The United States is experiencing demographic change unprecedented in its scope and speed. The change so far has been largely abstract, characterized by headlines and the appearance of sporadic bilingual signs or ethnic groceries.
Such demographic shifts already have fundamentally changed many neighborhoods in the country's 50 largest metro areas, according to a report released Friday by researchers at the University of Minnesota's Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity.
Many suburbs - once the bastions of homogeneous whiteness - are becoming more diverse at breakneck speed.
In the decade ending in 2010, the percentage of suburbanites living in "traditional" largely white suburbs fell from more than half (51 percent) to 39 percent. The number of people who lived in diverse suburbs, areas where the nonwhite population made up between 20 and 60 percent of the total population, increased from 42 million to 53 million over the same period. In 2010, just 28 percent of all metropolitan residents lived in predominantly white communities or developing exurbs.
A ring of racial and ethnic integration has expanded from many of the country's central cities outward into the inner and (sometimes) the middle suburbs, the study's authors, Myron Orfield and Thomas F. Luce Jr., found. At the same time, the cities' central cores - largely nonwhite and segregated - expanded into larger portions of the central city of parts of older suburbs. Likewise, a largely white ring expanded at the edge of metropolitan area.
It is those diverse and integrated communities represent the great American hope of the 21st century, according to the authors.
"These are tremendous places to live," Orfield said. "This is where race relations are the best. This is where there's a strong model for a multiracial America."
These integrated communities are the best at eliminating educational and economic disparities between racial and ethnic groups, whites and nonwhites who live there have better perceptions of each other, and the communities are politically balanced and functional with high-quality government services and affordable tax rates, according to the report.
But they are also fragile.
"Because of steering and mortgage lending, they're not going to stay integrated," Orfield said. "Because the country hasn't dealt with things like housing discrimination, these places aren't going to stay wonderful."
Neighborhoods that were more than 23 percent non-white in 1980 were more likely to be predominantly nonwhite by 2005 than to remain integrated, according to the study. Seventeen percent of suburbanites lived in predominantly non-white suburbs in 2010.
Some areas have consciously nurtured integrated communities. Consider Portland, Ore., which maintained a stably integrated core with coordinated regional housing, land use, and transportation policies, according to the report.
There are communities, like Detroit, which have not been successful.
As the core city has declined, new land has been developed for predominantly white communities at the edge. Even though the city's population has not grown in 50 years, the physical footprint of the metro area expanded more than 60 percent, according to the report.
Residents in neighborhoods at the core, particularly those that have been non-white the longest, are cut off from educational and economic opportunities. Banks don't lend, businesses don't prosper, many schools fail, property values and tax capacity decline as the need for services increase. Those who can, leave.
Resegregation is not predetermined. "Stable integration is possible but, it does not happen by accident. It is the product of clear race-conscious strategies, hard work, and political collaboration among local governments," the report said. "Critical to stabilizing these suburbs is a renewed commitment to fair-housing enforcement, including local stable-integration plans, equitable education policies and incentives that encourage newer, whiter and richer suburbs to build their fair share of affordable units."
Following is a look at Dallas, New York, and St. Louis, plus comparative links to Minneapolis-St. Paul and Oklahoma City. and access maps and related data of all 50 metropolitan areas studied.
View maps and related data of all 50 metropolitan areas studied here.