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Promoting Neighborhood Diversity: Benefits, Barriers, and Strategies

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Document date: August 01, 2009
Released online: September 09, 2009

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Despite substantial progress since passage of the Fair Housing Act four decades ago, neighborhoods remain highly segregated by race and ethnicity. This paper summarizes existing research evidence on both the costs of segregation and the potential benefits of neighborhood diversity. It uses decennial census data to show that a growing share of US neighborhoods are racially and ethnically diverse, but that low-income African Americans in particular remain highly concentrated in predominantly minority neighborhoods. Because the dynamics that sustain segregation today are complex, strategies for overcoming them must address not only discrimination, but information gaps, affordability constraints, prejudice, and fear.


In January 2009, a black family moved into the White House. The election of Barack Obama embodies the considerable progress our country has made in the struggle against racial prejudice, inequality, and exclusion. But it also challenges us to look frankly at the disparities that remain, including the persistent separation of neighborhoods based on race and ethnicity.

This paper summarizes the substantial body of evidence that residential segregation undermines the well-being of individuals, communities, and American society as a whole. Although we know much less about the potential benefits of neighborhood diversity than about the costs of segregation, considerable research finds that both whites and minorities gain from diverse communities. Encouragingly, a growing share of U.S. neighborhoods are racially and ethnically diverse, both because recent immigration has made the population much more diverse and because fewer neighborhoods than in the past exclude minorities entirely. But overall levels of segregation are declining only slowly, and low-income African Americans in particular remain highly concentrated in predominantly minority neighborhoods. The goal of healthy, sustainable communities cannot be achieved as long as current levels of neighborhood segregation, exclusion, and inequality persist.

Public policies played a central role in establishing and enforcing patterns of racial segregation in American neighborhoods, alongside discriminatory practices by private-sector institutions and individuals. But no single causal process explains the persistence of residential segregation in America today. Discrimination, information gaps, stereotypes and fears, and disparities in purchasing power all work together to perpetuate segregation, even though many Americans—minority and white—say they want to live in more diverse neighborhoods. Public policies must intervene to break the cycle of residential segregation. But, because the causes of segregation are interconnected, no single intervention can succeed on its own. Instead, we need multidimensional strategies that tackle the multiple causes of segregation simultaneously.

(End of excerpt. The entire paper is available in PDF format.)

Topics/Tags: | Cities and Neighborhoods | Housing | Race/Ethnicity/Gender

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