Academic journal article Boston University Law Review

Model Neighborhoods through Mayors' Eyes Fifty Years after the Civil Rights Act

Academic journal article Boston University Law Review

Model Neighborhoods through Mayors' Eyes Fifty Years after the Civil Rights Act

Article excerpt

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ushered in the elimination of Jim Crow-era restrictions and ensured that black and white Americans were permitted equal access to public transportation, schools, restrooms, parks, and restaurants. On the law's fiftieth anniversary, though, it is difficult to ignore continuing entrenched segregation in America's neighborhoods. This Article explores one understudied facet of residential segregation: the kinds of neighborhoods preferred by those with the power to shape them. We begin to answer this question using an original survey of U.S. mayors. Our data set comprises responses from mayors in a wide range of cities, with widely varying demographics and levels of segregation. In this paper, we primarily rely on a question we asked them about the current "model" neighborhood in the city they lead. We matched the neighborhoods they named to zip code-level demographic traits to profile what mayors' ideal neighborhoods look like. We find that these "model" neighborhoods are slightly whiter and have higher property values than the cities they are in overall. We interpret these patterns as mixed news for racial integration and equality and discuss their potential sources and implications.

INTRODUCTION

One of the central tenets-and most lauded aspects-of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was its prohibition of segregation in public spaces.1 The official elimination of Jim Crow-era restrictions ensured that black and white Americans were permitted equal access to public transportation, schools, restrooms, parks, and restaurants. Yet, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, it is difficult to ignore the persistence of racial separation in residential life, especially in urban neighborhoods. Indeed, while racial segregation has declined in recent years,2 blacks largely live in different areas than whites. In the nation's largest metropolitan areas (populations over 500,000), fifty-eight percent of blacks, on average, would need to move to other parts of the metro area to be evenly spread across their region of residence.3

A vast scholarship in economics, sociology, and history, and public policy comprises explanations and debates about the sources of contemporary residential segregation. Researchers have highlighted an array of factors, including deindustrialization, black migration, federal policy, and housing market discrimination,4 that help explain America's racial geography. While some of these drivers of racial segregation are rooted in economic factors, varied preferences, and/or prejudice within the mass public, others follow from political elites' conscious policy decisions that directly or indirectly, intentionally or accidentally, prioritize particular kinds of development and neighborhoods.5 At a minimum, policy choices, particularly in cities, can put a thumb on the scale for particular types of urban living.6 Moreover, the questions of racial and socioeconomic demographics that we focus on fifty years after the Civil Rights Act are inexorably tied to wider thorny issues related to gentrification in cities.7

Because it is so tightly coupled with concentrated poverty, racial segregation has a critical impact on life outcomes. Indeed, racially segregated places disproportionately experience the clustering of poverty, which spurs what sociologists term "cumulative disadvantages."8 High levels of concentrated poverty are negatively associated with a variety of important outcomes and resources, including crime, transit access, housing stock, and the quality of public services.9

Despite the importance of neighborhoods to people's lives, and urban elites' importance in shaping neighborhoods, we know virtually nothing about the kinds of neighborhoods that those with the power to shape them prefer. These preferences are critical, because city leaders weighing different housing, zoning, transportation, and other policies are likely influenced by their own visions of "ideal" residential areas. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.