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Maps

White People Aren't Driving Growth in the Suburbs

The decline of white suburbia has already begun.

Twilight has reached white suburbia.

The next two decades will see a profound shift in the racial makeup of America’s suburbs. Or rather, an even more profound shift. It’s all happening now, according to Bill Frey, the author of Diversity Explosion.

For the Brookings Institution, Frey explains that white populations accounted for just 9 percent of the population growth of the suburbs (in the 100 largest metro areas) between 2000 and 2010. The Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings just launched a fascinating map that shows where white cities and suburbs gained and lost populations. It shows that some metro areas are already breaking from the population pattern that has fueled the last half-century of growth: white losses in cities, white gains in suburbs.

Now, that classic 20th-century pattern still holds true in some places, including Dallas and San Antonio, Kansas City and St. Louis, and Minneapolis and Detroit. And several large metro areas posted white gains in both cities and suburbs, namely Seattle, Portland, Austin, and several cities across North and South Carolina.

But that pattern isn’t destined to last for long. One-third of large metro-area suburbs witnessed declines in their white populations, with the largest losses in suburbs surrounding New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. More metro areas will follow in this coastal vein than in the one of recent white-suburban growth seen in the Sun Belt.

“Whites are hardly the lifeblood of suburban growth anymore,” Frey writes.

Looking ahead to 2030, the Urban Institute sees white population losses nearly everywhere. Earlier this year, a number of researchers published a comprehensive report on growth projections between 2010 and 2030. They focused on four specific commuting zones: Atlanta; Las Vegas; Youngstown, Ohio; and Washington, D.C. (The Economic Research Service identifies commuting zones as geographic units that cross urban, suburban, and county boundaries to represent local economies.)

(Urban Institute)

Absolute growth isn’t even in the cards for all four commuting zones: The white population in Youngstown is predicted to shrink substantially by 2030, and much faster than other populations can replace it. But in the D.C., Vegas, and Atlanta commuting zones, white populations will continue to grow—just at much lower rates than Hispanic or black populations.

So the share of the white population in the larger D.C. region (including its Maryland and Virginia suburbs) will shrink by maybe 6 percent. The black population may shrink by 6 percent as well. But the Hispanic population and non-Hispanic-other populations will enjoy some sweet growth: 6 and 7 percent, respectively.

The figures for the Atlanta and Vegas commuting zones are eye-popping. The share of the white population of Atlanta and its suburbs is predicted to decline by nearly 17 percent. The share of the white population in the Vegas commuting zone may fall by 15 percent. (Another way to put it: The share of minorities living in the Atlanta and Las Vegas areas may rise 16.5 and 15.2 percent, respectively.)

Americans figured out years ago that America is growing more diverse, fueled by population growth among young minority families. What we see now is that the suburbs—long the province of white families—are growing more diverse, too. Cities across the nation will face new political and economic challenges as suburbs grow poorer and as whites adjust to (or rebel against) their new neighbors.

About the Author

  • Kriston Capps
    Kriston Capps is a staff writer at CityLab. More

    Kriston Capps is a staff writer at CityLab, where he writes about housing, art and design. Previously, he was a senior editor at Architect magazine.