Class-Divided Cities: Dallas Edition

The latest installment in our series mapping the class divides in America's cities and metros.

This is the seventh of a series of posts that explore the class divides across America's largest cities and metros. Using data from the American Community Survey, each explores the geography of class within a large city and metro area. For a detailed description of methodology, see the first post in the series.

The map above shows the geography of class for the city of Dallas, Texas; the map below charts the pattern for the entire metro area, which includes Fort Worth, Plano, Arlington, and Denton. The creative class lives in the areas that are shaded in purple, the red areas are primarily service class, and the blue are working class. Each colored space on the map is a Census tract, a small area within a city or county that can be even smaller than a neighborhood.

The creative class, which includes people who work in science and technology, business and management, arts, culture media and entertainment, law and healthcare professions, makes up 34.3 percent of the metro's workers, who average $73,016 in wages and salaries.

As the maps show, the creative class is quite concentrated across the city and metro. There are 471 tracts (36.4 percent) with more than 40 percent creative class, 267 (20.6 percent) with more than 50 percent creative class, 37 (2.9 percent) with more than two-thirds creative class, and 11 (0.8 percent) where the creative class makes up more than three-quarters of all residents.

The class divide in the city of Dallas largely follows a north-south axis demarcated by Interstate 30 and the impressive steel and glass skyline of Dallas's downtown core. The map shows the band of purple radiating out of downtown and spreading out in the north of the city, while the south is a sea of red (service class districts) with spots of blue (working class locations). There is also a lesser east/west divide runs along the Trinity River just south of downtown, separating the working and service class neighborhoods to the west of the river from the creative class to the east. 

There are significant developments afoot in the city, according to Michael Seman, a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Arlington's School of Urban and Public Affairs and occasional Cities contributor, to spur redevelopment and address these class divides. Seaman, who reviewed early versions of these maps, points out that Dallas's Oak Cliff is a transitioning neighborhood that only shows up as a sliver of purple, but is gaining residents from members of the region's budding creative core of artists, writers, and musicians. Adjacent to Oak Cliff, just south of downtown and straddling service class (red) and working class (blue) neighborhoods, the "massive culinary-based Trinity Groves redevelopment project" is moving from planning stage to reality, notes Seman, who consulted on the project. A mixed-use redevelopment project encompassing roughly 80 acres, it features a restaurant incubator, microbreweries, specialty epicurean shops, culinary education programs, and a plethora of restaurants, which are designed to "appeal to members of the creative class residing both in the city and the region," Seman says.

These two areas represent the budding concentration of the creative class in the city south of the downtown core. Public and private interests are actively involved with and monitoring the progress of these neighborhoods, Seman notes, keeping track on how their transition from working and service class to creative class plays out in terms of economic health, community development, and social justice.

Much the same story is playing out in nearby Fort Worth, which is similarly divided on a north south axis by Interstate 30 and its downtown towers. Among a sea of red and blue south of Interstate 30, shades of purple represent areas of the "Near Southside," where young writers, artists, and musicians are renovating old bungalows, Seman adds.

It is important to keep in mind that these islands of rebirth are only part of a patchwork quilt of neighborhoods with varying degrees of health that extend both east and west and south for miles. The hopscotch landscape also includes depressing swaths of deteriorating strip mall suburbia and blighted urban inertia, with all the unkempt apartment buildings, overgrown lots, and crumbling sidewalks; fast food restaurants, auto body repair shops, quick loan places, and convenience stores that illustrate the city's class divide, he notes.

But to tell the real story of class polarization in Dallas and Fort Worth, you need to look at the entire metropolitan region (see the map to the right, click for larger image). The largest metro in the South, the fourth largest metro in the U.S., the so-called Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is the economic and cultural hub of North Texas. Its Gross Metropolitan Product in 2011 was more than $400 billion [PDF], the sixth largest in the nation and about the 10th largest in the world.

As can clearly be seen in the second map (above), the metro's class divides are pronounced. Again, we see the north-south divide, with the creative class radiating out of downtown Dallas into the northern suburbs of Plano and Denton and west to the artistic and creative community of Fort Worth and Arlington where the University of Texas at Arlington is located. The creative class forms a wide but reasonably tight circle in the region's core, surrounded by a sea of red (service class) with spots of blue (working class) locations.

The next metro map is interactive: Click on a tract to see its percentages for each of the three major classes.

The table below shows the top 10 creative class locations (defined as Census tracts with more than 500 people) in the metro. The creative class makes up more than 75 percent of residents in each of them — more than twice the metro average of 34.3 percent. 

Top 10 Creative Class Locations in the Dallas Metro
Neighborhood (Tract #) Creative Class Share
Highland Park (197) 84.3%
Frisco (305.18) 80.5%
Irving (141.24) 79.2%
Plano (316.61) 78.6%
Irving (143.11) 78.5%
Irving (142.05) 78.2%
Highland Park(198) 76.4%
Plano (316.60) 76.0%
Dallas (136.08) 75.4%
Dallas (76.04) 75.4%
Metro Average 34.3%

*Includes Census Tracts with more than 500 people

Six out of the top 10 creative class tracts are located in affluent suburbs of Plano, Frisco, and Irving. Two additional tracts in equally affluent Highland Park, an incorporated city embedded within Dallas's boundaries, have a look and feel that is decidedly suburban. Seman notes that this northerly bias "is not shocking after taking into account a history of companies and population marching northward from Dallas proper to new homes in neighboring Collin County, which witnessed a 462 percent explosion in population between 1980-2011. Add into the mix the fact that Irving is third in the nation in the number of technology start-ups per capita — following only Silicon Valley stalwarts Fremont and San Jose — and a clearer picture emerges of a regional 'giant sucking sound' favoring the northern suburbs and edge cities over the south."

The metro's largest class of workers toil in routine jobs in food service and preparation, retail sales, clerical and administrative positions and the like. The service class represents 44.2 percent of the region's workers, and some of the fastest growing job categories. Service workers in the metro average $29,441 in wages and salaries, 40.3 percent of what the region's creative class workers earn. There are 248 (19.2 percent) tracts where more than half the households are service class.

Top 10 Service Class Locations in the Dallas Metro
Neighborhood (Census Tract #) Service Class Share
Fort Worth (1017) 71.0%
Dallas (109.04) 69.3%
Denton (208) 67.1%
Fort Worth (1067) 66.6%
Denton (209) 65.5%
Fort Worth (1036.01) 64.7%
Dallas (165.21) 64.6%
Lewisville (217.28) 63.0%
Fort Worth (1231) 63.0%
Dallas (4.05) 62.6%
Metro Average 44.2%

*Includes Census Tracts with more than 500 people

As the maps show, the service class is largely pushed to the periphery of the region at the outskirts of the metro's creative class core. The table above lists the top 10 locations with the greatest concentrations of service class workers. In each of them, more than 60 percent of residents toil in low-wage, low-skill service class jobs. These tracts are spread across the region — with four in Fort Worth, three in Dallas, two in Denton, and one in Lewisville.

Though two of the top service class tracts are in Denton, this is mostly due to the presence of the University of North Texas and Texas Woman's University in the city, which support a wide variety of service class employment opportunities. Seman, who has studied Denton and its music scene extensively, notes that Denton is also "a magnet of sorts for members of the intellectual and bohemian creative core" and that "local officials are formally addressing how to attract and retain the broader creative class." In addition to the city's storied music scene, he offers the Innovation Greenhouse and the Murphy Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of North Texas, the Create Denton online networking space, various new advertising and tech companies, and the 35 Denton music festival as a sampling of recent additions to the city's creative economy. All of this, he says, is helping position Denton as an "emerging Austin" of the DFW metro and "not so much a hinterland sliding into service class despair."

Top 10 Working Class Locations in the Dallas Metro
Neighborhood (Tract #) Working Class Share
Dallas (106.02) 76.4%
Fort Worth (1059.01) 64.4%
Garland (190.13) 64.2%
Dallas (93.03) 61.4%
Dallas (64.01) 59.8%
Fort Worth (1012.02) 59.2%
Fort Worth (1047.02) 59.1%
Dallas (72.01) 58.6%
Garland (182.06) 58.4%
Grand Prairie (158) 58.3%
Metro Average 21.5%

*Includes Census Tracts with more than 500 people

The working class include workers in factory jobs as well as transportation and construction. It comprises 21.5 percent of the metro's workers, who average $34,699 in wages and salaries. There are just 52 tracts (4 percent) where more than half the households belong to the working class. In contrast, 270 tracts (20.9 percent) are less than 10 percent working class; in 92 (7.1 percent) of tracts, they number less than five percent.

The maps above show the clusters of blue mainly to the south but also in the northeastern corner of the region. The top working class tracts have considerable concentrations of blue-collar workers, ranging from 58 to 76 percent. The most concentrated working class neighborhoods are mostly to the south of Dallas, Fort Worth, and Garland.

"It is important to think of the DFW region as geographically expansive with a robust, integrated economy," Seman says. At the same time, both the city of Dallas and the larger metro region are indelibly marked by long-standing divides. While issues of race are currently being addressed, the polarization previously set in motion continues to widen along class lines.

Steps are being taken to address these divides. Mayor Mike Rawlings of Dallas established GrowSouth, an aggressively implemented holistic economic development plan targeting the city's southern neighborhoods, to address issues of infrastructure, education, culture, urban design, community engagement, and regional marketing. "Mayor Rawlings' initiative is not only the right prescription for Dallas, but for the greater metro region as well," Seman comments. "Metropolitan regions are like living organisms," he adds. "If one part is unhealthy, it will eventually affect the entire body. The increasing separation of classes in the DFW region may hamper its underlying economic dynamism, potentially disrupting social and political stability as well."

I’ll have much more to say about this in future posts, as I continue to track this new geography of class. Next week: Houston.

Prior posts in this series:

All maps by MPI's Zara Matheson.

About the Author

  • Richard Florida is Co-founder and Editor at Large of CityLab.com and Senior Editor at The Atlantic. He is director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and Global Research Professor at NYU. More
    Florida is author of The Rise of the Creative ClassWho's Your City?, and The Great Reset. He's also the founder of the Creative Class Group, and a list of his current clients can be found here