan, Peachtree City, and Marietta. Blacks may dominate the political scene in the central city, but whites in the metro area largely work around the black establishment, seeing appeasing its constant racial demagoguery as merely a cost of doing business.

Want to know why progressive whites in Portland pay for mass transit? Because they are not afraid to live in, work in, or visit downtown, and so they actually use the transit system they are paying for. I myself made extensive use of public transit in Seattle because I felt safe doing so. Almost no middle-class whites in cities like Atlanta will dare use public transit because of the rough folks you tend to run into, the vast majority of whom are black. So why is it economically rational for affluent or middle-class whites to pay for a transit system they themselves would not dare use?

But as I said, these are things we are just not supposed to talk about.

The very term "white flight" is, in fact, merely a racialized denigration of an entirely reasonable phenomenon. Perhaps in the 1960s, it truly was at least in part an exodus of whites who did not want to live near blacks. But these days, such behavior is really "middle class flight." Middle-class people have the economic freedom to choose where they live, so they naturally want somewhere with a high quality of life, good schools, low crime, and a high probability that their largest investment -- their homes -- will appreciate in value. This is all perfectly logical and reasonable, and no one should fault them for this.

Unfortunately, America's black community as a whole has major problems. This is no mystery, as we all know from our daily lives and as any number of readily-available statistics demonstrate. But one of the biggest day-to-day issues this poses for whites is that white people are not allowed to notice or react to these problems. It just isn't polite. If your white neighbor is being a nuisance, you call him on it and ask him cut it out. If your black neighbor does the same thing, proper etiquette dictates that you keep your mouth shut or risk being called a racist. If a white kid smarts off to the teacher, it's detention. If a black kid in a majority-white school does the same thing, the administrators wring their hands and try to figure out a way not to punish the kid because if the racial breakdown of their detention stats gets too out of whack, they will get in trouble with Central Office.

In general, whites know (because they see it happen) that once a significant black population moves in, not only does it signal economic decline, it means the beginning of a lot of uncomfortable racial tension in which it is impossible to win if you are white. So whites do the perfectly logical thing and move elsewhere.

Some middle class blacks do the same thing for the same economic reasons, but many others end up sticking around out of a sense of racial loyalty (one of the contributing factors, by the way, to the continued problems the black community faces).

Until the economic negatives associated with the presence of large numbers of blacks is eliminated, whites of all political persuasions will continue to do what is in their best economic self-interest and move, which means they will end up largely around other white folks (and like-minded minorities, such as Asians).

Again, no one wants to talk about this stuff, but these are just facts.

As a Black "progressive" I so appreciate this, Aaron!

I also blogged about your piece over at
Check it out!


Keith, thank you for sharing

Keith, thank you for sharing that link. And glad to have you as my new BFF!

Social Economics?

As a European I'm much surprised and interested by the discussion taking place here. This is trully a product of the american culture. Nobody in Europe will focus like that on the race's side of things, but will speak about social classes.

It is here admitted that a city, or a neighbourhood, is more progressive than the others when its inhabitants have a higher education and a higher income profile. It can't understand that you don't even take the economics of the so called "white cities" into account.

Instead of putting on trial their said "progressiveness" based on the lack of the most obvious minority, you should ask you why "college educated flock to these progressive El Dorados". The answer is more likely to be: because they have job opportunities there that they don't get in the "black cities".

Race is merelly a byproduct of this since "whites" have more chance to get a good education than blacks. I really think you are missing a point here and I'm quite taken aback that nobody before me pointed this out (or maybe I missed it somehow)

Anyway, what coul (also) be interesting is to see what is the income level and educational background of the minorities in those "progressive cities". Maybe you will find that some have a greater middle class/high class profile than in the other cities.

Anyway being in an historically "white region", it might be normal for Portland to be a bit more "white" than other cities.

dist, your post is

dist, your post is insightful, but I don’t think educated black college kids are moving to cities like Portland and Seattle as much as educated whites, and are instead moving to places like Atlanta and Houston. So my sense is that it’s not just about the educated moving where the jobs are.

Jobs follow "amenities"

Most discussants on this board accept the basic premise that young people choose a location for its lifestyle offerings first, and then they look for a job there. Perhaps in Europe, where mobility is lower, and there are language issues, that's not as true. In the US, it happens all the time.

Also, since most of the black cities are larger and more established than the white cities, they have more pre-existing jobs. In black cities, the college grads apply to one of the big firms. In the white cities, the young people put more effort into creating jobs and businesses because they need to support themselves while they are enjoy their lifestyle.

This is probably the best

This is probably the best comment made so far. Americans are way too wrapped up in black/white issues--to the extent that we define social class as black=(poor and uneducated)or white=(not poor).

It should be becoming more and more obvious (almost blatantly obvious) that education is the element that defines social class. How many african americans with masters degrees live in poor cities? Conversely, how many uneducated blacks live in 'progresive' cities? How many uneducated whites live in poor cities (most would call 'black cities')?

I am almost positive that an educated african american is more likely to 'live where the work is' just as any white american. No point in going college to keep living in poverty--that's the whole point! Education is a huge problem in poor cities, which just happen to be predominately black due to our history--blacks did not make these cities poor. Once educated, many blacks move to whatever city they would like, regardless of demographics. Some stay in poor inner cities to help fight poverty and lack of education, also.

In america we relate EVERY social issue to race---RACE is not what makes people poor or rich. A persons future is largley dependant upon the situation that they are born into. If you are black, you are 'likely' to be born poor (which is why the government assists in educational expenses--it is not my fault that my mother was poor. As a result, I took advantage of federal and state aid, graduated from a top university, am working on my masters, and will soon be a licensed architect).

Anyhow, these studies need to stop focusing on race/ethnicity. Race is not the problem, not the cause of the problem, nor will pointing out race solve anything. And really, who cares if a city is mostly white? Some people like living around white people--some around blacks or asians. So what? If you don't like how Portland does things, don't live there....and don't live in a city that promotes Portlands policies.

It's worth noting that

It's worth noting that hipsters and progressives have flocked to some heavily minority cities like Oakland. Anyway, all big cities with big black populations also have hipsters and progressives, and many of them also have some interesting and innovative urban policies, as you point out. So maybe it's not the progressives and hipsters who are to blame, but the journalists, who hype up certain cities as progressive but ignore the big cities (maybe because they're black, maybe not).

It's legitimate to ask, why are so many of the hip cities you hear about so white? But it doesn't make sense to say, the progressive cities are white, so it must be hypocritical white flight, and progressive policies must only be possible when black people aren't around. You provide zero evidence that either of these things are true. It's sheer speculation and innuendo.

Even though small progressive cities have small black populations, often this population is growing (like here in Madison, Wisconsin), and often there are significant efforts to address urban poverty and social problems. Maybe not often enough, but it happens. In Madison the African-American population is quite poor but their infant mortality rate is the same as whites', far better than in places like Racine or Milwaukee.


I would love to see a comparison of methods of governance in the different cities - it strikes me that homogeneity vs heterogeneity is one thing but progressive ideas need progressive government to flourish. As a New Yorker, it often seems like the thing holding back investments in public transportation is the hamstrung state power structures.

IMHO as a parent, though I would actually rate diversity as being quite important on the "progressiveness scale", because I value raising my son around people who are different than we are.

Crime has not been an issue for us in New York City in about a decade - I worry much more about being hit by a car than by a poor person, to put it bluntly. What matters? Schools and transportation.


Thanks for the insightful article. I grew up in Minneapolis, and twenty years ago I spent some time in Houston. I was surprised at how less progressive it was (no alternative newspapers, for example), but also by how many more blacks there were. I preferred Minneapolis. I am exactly the sort of white you are singling out in your article, except that I transcended that nonsense a decade ago at least.

Here are a few extra comments: I had to admit after reading your article and some of the comments that during my period as a progressive, I never thought about what would count as a progressive city from a black point of view. I am also curious about what will happen to Sweden in a couple decades after having admitted so many Muslim immigrants. Finally, some of the blacks in Mpls aren't even African-Americans, but instead are recent immigrants from Africa. That makes Mpls even less like Houston, Detroit, etc.

Definition of "progressive"

It seems to me that the issue is your definition of "progressive". It's lately become a synonym for "homosexual acceptance". I'm not saying this as some kind of anti-gay thing; but when I was in Portland recently, they were practically shouting from the rooftops about how gay-friendly the city was. Marches, centers, discussion groups, meet-and-greets, stuff was all over the place.

And you can see it from the other end, too. One of the things nobody wanted to talk about in California was how Proposition 8 (defining "marriage" as "man plus woman") was very heavily favored by black and hispanic voters.

So when you say that "the most progressive cities are also the whitest", I don't see much of a contradiction there, because the modern definition of "progressive" has little to do with racial inclusiveness. And, to my mind, that's a victory; it means we fought that battle and won it long ago.

Also, exactly right

African Americans are notoriously intolerant of other minorities. I truly don't understand the obsession over this group of people and really don't appreciate their privileging over almost every other progressive ideal.

"African Americans are

"African Americans are notoriously intolerant of other minorities."

Hmmmm, Yeaaah, Um...I'm gonna have to go ahead and...disagree with you there...

Actually, this statement is plain wrong. Blacks are very welcoming to other minorities. I'm not sure if you are calling 'homosexuals' a 'minority'. I am black, and grew up in the inner city, went to college, and live around midclass Americans (point being, I have been around all kinds of african americans--ghetto to snobbish).

I have never (that I can recall) heard a black express dissatisfaction of the growing hispanic or asian population. So, I am not sure where you are getting this from--comedians maybe. Oh, to be fair, some do complain about Asians owning liquor stores, beauty supplies, and swapmeets, and some complain about Indians, but thats about the extent of it. We typically get along with other minorities as long as they are not rude to us, from my experience. (I am making this point becuase this seems to be a common misconception about black people. I have no idea where this comes from.) If I am wrong, I stand corrected...but I would need to see something that proves this statement.

Now the previous post was correct about intolerance of gay marriage. This has more validity. If you are calling gays a monority then this may be a good point.


Yep, gays are definately a minority, with their own unique contributions to the vibe of a city.

Your Argument Has a Fatally Flawed Premise

"For example, how can a city define itself as diverse or progressive while lacking in African Americans, the traditional sine qua non of diversity, and often in immigrants as well?"

I'm sorry but this is just a nonsense. Diverse, if it means anything, means reflecting the background of society. It is no crime against diversity or progressivism to have a Black population that is at or near their national share of population--particularly when, as in the case of Austin, any deficit is more than made up with Hispanics and Asians at levels above the national average!

This is ignoring a lot of history

I don't know any of the white cities you list but I do know Indianapolis and Detroit. I don't believe any of those white cities ever had a substantial African American population and were therefore never subjected to the racial tensions, violence and crime that cities like Indianapolis and Detroit had. The rings of suburbs around Detroit and Indianapolis didn't appear simply because of white racism alone. Urban decay was not the result of white racism alone. The steep decrease of property values in these cities was not due to white racism alone.

Portland, Austin and the other white cities never experienced that tension, their downtown's never suffered that decay so property values in the cities never collapsed like they did in Indy and Detroit so they were able to invest in the kind of infrastructure to appeal to progressive, educated folks.

It's facile to blame white racism on every discrepancy between whites and blacks but it doens't make it accurate.

Less than 50% of Austin's

Less than 50% of Austin's population is "White". I guess in the author's mind less black equals more white?

City of Austin

Median age - 31.7

White - 49.2% (382,649)
Hispanic - 35.4% (275,637)
Black - 7.8% (60,841)
Asian - 5.5% (42,933)
Two or more races - 1.5% (11,413)

Foreign born - 20.0% (155,923)

Travis County

Median age - 32.5

White - 51.5% (514,703)
Hispanic - 32.9% (328,217)
Black - 8.1% (81,276)
Asian - 5.3% (53,229)
Two or more races - 1.6% (15,729)

Foreign born - 18.3% (182,743)

Austin-Round Rock MSA

Median age - 32.6

White - 56.3% (930,035)
Hispanic - 30.2% (498,182)
Black - 7.2% (118,300)
Asian - 4.4% (72,165)
Two or more races - 1.4% (23,614)

Foreign born - 14.5% (239,509)

This data is from the 2008 U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

I'm a teacher

and we spend a lot of (wasted*) time talking about the achievement gap between whites and students of color. Our Asian population, which is larger than our African American population, is considered white for the purposes of these exercises since they are as successful or more successful in average than the white population. That pisses of our Asian teachers to no end.

wasted* - I say wasted as no improvement has come from these exercises, not even a suggestion for improvement.

African American does not EQUAL Minority!

Being an African American who lived in Austin over 20 years, I am fully aware of amazing diversity that the city offers....minus the Black population. Theses cities do provide diversity through various cultural groups and the Latino population. I think that we must be very careful to equate the word "minority" with African American as that can emcompass many groups. My personal choice was to leave Austin to live in Baltimore, a city with a 65% Black population, which I find not to be nearly as diverse as you may think. There are small sprinkles of Italians and Jews but rarely do you see the groups interacting together nor beyond experiencing African American culture do I get a glimpse of additional cultural outlets. I miss the dynamics that Austin presented....but my give and take is the tremendous opportunity to learn more about my African American culture through living in this city.

Presence does not Equal Diversity

Mr. Renn, this is a thought-provoking post about a very important topic. Unfortunately, like other commenters, I must take issue with your conclusions based on your data. I have written a response to the main points on my blog. Basically, I find two problems: first, only looking at percentage African American misses a huge amount of diversity in the population and second, the mere presence of African Americans does not mean that they are integrated. In fact, many of the metropolitan areas that you hold up in comparison are much more segregated than the "model progressive" cities you discuss here.

As a side note, in response to one of your comments above, I used central-city numbers to look at racial composition and find very different results than you do using central county figures. I maintain that counties are not any more systematically similar than corporate limits of cities and, given that your interest is in policies, most of those are enacted at the city -- not county -- level (with notable exceptions like Indianapolis and Louisville).

what about other minorities?

What about Asians? I know for s fact that Seattle has an Asian population of about 15%. Minneapolis, Portland and Austin also have higher than average percentages of Asians.

PS I have never known Denver to be a particularly progressive city.

PPS What about San Francisco?!?! San Francisco is only 45% white. It is 33% Asian and 15% Latino.

Is this a Surprise

"This history and resulting political dynamic could not be more different from what happened in Portland and its “progressive” brethren.

These cities have never been black, and may never be predominately Latino. Perhaps they cannot be blamed for this but they certainly should not be self-congratulatory about it or feel superior about the urban policies a lack of diversity has enabled.?"

Why not? I could not disagree with you more on your under challenged, fully expected, half backed mushy liberal stance.

If these progressive cities have a formula for success, and that formula is that a larger proportion of the population can collaborate with one another to reach more consensus based solutions than even that should be celebrated. My point isn’t that they are more of the same national heritage and ancestry.

I am making the point that in these cities there is a higher than normal level of social contract and conscientiousness. If that is in fact the case then we should celebrate that. I live in NYC. It is a mess of conflict and rudeness. People literally will walk right into you to prove to you that they aren’t budging for anyone. I don’t care if you are African or Danish American, what is wrong with a little social courtesy?

Is it because NYC is so multicultural that it is a quagmire? Yes but that’s a smaller point than that of our nation having no idea how to manage multi cultural populations. How do we set expectations of one another as residents and hold each other accountable for acting in a way that fosters social harmony. Maybe we are too scared to be branded with the scarlet letter of today…the big R for Racist for expecting African American to defer the right of way from time to time when walking on the sidewalk as it were. Or to not drop their McDonalds bags on the street when they decide they are done with their meal and we pass by silently knowing there is no consequence and no feedback given.

We are too scared of being labeled to create a new more racially inclusive version of a collaborative community that lives by a consensus based social contract. This Fear of being branded Racist will continue to diminish quality of life in multi-cultural cities and will force us to continue hitting the glass ceiling of race relations progress.

Let us not celebrate NYC because it has a high percent of minorities and blast Portland because the city is great and it works. That is backward logic and it makes no sense unless you are blind to the facts and fully brainwashed.


I live in Philadelphia, and on a visit to Portland, Oregon I kept asking my friends who lived there,"Where are all the black people?" I thought I was visiting a city, and to me, that means lots of different kinds of people.

Philadelphia is a completely different kind of city and I think (and hope) Philadelphia bucks some of the trends in your article. There are people from many backgrounds living here and the progressive white hipsters do an o.k. job of coexisting and even partnering with local communities.

I still can't put my finger on what it is about Philly that makes it so uniquely appealing? I think it might be worth another article in itself.

What's so great about diversity anyway?

The author of the article seems to just assume that "diversity" is a goal we should want all our cities acheive without much explanation why. So Britt, since you seem so clear that living in a diverse city is preferable to living in a less-diverse one, perhaps you can explain it to the rest of us. And while you're at it, perhaps you could tell us what's wrong with people choosing to live in less diverse areas if they want to.

Another thought: I think open-minded whites should read this article and ask themselves whose agenda is being served here. White people in these white cities like Portland, Austin, Seattle, etc. should be proud of what they've built - and if being a good "progressive" means to step aside and watch what you've built be torn down in the name of "diversity," then perhaps the problem isn't with being too white, it's with being "progressive."


"I live in Philadelphia, and on a visit to Portland, Oregon I kept asking my friends who lived there,"Where are all the black people?" I thought I was visiting a city, and to me, that means lots of different kinds of people."

City means different kinds of people? How do you define different. Go to Tokyo or Shanghai. Are they all the same? How about Vienna? All the same?

Surface appearances do not define differences or diversity. Diversity and difference can be in height, weight, political views, social approach, communicaiton, intelligence.

We need to challenge ouselves to look beyond 'how many black people can you count and if the number is big than that's good'.

HUGE flaw in the methodolgy:

From the article: "Can you have a progressive city properly so-called with only a disproportionate handful of African Americans in it?"

I hate to break this to you, but obviously you missed a memo or something. African Americans are no longer the largest minority population in the US... Hispanics are.

If you look at the demographics for Portland:

(2000 Census data)

The city is 77.9% white. That's just 3.9% above the national average. So where is the diversity coming from?

Among those identifying with a single race:

77.9% White
6.8% Hispanic
6.6% Black (I say "Black" rather than African American as Portland has significant populations of actual African blacks.)
6.3% Asian
4.1% multi-racial
3.5% Other

In your article you're assuming non-Black = non-diverse and that's actually a pretty racist assumption in and of itself. Even among the white population in Portland there's diversity due to large numbers of Poles, Russians and Croatians, they have their own language, their own culture, heck their own marketplaces. It's all part of what makes Portland interesting.

78% white = white city

I like how you cite statistics that show Portland is 78% white and then argue the author has a HUGE flaw in his methodology! Wow only 78% white? Sounds really diverse!

Many commenter's take issue with the article's focus on blacks. The fact is black populations have always been the hardest for white cities to integrate. After all Hispanics share much of same ancestry as "whites", and Asians share many of the same values. On most measures of success Asians are actually superior to whites, so citing a large Asian population actually supports the main point of the article! In case you missed it, the point is: Your "hip" progressive city is only possible because it lacks poor disenfranchised minorities! Saying "but hey we have rich enfranchised minorities!" hardly helps.

Personally, I see nothing wrong with people congregating according to their own preferences. That is what freedom means. My white/Asian suburban college-town neighborhood is so perfectly engineered it looks like a screenshot of a city planner's computer screen, and I couldn't be happier. I'm on the other end of the white spectrum from the Portland hipsters. I can't understand their urban romance or complaints about "suburban sprawl" and "car culture". When did having room to breathe become un-cool? Why would I want to be surrounded by concrete and arrive to work sweaty from biking every day?

I would hazard a guess that the 4000 sq ft X-urban McMansion, in ground pool, home theater, etc. , 3 car garage, 2 acre plot, commute via car lifestyle is preferable to every other realistic lifestyle alternative for 90% of people of ALL racial groups, and you don't need to move to Portland to enjoy this. In fact, the hipster crowd there actively opposes the easy wealthy lifestyle that most disadvantaged minorities long for.

interesting article

I think its useful to think about American cities more in terms of economically segregation than racial segregation. Obviously our racial history has lead to a lot (most) of the economic disparities between races.

It shouldn't be any surprise that the wealthiest neighborhoods and city districts are the ones that support lavish streetscape improvements like streetcars and bike lanes, have dense infill development, and otherwise "progressive" planning programs consistent the robust economic environment they operate in. As you said:

"relative wealth also leads to a natural adoption of the default strategy of the upscale suburb: the nicest stuff for the people with the most money."

Washington, DC is a great example of a city whose economic emergence is paired with a proliferation of great pedestrian improvements strewn across the city. Yes, much of these improvement are happening in wealthy areas or areas primed for investment. But plenty of money is being funneled into DC's disadvantaged communities including a streetcar in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods and safe, timed crosswalks which have become standard across the city. Definitely the streetcar was viewed with some suspicion in Anacostia, but many have embraced it as opportunity to increase mobility and access to employment to the city's underprivileged, and yes, minority communities.

what's wrong with that?

This paragraph really stuck with me:

"In comparison to the great cities of the Rust Belt, the Northeast, California and Texas, these cities have relatively homogenous populations. Lack of diversity in culture makes it far easier to implement “progressive” policies that cater to populations with similar values; much the same can be seen in such celebrated urban model cultures in the Netherlands and Scandinavia. Their relative wealth also leads to a natural adoption of the default strategy of the upscale suburb: the nicest stuff for the people with the most money. It is much more difficult when you have more racially and economically diverse populations with different needs, interests, and desires to reconcile."

We have to release ourselves from the guilt that historically disadvantaged groups need to be propped up somehow. This article doesn't offer a solution, only points out what the author considers to be a problem: "too many of them, not enough of us" in certain cities that are being heralded as nice places to live. Couple of points there, then:

1. it goes to show the lie that is typical liberalism. White people who cycle, buy green light bulbs, and talk big about Obama are the same ones who see no problem living in cities like these even despite the information in this article - the NIMBY crowd. Yuppies and urbanites have not changed in the last 30 years.

2. the "escape to the suburb" idea went out of fashion in the 1970s. Many cities at that time had more segmented populations - one extreme example is Boston. The whites that "fled" to the suburbs; this was simply a product of Irish and Italian immigrants being successful enough to afford bigger apartments, another car, and more land than within the city limits of Boston, and so they decided to move out. Many stayed behind, too, but we don't hear much about that I guess. They weren't escaping blacks or any other group. A generation later, these populations are now spread out, and the kids who grew up in the suburbs know nothing else. They see the city though, and then think about what they know (the suburbs), and ultimately that's what they want, a quiet suburb - because they grew up in a time of prosperity where our fathers and mothers grew up during times that were a bit more rough.

3. what is wrong with wanting to live with people like you , per the above quoted paragraph? Nothing, really - it's hardwired into our DNA , in fact, and the idea of multiculturalism appears to have run its course. We tried many ways to integrate populations, and what has been the result? First we had the "whites fleeing to the suburbs" idea, which is actually a fallacy, now we have the white enclaves of gated communities for wealthy looking to escape poorer areas (not necessarily less diverse areas).

You can't force-fit material equality in society; that's called communism and it doesn't work. You also can't force socio-economic equality because: A: people like to live and work with others like them, and this isn't racist, it's simply natural; B: some people are more capable than others, whatever their race, and some groups of people generally speaking have different capabilities than others. So, a city filled with blacks and built on values shared by blacks would look a lot different than a Minneapolis-St. Paul, built traditionally on Scandinavian values, per the article. No one is saying it would be better or worse: it would be better for blacks, not so great for "whites" (which isn't really a group but a broad generalizaion in itself) who wouldn't fit into that set of values.

I think the solution is, encourage people to work together in groups they feel comfortable with, ensure that everyone's rights are protected under the Constitution, and let the federal government otherwise sit back and see what happens. You'd likely find people gravitating toward people who are like them - not just visibly but culturally. Isn't this the best way to celebrate diversity, by allowing diverse cultures to flourish on their own with a basic set of rules in place (life, liberty, etc.)?

Similar flight within cities

You see a similar 'flight pattern' within cities, and it's similarly unremarked upon. For example, consider the trendier neighborhoods of Brooklyn. In a post earlier this year ("Lessons from Brooklyn's New Economy"), I included a group photo of eleven entrepreneurs from a New York Times article about Brooklyn's burgeoning new culinary movement and noted sarcastically that photo gave one a sense of the sort of ethnic diversity one finds in NYC's trendier neighborhoods.

Dubious numbers

Why is it that progressivism in smaller metros is so often associated with low numbers of African Americans?

Actually, they aren't, your numbers are just skewed.

Comparing the demographics of those 5 cities with the demographics of the states they are in (and other cities in the state) tells a very different story. Every one of them is less white and more diverse compared to the state as a whole and other cities in the same state, so yeah, they do have cause to feel self-congratulatory.

The exception is Austin which has the same proportion of African Americans as Texas does, but much less than other cities in Texas. Do minorities prefer Dallas to Austin because they hate adequate public transit and walkable neighborhoods? Maybe, but it seems very unlikely considering the greater diversity in other role model cities pursuing the same policies.

RE: Dubious numbers

"Do minorities prefer Dallas to Austin because they hate adequate public transit and walkable neighborhoods?"

Um, probably not, since DART puts Capital Metro to shame.

You aren't better, you're just further

The point made in this article needs the widest possible dissemination. Aaron focuses on African Americans because their disadvantaged position creates huge challenges to economic development and urban renewal of the cities and counties where they are a politically significant minority. Hispanics have similar issues, but to a far lesser degree. Asians? Please. Ancestral diversity has no major consequences. The differences that matter are employable vs. unemployable and law-abiding vs. criminal.

A large portion of the African American population is completely disconnected from the economy and society. They don't see opportunity in regular work, so they have nothing to lose by turning to crime. This makes the carefree, walkable, friendly, clean neighborhoods that "progressives" love very difficult to create. You don't find Portland-style neighborhoods in St. Louis and Cleveland because it is not safe to be walking alone and waiting at bus stops with your laptop and iPod.

In white cities, "progressive," liberal, and Democrat means support for amenities like bike trails, libraries, museums, etc. In mixed cities, those words mean redistribution and patronage jobs. Basics like public schools, police protection, and public transit are redistribution because households with below-poverty income have little to tax. The low income minority-majority can raise taxes, and those taxes won't support services valuable to businesses or middle class households. Businesses and middle class households fear this. This is a major reason why our suburbs sprawl and our economies crawl.

I went to a hearing on preservation of a historic building. The black council members stood up and called for enforcement of the minority hiring rules for either the demolition crews or the rehabbing contractors. The building itself? They don’t care. How can they worry about aesthetics when their constituents are desperate for work?

To the white liberals who have moved from the major cities of the Midwest and the Northeast to the overwhelmingly white college towns, state capitals, and western cities: if you really cared about the less fortunate like you claim, you would be here, living with them, sharing their tax burden, spending money in their cities, and trying to create a place for them in the economy. You have run just like the people in the exurbs. Please quit publishing rankings with us at the bottom of “Smart Cities,” “Best cities for start-up,” and “Best cities for young singles.” Quit looking down on those of us trying to survive here.

Re: You aren't better, you're just further

This is an incredibly thoughtful response to the original post and effectively captures the sentiment that many of us not living in the aforementioned White Cities often feel. The posters who object to what is written here are conflating "white" with "no diversity"--possibly a fair conjecture given the nature of the argument and the way "White City" is bandied about among the discussion here like it's a pejorative. But these cities are not necessarily simply "white" so much as they are "non-black", which, as Anon here demonstrates, brings a host of different issues to the policymakers' tables than it would if the black population was only as large as the Asian population. And in some of these cities, the black population is actually smaller, which undoubtedly ranks these cities as demographic outliers.

Aaron, one other city that might fit into your categorization to a certain extent is Boston. While it is diverse by most metrics, and the white population hovers at I believe around 45%, the black population is significantly smaller than other eastern seaboard cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, and Washington. Even within New England, when compared to cities like New Haven, Bridgeport, or Providence, Boston's black population is comparatively small. Massachusetts as a whole has a lower percentage of African Americans than your average Rust Belt state, and Boston is the whitest city--or at least the most non-black--no, actually it is the whitest big city--in the East Coast.

Are you serious?

"To the white liberals who have moved from the major cities of the Midwest and the Northeast to the overwhelmingly white college towns, state capitals, and western cities: if you really cared about the less fortunate like you claim, you would be here, living with them, sharing their tax burden, spending money in their cities, and trying to create a place for them in the economy. You have run just like the people in the exurbs. Please quit publishing rankings with us at the bottom of “Smart Cities,” “Best cities for start-up,” and “Best cities for young singles.” Quit looking down on those of us trying to survive here."

Why just 'survive' anywhere. And share their tax you mean pay higher taxes so that they can go to public housing, daycare etc.? Sound temping out there to anyone? Nope. I didn't think so. To have a chunk of the population make the choice...and yes in this day and age it is more than a choice to be disconnected from the economy and society is a problem. It should not be tolerated. Particularly if this means they are a disproportionat drag to the rest of us. When did that become acceptable? Why is it acceptable that the language spoken by this disconnected group is unintelligable to outsiders?

Anon @ 11:11, Totally agree.

Anon @ 11:11,

Totally agree. Renn's article is one of the best I've read here.

That hip, progressive cities are basically full of white people and run for white people is a point that can't be made often enough.

Sure, Austin's white population may soon no longer be a majority but Austin will still be run by liberal white people who deal with the city's minorities on terms they control. That's really the thrust of Renn's piece, and let's not have quibbling about statistics and definitions of city v. county obscure that.

Cities where minorities are powerful local constituencies (the way they are in NY/Chi/LA) are never going to be progressive in the way white liberals prefer. With minorities able to dictate agendas, the most important local issues will be bread-and-butter economic, not lifestyle related. (Crime/cops may be the one are where there's some overlap.) Absent contracts and jobs, minority politicians don't give a damn about issues like light rail, arts funding, and as Anon mentioned, historic preservation.

Anon's right: Moving to Portland/Madison/Austin is no different from moving to Greenwich/Lake Forest. Just white folks going to places where they don't have to deal with the demands of minorities.

RE: by and for white people

"That hip, progressive cities are basically full of white people and run for white people is a point that can't be made often enough."

Okay, but this isn't really saying much, since there are very few cities run by non-white people for non-white people in the US. The examples you cite NY/Chicago/LA are our three largest cities and stand in a category all their own. And, incidentally, I'm no NY expert, but I think there are at least a few critics who might argue with you that "powerful local constituencies" have really been able to shape their own destinies there.

Dallas and Houston are run for white people every bit as much as Austin, with some significant ideological differences. I believe those differences really have nothing to do with the minority populations being fairly represented in either case.

RE: by and for white people

"Dallas and Houston are run for white people every bit as much as Austin, with some significant ideological differences."

Pardon? Are you talking about the Dallas with the two-term black mayor in the 90s? The one with a sitting black DA? The one with four black city council members?

Anyway, the response from the Austin fanboys here is not surprising. I've had this conversation with friends and family from Austin and people really flip out when their superiority complex is undermined by the statistically undeniable fact that Austin is a white enclave.

Only problem with your

Only problem with your statement is the statistics don't show that Austin is a white enclave. But I guess your obvious dislike of Austin allows you to overlook minor technicalities such as that fact. Don't hate the player, hate the game. It's not Austin's fault people have a negative view on the city of Dallas. Work to better your city, instead of trying to tear others down.

According to the Census

According to the Census 2005-2007 estimates, the whites comprised %63.7 (%34.2 "Latino of any race") population of Austin and African Americans %8.5. There are very few cities the size of Austin with that kind of disparity, especially in the South. In Dallas, those numbers are %55.9 whites (%42.4 Latino) and %23.3 African American.

By the way, I like Austin. I lived there for several years and started my career there. My wife was born there and several of my closest family members live there. However, I have always found it very strange that Austinites love one side of their cities' uniqueness, but are totally ignorant to the other things that makes Austin unique: the fact that it is small, uniformly middle-class and disproportionately white.

I posted demographics from

I posted demographics from the 2008 estimates showing Austin's White alone percentage of the population is 49.2% of the population. I might also add the city is 20% foreign-born. I don't know anyone who would consider a city with less than half it's population White to be disproportionately White.

It's also strange to consider a city of nearly 800,000 people to be small. Also, I don't know how being "uniformly middle-class" is a bad thing. However, the poverty rate in Austin for 2008 was 17%, so I'm not sure that would even be considered true.

Austin is certainly more

Austin is certainly more diverse than Portland. I will give it that. But Austin is also the whitest major city in Texas. (It about equals Ft. Worth, depending on how you classify that). Here are the 2008 core county non-hispanic white only population percentages in Texas:

Austin (Travis): 53.2%
Dallas (Dallas): 35.5%
Ft. Worth (Tarrant): 54.2%
Houston (Harris): 36.0%
San Antonio (Bexar): 31.8%

Austin is about 20 percentage points whither than Dallas, Houston, or San Antonio even if you look at that stat directly.

"let's not have quibbling

"let's not have quibbling about statistics and definitions of city v. county obscure that."

Yes, let's just ignore, you know, data and function purely on emotion and prejudice!

Disagreement on some points

If Aaron is focusing on African American issues, it should be explicit in the article and present to the reader. He mentions "race" and "diversity". Aren't Asians apart of another race than whites? Are Hispanics and Latinos -- while racially considered white -- not "diversity"?

By all metrics of these words, the so called "progressive cities" meet the demand in comparison. The "traditional cities" he uses are actually mostly comprised of only two races: blacks and whites with very few foreign born denizens.

Whereas many of the progressive cities actually have reasonable large hispanic/latino population, larger Asian population, and larger Native American population, and a reasonably large foreign born population. While the progressive cities are still staggeringly white, are they any less or anymore diverse as the traditional cities? No, not really.

Diversity may be the wrong word

Diversity may be the wrong word choice. "The White City" may be the wrong title. How about the the "non-low-income Black City."

The point remains, citizens of cities with large African-American populations are constantly derided as failures and asked, "why can't you be like Seattle?" Why can't you be like the Twin-cities? Why can't you be like Denver? Why can't you invest in amenities? Why can't you redevelop your central city? Why can't you educate your children?

We can't because we have thousands of uneducated, unemployed people here. They have different needs, different priorities, and very different ability to share the costs of maintaining a city. Redevelopment is slow because yuppies prefer hip neighborhoods that aren't overshadowed by ghettos, so they move to Portland. We (regionally) did educated most of our children very well, which is why they are managing your companies and teaching in your universities.

I agree completely with the

I agree completely with the crux of your argument. I don't have issues with your rationale, I have a few issues with this article. I even agree partially with the essence of it, too. Keep in mind, this is a "published" article and this is not some casual conversation that people are having. It should adhere to a more professional standard.

Also, if telling a Rust Belt city to be like Seattle is not a solution (I agree completely, it's not a solution), then be prepared to say what alternative solution there is.

Btw, even some of Portland's now hip, predominately single-family home neighborhoods actually were run-down at one point. Redeveloping cities is a bottom-up movement, not a top-down movement. Something to consider.

Btw, even some of Portland's

Btw, even some of Portland's now hip, predominately single-family home neighborhoods actually were run-down at one point. Redeveloping cities is a bottom-up movement, not a top-down movement. Something to consider.

Now that is something on which we can both agree.

Good conversation. Many of

Good conversation. Many of us need to begin to objectively look beyond race, and address the real issues. Our history brought us here.

Blacks need to stop blaming whites--time out for that, people have a right to move to a comfortable place.

Whites need to be more impathetic to blacks--we do not make ourselves poor.

I bet other races look at us like we are long as we keep this b/w thing going, we are idiots.

For poor cities, I would say its a combination of top down and bottom up...

I applaud your efforts; this

I applaud your efforts; this has turned out to be quite a thought provoking discussion. Ultimately, I feel your article falls short, and in focussing on the topic of race, you seem to point a finger at certain pockets of "White" America, accusing it of abandoning economically challenged cities in favor of a more "Yuppie" enviroment. White people seem to be stirring up trouble for everybody; by intentionally witholding tax dollars for urban development,and opening up a Starbucks on popular street corners. I don't even want to get started on creating walking paths; all in an attempt to further distance themselves from an increasing "minority" population. Your again fell short when mentioning Houston and its haords of Young Black Professionals flocking to the city seeking "culture". There is a double standard here? Aaron your statistics are flawed. There are plenty of poor white people who are under educated, and living on the street. There are as many single white women, and white women with children who are also struggling, it would be justice without a thorough comprehensive study conducted including these people. To take aim at a population for 'whatever' reason lacks in complexity. What are the real issues at hand, and not some conjectured idea you are throwing at us. I think you might find some shocking demographics. One would need to conduct a much larger study, not just some random numbers thrown out about these communities in question. I live outside of Austin and have lived in many of these cities you mentioned. What is the solution, and what are you suggesting? It is easy to get caught up in an emotional race debate, but without an adequate argument you end up sounding like you have a chip on your shoulder. There are things you can do to make a difference in your community- besides throwing out random statistics and accusations- which only amount to speculation and discourse. Activate a community ivestigation into public spending,(maybe you can include a fund raiser for a public walking park), volunteer at a shelter(food pantry or YMCA) to better understand the plight of ALL people,or better; run for office, deligate where funds are better put to use.

A Rebuttal on behalf of Austinites

"He’s using a national average to measure diversity? That’s like using a Census to determine the exact population of Tijuana!"

Read more at:

Jonah, thanks for posting

Jonah, thanks for posting the link. As I said on your blog, I welcome reasoned dissenting views.

Some have critiqued my data in various ways by saying there are other, more relevant ways to view things. I would encourage others to pull the numbers, write up a narrative around it, and share the link here.

Where's the substance?

What are the qualitative and quantitative metrics for being deemed a, "progressive city?" When I think of the word 'progressive' -- I think of consistent, left-leaning stances in key political issues. But the writer never seems to mention that. What a shame.

Oh, and correlation does not imply causation.


I agree that in spoken American English the term progressive refers to leftist.

But progress doesn't mean moving to the left it means progress. Progress and progressive means getting better not more leftist.

I am a bit tired of liberals assuming that they mean progress and the other side doesn't.

A progressive city is a city that is getting better. Could be because of a new right wing mayor investing city funds better.

You Could Say The Same Thing for "The Black City"

Being black from Cincinnati and now living in Austin, reading the "The White City" article is both a validation of demographic observations and sobering testimony of how 21st Century cities are becoming a lifestyle choice where race is just an unintentional adjective, perhaps leading to 'intentional' acts of racial balkanism.

Being raised in Cincinnati, in the '70s my parents moved there because there were an abundance of middle-class blacks that were "doing well". In fact, Cincinnati does have safe "blurbs" (black suburbs). However, my deep criticism of Greater Cincinnati is that the suburban wealthy and middle-class blacks shun the black lower-class in Cincinnati.

In the 2000s, now the black "boom towns" are Atlanta and Houston. Living in Austin, instead of lapping it up in progressive texan shangli-la, I get the creeping sense of being "left behind". Nearly all of my cousins in my young age (20s-30s) have moved to Houston after high school because there is "culture". When I've told my white friends, they look at me with incredulity. They don't understand. But, "old South" may have ended for white Austin, but, after the 60s, it never did elsewhere for black and hispanics, except with a '90s high tech bang with massive white incoming and rising home prices (far beyond average minority incomes).

As a result, Black and hispanic east Austin is dying. The people know it. The city of Austin and its downtown plan expect it. And, cynically, both the young and old minorities suspect, they won't be missed. After all, their positioning in east Austin was a consequence for "old South" segregation. Well, nothing lasts forever, and what the real estate market gave, the market now takes away..and for some young minorities, time to go to a new "promiseland".

For me, I love Austin for the art, "atmosphere" of diversity, progressivism, and civic will to build a denser, more impact urban core. Even though sometimes being only black face in restaurants and stores is a little uncomfortable -and jarring. I want to be a part of that effort against the encroaching suburban "donut hole" ravaging so many of our fine American cities.

Sadly, in some black quarters, the article's mindset simply reveals what many people have thought all along. That, perhaps unconscious - or conscious, race or the lack of race has become a lifestyle choice.

In Texas, Austin for 'liberal' whites. Houston for blacks. Dallas for 'conservative' whites. San Antonio for hispanics. All the while, not dealing, but "dealing", with the issue of race - in its absence.

If it's not done with malicious intent, but it is the result, is it racist? Is it racism at all to go where one feels 'comfortable', even if the faces and viewpoints are all the 'same'?

Please discuss.

Fantastic Comment

I am from San Antonio, went to school in Austin and currently live in New York. When I was in school in Austin, I loved the progressive and educated culture, with its liberal social and environmental ideals. I also remember thinking how weird it was that there were so few black people around. It seemed contrary to the ubiquitous open-minded attitude claimed by everyone.

Attending architecture school, I saw old zoning maps from the 30s of Austin, with "Negro District" clearly marked just east of downtown. It's an open secret that I35 was built in the 60s where it is to further segregate the black neighborhood. East Austin is one of Austin's best neighborhoods, and it's another open secret that yuppies are colonizing it very rapidly. Poorer black people are moving further north near the St Johns area which is farther from jobs, is more dangerous, and has lower quality housing.

With the influx of richer whites to the east side, the city has been investing in the neighborhood, and it will (one day) have one of the only light rail stations in the city. Having never had the opportunity to discuss these obvious changes with a black person while in Austin, I am very glad to hear the obvious truth: it's not as much of a progressive wonderland if you are black.

Being gay, Austin seemed progressive, especially compared to San Antonio. Living in New York, the truth is that people will only treat a group with respect when they have a critical mass of economic and cultural influence, regardless of the stated progressiveness (or lack thereof) in a city. I imagine this is true for black people in Atlanta and Houston. Even though Austinites are probably more liberal than Houstonians when it comes to social and environmental issues, no amount of progressiveness can make up for a group having a critical mass of representation.

I think the article needs to focus more on the size of the economies of these cities and the average income. In a place like Portland or Austin, it isn't just about race. These places are rich. Cleveland, by contrast is poor. White flight isn't really about ethnic segregation, it's about the flight of capital away from the inner city (or in this case, the entire city). I am sure there are may rust belt cities that would love to build light rail systems, but they have to weigh that against increasing taxes on a population that has greater difficulty paying them.

Austin was once a poor town, but grew because of the growth of the state government and the prestige of UT. Austin and Portland promoted policies that attracted the rich. These policies took decades to yield results. Portland started building its train system almost 30 years ago. If we want to revitalize the rust belt cities, the federal government needs to help finance public transportation investment and environmental clean ups that will build the kind of cities all sorts of people will be attracted to. Americans shouldn't have to travel thousands of miles for economic opportunities.

Fantastic Comment

I am from San Antonio, went to school in Austin and currently live in New York. When I was in school in Austin, I loved the progressive and educated culture, with its liberal social and environmental ideals. I also remember thinking how weird it was that there were so few black people around. It seemed contrary to the ubiquitous open-minded attitude claimed by everyone.

Attending architecture school, I saw old zoning maps from the 30s of Austin, with "Negro District" clearly marked just east of downtown. It's an open secret that I35 was built in the 60s where it is to further segregate the black neighborhood. East Austin is one of Austin's best neighborhoods, and it's another open secret that yuppies are colonizing it very rapidly. Poorer black people are moving further north near the St Johns area which is farther from jobs, is more dangerous, and has lower quality housing.

With the influx of richer whites to the east side, the city has been investing in the neighborhood, and it will (one day) have one of the only light rail stations in the city. Having never had the opportunity to discuss these obvious changes with a black person while in Austin, I am very glad to hear the obvious truth: it's not as much of a progressive wonderland if you are black.

Being gay, Austin seemed progressive, especially compared to San Antonio. Living in New York, the truth is that people will only treat a group with respect when they have a critical mass of economic and cultural influence, regardless of the stated progressiveness (or lack thereof) in a city. I imagine this is true for black people in Atlanta and Houston. Even though Austinites are probably more liberal than Houstonians when it comes to social and environmental issues, no amount of progressiveness can make up for a group having a critical mass of representation.

I think the article needs to focus more on the size of the economies of these cities and the average income. In a place like Portland or Austin, it isn't just about race. These places are rich. Cleveland, by contrast is poor. White flight isn't really about ethnic segregation, it's about the flight of capital away from the inner city (or in this case, the entire city). I am sure there are may rust belt cities that would love to build light rail systems, but they have to weigh that against increasing taxes on a population that has greater difficulty paying them.

Austin was once a poor town, but grew because of the growth of the state government and the prestige of UT. Austin and Portland promoted policies that attracted the rich. These policies took decades to yield results. Portland started building its train system almost 30 years ago. If we want to revitalize the rust belt cities, the federal government needs to help finance public transportation investment and environmental clean ups that will build the kind of cities all sorts of people will be attracted to. Americans shouldn't have to travel thousands of miles for economic opportunities.

Tommy, thanks for a very

Tommy, thanks for a very insightful comment - I really appreciate it.

Ummm, what?

Where did you get these statistics and are you aware that if you make claims based on a data point of that "8.8% Travis County residents are African American", then you ought to show the rest of the percentages that add up to 100%.

As it is right now, you are taking a narrow slice out of a large dataset, and using it to making broad generalizations that are completely ignoring entire continents of people.

Aaron- I thought this was a


I thought this was a great article. This is an observation I have made for quite some time, in fact it is one that is noticed by more than you would probably think. In a 20th century US History course I recently took we had a discussion about topics identical to this article. Both black and white students in the class agreed largely with your observation. I live in Tennessee, and I find it interesting that most of the comments that take issue with your article are posted by people living in the cities in question. Now, they might be in a better position to critique or they may just be blindly defensive.... Probably a little of both.


This is the kind of thing

This is the kind of thing that should be used to teach freshman about bad statistics.

What is the definition of a "progressive city?" Is there any quantifiable set of criteria that results in a list of just these five? What is the justification for excluding "Tier One" cities? What is the definition of a "Tier One" city? What is the definition of "Traditional City?"

This, class, is what we refer to a "reliability problem."

Why is "whiteness" indicated as percentage of Af-American? What happened to all the other race/ethnic categories? Why is the NATIONAL avg of Af-American used to define "whiteness" based on COUNTY level data of cities?

This, class, is what we refer to a "validity problem."

I think you basically started with an observation that, "hey, hipsters are white!" and then created a bunch of bar graphs.

Totally agree with the

Totally agree with the comment on bad statistics. There are many other flaws in the argument as well. Chief among them is the very misleading title: why is this called "The White City," when what the author really means is the "Non-Black City?" Is the author suggesting that the U.S. has evolved to a racial paradigm where it's Blacks and everyone else (White, Asian, Hispanic)?

The underlying argument that progressive cities are rooted in a sense of "white flight" from larger cities, is flawed.

1) Does the author consider that because Blacks tend to be poorer, they do not have the means to move to new cities, as other groups do? I bet you would find hordes of Blacks who would prefer the lifestyle of Portland, Denver, or Minneapolis, to Cleveland, Baltimore, or Atlanta.

(also, as others have pointed out, the "traditional" Rust Belt cities are far less racially diverse than the "progressive" cities)

2) How is building light rail an anti-Black policy, as the author suggests? Poorer people tend to live in denser areas and have higher usage of public transporation. And last I checked, plenty of poor minorities and immigrants use bicycles (and would benefit from bicycle-friendly policy) as well.

3)Whites and others move to progressive cities not to get away from blacks, as the author suggests, but because they are more readily able to live out their liberal ideals. "Traditional" cities have more entrenched political systems that make new and progressive policies far more difficult to implement.

"Whites and others move to

"Whites and others move to progressive cities not to get away from blacks, as the author suggests, but because they are more readily able to live out their liberal ideals."

This is complete BS. Everything that is available in white cities is available in cities with major black populations. The politics couldn't be any bluer Democrat. What liberal ideal could you not realize in Detroit? More social programs? Higher taxes? Unionization? Public transit? Educating poor children to improve their futures?

People continue to move from the black cities to the white cities because they don't want to deal with the crime (the inconvenience of avoiding it) and having to constant daily interactions with the poor.

You get tired of seeing teenage mothers swearing at their own children. You get tired of seeing people throw litter on the ground right in front of you. You get tired of seeing every surface covered with tags. You get tired of driving past their houses with collapsing porches and plastic wrap windows.

That's why you move to Portland. So you can walk to a restuarant, then a bar, and walk home without looking over your shoulder or finding your apartment burgularized. We have good bars, restuarants, galleries, and even bike trails in the black cities. And your white cities are chock full of people who grew up here anyway. Its not the presence of yuppies that draws migrants to Denver, Seattle, Portland, and Austin, its the absence of huge, dangerous ghettos.

The idea that people move to

The idea that people move to Portland to get away from litter, graffiti, teenage mothers yelling at babies, break-ins and violence is way too simplistic. Portland has all of that - There are plenty of falling down porches with soggy couches on them/plastic wrap on windows. You'll be asked for money on every single corner and off ramp downtown. Witness drug deals on the train, in the parks, on the streets. See gang tags all over buildings, fences, poles. I've lived here for 15 years, my house has been broken into while I was on a walk around the corner to get a bite to eat. You bet I look over my shoulder when I'm walking around. Portland shouldn't be held up on a pedestal or romanticized....but you won't read that in a visitor's guide.

That said, perhaps there is less of these elements than in a "huge dangerous ghetto" but to imply that it isn't here in Portland - and not a problem - is simply not true.

Exactly right

This is exactly right. Also, you see this same behavior in Scandinavian and European countries, though towards Muslim immigrants who come over and promptly begin stoning their teenage daughters for having premarital sex. Also, for the record, this is not something that people need to be “called out” on.

I do agree with the premise of this article, though and am glad to see it brought to light even if I don't take the same moral offense to what these numbers suggest (no matter how disputed they've been in the comments section).

Another Comment

I might add that even if Portland is predominately "white" (by the definition of race, not ethnicity) it nonetheless has much more racial integration in regards to available data.

Cleveland's core county has about 1.5% of its population identifying as two or more races, with African-American/black and white race mix representing 0.6% of the total "two or more" race population.

Meanwhile, Portland's core county has about 4.3% of the population identifying as two or more races from recent census data, of which 1% are black/white mix.

Both numbers are low, but based off the fact that Portland barely has above 5.5% black-only population, I find that statistic amazing. Think about how profound that is. Cleveland has almost 30% black population, yet Portland has a higher percentage of black/white mixed people! You'd think that at some point a black person and a white person might meet in Cleveland (they are the two largest races there). I've never lived there, but the data about the core county speaks volumes.

Speaking of Cleveland, Portland has about about 14% foreign born population vs. Cleveland's 7%. This is key, because racially, Hispanic and Latino ethnicity is considered "white", of which Portland has way more than the Rust Belt. About 10% of total population identify as Hispanic/Latino in Multnomah county.

I think this goes to show you're viewing this issue from a black and white perspective, and not an ethnic/international lens.

Are you really sure these Midwest cities are truly anymore diverse than the so called "progressive" cities? I thought this was an interesting article at first glance, but now I think it's more of the same anti-smart growth mantra that gets thrown around on this site.

ACS Census:



There is no doubt that Rust

There is no doubt that Rust Belt cities generally have very low levels of foreign-born residents. No argument there.

my take on it

you wrote, "why has no one called these cities on it?". who are you going to call? can you just call up some whites and blacks and ask em? a silly premise deserves a silly question back.

when i moved here it was not to "run away" from blacks. your article has a strange premise. it reminds me of someone who gathers statistics and then makes conclusions from them based on their own ideas. remember the stat that most wrecks happen within 2 miles of your own home/residence? people assumed that meant that people drive worse near their home and came up with other theories, actually it was that you spend more time driving near you own home so you are more likely to have a wreck.

this article reminds me of that-the two are not really related, the progressiveness and the lack of blacks and as far as "why has no one called these cities on it?". Maybe it is because we are calling ourselves on it already? We have several African American Quality of Life Initiatives in the past several years and several Hispanic Quality of Life initiatives as well. The public were invited to come and comment on what is needed in Austin to keep and attract more Blacks & Hispanics. Maybe if you get a few more black friends in Austin-you can ask them yourself.

the creepy texan

shortsighted analysis

"Again, we see that Austin is far whiter than either Dallas-Ft. Worth or Houston."

Not exactly ... what we do see is Austin is less black than either Dallas-Ft. Worth or Houston.

Instead, Austin is actually a "majority-minority" city.

A quick google search reveals this document from the City of Austin:
(click on "Top ten demographic trends in Austin")

"The City of Austin has now crossed the threshold of becoming a Majority-Minority city. Put another way, no ethnic or demographic group exists as a majority of the city’s population. The city’s Anglo share of total population has dropped below 50% (which probably occurred sometime during 2005) and will stay there for the foreseeable future."

Surely you knew that not everyone in Austin is either "black" or "white"?

Are you talking about inside

Are you talking about inside the city limits? Again, for the reasons I outlined in my comment above, I don't think this is the best method for comparing data across cities. But thanks for the additional insights into demographic trends in Austin.

Very interesting

Just found you via Rod Dreher. I look forward to reading more here, but have to comment on the data presented in this post. I see lots of problems. Using the core county as your source of racial data to analyze is very distorting. The 3 cities I am most familiar with, Portland, Seattle and Minneapolis, are all much higher minority than the surrounding very large county. I would guess county size negatively correlates with minority population.

However, the much bigger problem is representing non-black as white. "African Americans, the traditional sine qua non of diversity" is a tradition that needs to be buried. Your nationwide analysis only shows regional differences in the largest non-white category. Asians in the northwest, Hispanics in the southwest, blacks in the rust belt and south. As for Texas, get the data for city limits only and show non-Hispanic whites, not one minority group, then let's look at it.

The analysis of the data isn't any better, unfortunately. It has too many issues to address, but one stands out for me. As a Norwegian-American from Minneapolis, I have to decline the credit for our progressive policies on behalf of my fellow Scandinavians. The original power brokers of the Twin Cities were as WASPy as most other American big cities - which is to say, very WASPy. And while white is considered homogeneous today, back in the day WASPs, Germans, Scandinavians, Irish, Central Europeans, Jews, Eastern and Southern Europeans would never put themselves into a category with any of the other groups. Scandinavians do seem to have played an out-sized role in the area's history, but that is only anecdotal. Their numbers never came close to half of the population, I would bet. And that lumps them all together, something Norwegians and Swedes, for instance, wouldn't accept to until relatively recently.

Comparisons between cities

Comparisons between cities are inherently difficult. I generally do not like to use central city corporate limit data as a basis for comparison because the size of central cities is so different. Indianapolis and Columbus are both large because they annexed large amounts of "suburban" territory, while Cincinnati and Cleveland did not and are much smaller geographically. To compare across cities, I have generally found that it is better to use the core county as a proxy for the central city in most cases since it more normalizes geographic scope. (MSA is probably the best comparator for regions). This isn't perfect either. Denver County is really a county around a smaller central city. St. Louis is an independent city. But I think it is probably the best way to go.

Thanks for the history on Minneapolis.


For the record, Denver County is not a county around a smaller central city. City and County of Denver are coterminous.

"Denver" - Five Counties

This clarification is correct. As is often the case, confusion about the "city" as compared to the "metro area" is at play. If the author suggests that the percentages are for the metro area, then diversity is stated at a lower rate than the city itself. So which is it?

What's often meant by "Denver" is the five county metro area, which is far beyond the city/county of Denver.

The author's misstatement of the facts reveals a lack of understanding of this subject.

What about black as proxy for minority?

Thanks for your reply. All comparisons aren't perfect, we know this; the question is which is best. And not for all general comparisons, but this one. Using county data specifically dilutes the thing you are measuring, minority population, much more than city data.

You didn't address my larger problem, you cited data on blacks, and talked about how white a county was.

You're welcome.

I would encourage you to

I would encourage you to pull the African American population percentages for the core cities as well if you think that is a better comparison. I would be interested in seeing the results. If I might speculate, the % Black percentage in Minneapolis would indeed be higher, but other cities would might go up by even more. I might suggest checking Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Cleveland, and Cincinnati as your benchmarks.

Also, it is true that Not Black != White, so if you'd prefer, we could change the emphasis to the Not Black City. My argument from the piece was precisely that these cities like to use an alternative measure of diversity to divert attention from the fact that they have low African American populations. Much like a company that hired very few blacks touting all the Asians they have on the payroll.

Minneapolis city counts

You are correct, the city of Minneapolis was about 18% African-American (as of the 2000 census), well above the national average. Certainly, if you are talking about cities that are beacons of progressivism (or liberalism), there is a huge difference between the relative liberalism of the city of Minneapolis and that of the suburban communities in Hennepin County. Michelle Bachman's district, for example, comprises an area that is (largely) suburban Minneapolis, albeit not within Hennepin County.

It seems to me that these perceptions about these cities are usually about the cities themselves, not the surrounding suburbs, and that the city should be used as the unit for comparison.

(And, of course, throwing out the Tier 1 cities, such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, seems to vitiate any validity of the conclusions here.)

I have to disagree on the

I have to disagree on the use of county data as a proxy for a city. City has two meanings — one is political, referring to a municipal government. Another has to do with urban form. The city is a denser place with a more urban feel than the surrounding suburbs and countryside. The demographics are often radically different between the city and the suburbs. Both of these meanings of city, crucial in where people choose to live, is lost in your use of county data.

Cities and suburbs are completely different animals. People choose to live in one or the other as much as they choose to live in one region or another.

When people refer to a city like Austin as "progressive," they are referring more to the city itself than the suburbs.

You need to rethink your bias for using county data as a proxy for cities.

just about any unit you choose will have problems

Because the whole process of urbanization in this country has little correlation to our political subdivisions, there will be problems with just about any unit you choose for comparison.

For instance, Aaron choosing Jackson County as a proxy for Kansas City, Mo., is arguably better than using the City of Kansas City itself. Even though Jackson County also encompasses Independence (the county seat), Grandview, Raytown, Blue Springs, and a passel of other suburbs, it also includes all of the pre-World War II urban area, the most densely populated part of the city and (my estimate) home to nearly 3/4 of the city's population of about 450,000 and about 40 percent of the county's population of around 700,000. Meanwhile, the city covers some 320-plus square miles in parts of four counties, and much of the outlying areas of the city are still planted in corn and soybeans, especially near the airport. Meanwhile, Jackson County may well be more thoroughly urbanized than the city.

Either way, you get distortion.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Market Street, Philadelphia
Ever notice how planners wave Jane Jacobs like a talisman as they go about ignoring her main points?

Black and White Article

Good point, Shooter. Asian populations are much higher in the Northwest. Seattle (King County) alone has a good 13% Asian population. Seattle's white population is actually about the same as some of the "traditional cities" listed, at just about 70% white vs. minority populations.

To comment on Portland, it has implemented "Portland-style" transportation projects in historically and traditionally minority neighborhoods (NE Portland and Interstate MAX system). These neighborhoods are about 50% white, and have reasonably large Africa-American populations to the tune of 35% in some areas according to Census data.

I am not really drawing the connections of what this article is about. I think it needs to be more explicit. To say that Portland style planning doesn't benefit minorities is akin to saying that past planning methods of the Rust Belt cities have benefited minority populations. Both aren't perfect, but let's at least bring some solutions or ideas to the table if you disagree with something.

Another take on the White City


I've lived in Portland for 5 years now. I grew up in the Chicago area, and have lived in several other places with much larger African-American populations than Portland. Your article touches on an interesting and important subject, and I don't have time to do it justice right now, but want to take issue with one of your arguments.

If I understand you correctly, you are suggesting that the main reason that Portland-style transportation policies don't transfer to rust-belt cities is because they don't address the needs of minority populations in those places. That may or may not be true, but I think the larger issue is that many whites in cities with high minority populations are unwilling to fund public transportation and other public goods, because they see it as taking money away from "us" and giving it to "them" (poor minorities. In most of those areas, middle-class whites have long since fled to the suburbs, and don't see public transportation as benefiting them. I have a hard time believing that minority populations in most Midwestern cities wouldn't benefit from and want better public transportation - in fact, a significant challenge is that in many cities, jobs have fled to the suburbs along with middle-class whites and minority residents can't access them because they have no way to get to them.

That said, it stands to reason that what works in Portland might not work in Cincinnati and that Portland's policies can't just be transferred wholesale to another city.

I would agree that is

I would agree that is another potential part of the dynamic that is different in those cities.


I kept thinking this too as I was reading your article... it's really not about `homogeneous consensus' or whatever. Then you said ``black people are the sine qua non of diversity' or something and I couldn't believe you said that... Bedford Stuyvesant is not diverse. Inner city Detroit is not diverse. Only black people live there. That's not diversity.

The best example of my point is Toronto.

Toronto could well be the paragon of the North American ``progressive city''. Transit ridership is way higher than in Portland, it's dense, bike friendly, yadayada. It's also 50% foreign born. 50%! That's diversity. It has dozens of ethnicities, not just two. What it doesn't have are racialized social divisions. That's the problem with American cities, and you seemed to completely miss that even as you were talking about it.

The notion that...

The notion that African Americans are the only cause of diversity in a city is a little silly. There are so many ways to be 'diverse' and race is just one of them. This author didn't even consider that their might be economic reasons for the lack of other races in Portland, or just a lack of real reason for moving there. Did the content writer even acknowledge that Portland hasn't exactly been a major historical center for black people in America?