They're still largely concentrated in the older suburbs of just a handful of metro areas.
America's "one percent" are a privileged bunch. It takes an adjusted gross income of almost $400,000 to be counted among those who make up the country's top earners. Together, the top 1 percent account for nearly 20 percent of reported taxable income in the U.S.
Overall, the one percent are heavily concentrated along the East and West Coasts. And despite all the talk about gentrification and the movement of the uber-affluent back to the cities, their numbers are overwhelmingly concentrated in the upscale suburbs of America's increasingly bicoastal economy – places like Greenwich, Connecticut; Bethesda and Potomac, Maryland; Coral Gables, Florida; and Newport Beach, California.
These are the location patterns of America’s super rich that geographer Stephen Higley has documented in a new analysis of America’s 1,000 richest neighborhoods. Higley compiled his list using data from the 2006-2010 American Community Survey, identifying contiguous block groups (a subdivision of census tracts) with a mean household income of $200,000 or more. (Note that it is possible that these mean household incomes are in fact underestimates, as households can only claim up to about $2 million in income on the American Community Survey. For more on Higley’s methodology see his website).
America’s 1,000 richest neighborhoods are home to two million Americans, a group that makes up just 0.6 percent of the country’s population. The top 63 wealthiest neighborhoods have mean household incomes of $390,000 or above, making their average resident automatically a member of the country’s one percent. At the very top, 18 of these neighborhoods have mean household incomes above $500,000.
The table below lists the ten richest neighborhoods in America according to Higley’s analysis. At the top of this list is a small area of Greenwich, Connecticut, that realtors call the “Golden Triangle,” where household incomes average a whopping $614,242. The rest of the top five are similarly made up of established and elite suburban enclaves. Three are in the Maryland suburbs outside Washington, D.C. – Bethesda’s Bradley Manor-Longwood, and Potomac’s Potomac Manors and Carderock-The Palisades. Old Cutler-Hammock Oaks, in the Miami suburb of Coral Gables, also makes the top five. Two of the top ten are in Newport Beach, outside L.A.
|America's Richest Neighborhoods|
|Rank||Neighborhood||City||Mean Household Income|
|1||The Golden Triangle||Greenwich, CT||$614,242|
|2||Bradley Manor-Longwood||Bethesda, MD||$599,440|
|3||Potomac Manors||Potomac, MD||$599,331|
|4||Old Cutler-Hammock Oaks||Coral Gables, FL||$596,851|
|5||Carderock-The Palisades||Potomac, MD||$595,669|
|6||East Lake Shore Drive||Chicago, IL||$593,454|
|7||Swinks Mill-Dominion Reserve||McLean, VA||$562,596|
|8||Cameo Shores-Highlands||Newport Beach, CA||$554,721|
|9||Pelican Hill-Pelican Crest||Newport Beach, CA||$549,659|
In large part, America’s wealthiest neighborhoods are its toniest suburbs. Many of them are even referred to by the country club that defines them – like Glencoe, Illinois’s Skokie Country Club, or Greenwich’s Stanwich Club, or Bethesda’s Burning Tree Club.
That said, a number of urban centers show up on the broader list and, according to Higley, their attractiveness for the richest Americans has grown substantially since 2000. Note that Chicago’s East Lakeshore Drive historic district, in the heart of its downtown, takes the sixth spot on the list.
Significant chunks of Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Upper West Side, as well as Soho, Tribeca, Chelsea, the Village and Battery City Park in Lower Manhattan, number among America’s 1,000 richest neighborhoods. Two gentrified areas of Brooklyn, Cobble Hill and Dumbo, appear on the list too. Across the country, in increasingly pricey San Francisco, center-city neighborhoods like Balboa Terrace, Presidio Heights, Russian Hill, and Inner Richmond also number among the 1,000 wealthiest. In Boston, parts of downtown make the list, as do several condo developments by the harbor and near Jamaica Pond, and the Bay Village neighborhood, nestled between Back Bay and Chinatown. In D.C., more and more dense neighborhoods appear on the list, including Georgetown and, significantly, the heavily gentrifying area around Logan Circle. Overall, Higley notes that there has been a “striking increase in the number of Block Groups found in central cities.”
Keep in mind that urban areas are denser by definition, and do not have the kind of large lot exclusionary zoning that keep the suburbs the province of the uber-wealthy. Despite being attractive to the super-rich, urban neighborhoods typically have inherited a much broader range of housing types and income groups, and generally include many more renters than even an average suburban neighborhood.
Older, walkable suburbs that are close to transit have also come up the list as preferred locations of the super-rich. Many of America’s largest metros have reached a traffic tipping point. Highways and roads are clogged, and commuting has become something to be avoided. In an email to me, Higley cited “commuting fatigue” as a key driver of this back-toward-the-city trend among the ultra-affluent.
America’s super-rich enclaves are overwhelmingly white, according to Higley’s analysis, which looked in detail at the racial and ethnic composition of the 1000 richest communities. Eight of every 10 residents of the top 1,000 are non-Hispanic white, a rate about 20 percent higher than America’s overall racial breakdown. But Higley notes that America’s richest communities have become somewhat more diverse over the last decade. Between 2000 and 2010, the white population of these 1,000 richest neighborhoods actually fell from 91 to 82.9 percent. The share of Asian Americans jumped from 4.8 to 7.9 percent, and of Latinos from 2.2 to 4.6 percent. Black representation remains low, increasing from 1 to just 1.7 percent over the last decade. In many ways, this last, sobering statistic is a reminder of the enduring legacy of race in America.
America’s wealthiest neighborhoods are also concentrated in a relatively small number of metros across the country. (The table below shows the top dozen metros with the largest numbers of super-rich neighborhoods according to Highley’s analysis.) Nearly a quarter of them are in the New York metropolitan area. Another ten percent (102) are found in Greater Washington, D.C. The Bos-Wash corridor — including D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Hartford, Providence, Worcester, and Boston — accounts for 41 percent. On the West Coast, greater L.A. (including Orange County) is home to 9 percent, and the Bay Area as a whole (the Combined Statistical Area that includes Oakland and San Jose) accounts for another 6 percent.
Just the top five regions where the super-rich are located – New York, D.C., L.A., San Francisco, and Chicago – account for more than half of America’s 1,000 richest neighborhoods. This reflects the unprecedented, growing concentration of U.S. economic activity overall.
|America's Richest Neighborhoods, By Metro Area|
|Metro Area||Number of Higley 1000||Population in Higley 1000|
|New York City||234||664,771|
|San Francisco Bay Area||61||127,271|
So it is not only that wealth is concentrated at the top, but also that the wealthy are concentrated in a relatively small number of metros and geographic enclaves within them. Even with ongoing gentrification and aristocratization of some of our biggest cities, it is the gated and gilded enclaves of the suburbs where the ultra-wealthy still most commonly reside.
Top Image: A mansion in Potomac, Maryland (Carolyn Williams/Flickr).