America’s Racially Diverse Suburbs: Opportunities and Challenges

This week the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity released the report, America’s Racially Diverse Suburbs: Opportunities and Challenges, which states that racially diverse suburbs are growing faster than white suburbs, but re-segregation threatens their prosperity and stability. The number of racially diverse suburbs increased from 1,006 to 1,376 between 2000 and 2010 in the 50 largest U.S. metropolitan areas. Furthermore, racially diverse suburbs are growing faster than white suburbs, and the number of diverse neighborhoods in suburbs is now more than twice the number found in central cities.

The study finds that integrated suburbs have relatively strong tax bases, low poverty rates, and strong local economies. In environmental terms, they are denser, more walkable, more energy-efficient and otherwise more sustainable than outer suburbs. According to Myron Orfield, co-author of the report and Director of the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, these findings are consistent with other research showing that diverse communities have higher graduation rates for minority students, better access to college and middle-income jobs, better race relations, greater civic engagement by all, and enhanced ability to cope with America’s increasingly diverse workplaces.

However, while representing great hope, these diverse suburbs face challenges, the most serious being re-segregation. “Re-segregation is common but not inevitable,” says Orfield. “Stable integration is possible but it does not happen by accident. It is the product of clear race-conscious strategies, hard work, and political collaboration among local governments. Racially diverse communities represent the best model for the nation’s educational, economic and political success.”

The report cites Oak Park, Illinois as being one of those suburbs that successfully sustains integration. Through racially conscious strategies led by the Oak Park Regional Housing Center and municipal efforts to ensure equal distribution of resources across the entire community, Oak Park has intentionally sustained racial integration. Housing integration enhances Oak Park’s politically inclusive, educationally competitive, and economically prosperous landscape.

The report encourages other suburbs to implement a number of public policy changes, critical to stabilizing diverse communities. Communities should create stable integration plans with fair housing ordinances, incentives for pro-integrative home loans, cooperative efforts with local school districts, and financial support of pro-integrative community-based organizations. Jurisdictions should also have greater enforcement of existing civil rights laws including the Fair Housing Act, especially the sections related to racial steering, mortgage lending discrimination and location of publicly subsidized affordable housing. Implementing regional strategies to limit exclusionary zoning and require affluent suburbs to accommodate their fair share of affordable housing is a critical way to prevent segregation and adopting metropolitan-scale strategies to promote more integrated schools can enable integrated communities.

For more information and to access this report, click on the links below:

University of Minnesota – Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity

USA Today

National Journal

The Atlantic Cities


By Morgan P. Davis, Fair Housing Policy Director

Categories: Uncategorized