Michael Petrilli offers a list of the ZIP codes that have seen the fastest increase in the non-Hispanic white share of the neighborhood. The leader is Columbia, S.C., which has gone from 32.6 percent non-Hispanic white in 2000 to 79.7 percent in 2010. Of the top 25 fastest-whitening ZIPs, four are in Brooklyn and three are in Washington, D.C., including the 20001 ZIP code I’ve called home since 2004.
Petrilli’s an education guy, so he looks at these gentrifying neighborhoods and sees “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to integrate some of our schools.” I was glad he brought that up. As someone who writes more about housing and urban development than about education, I was a little frustrated by the discussion of school segregation that I watched recently on Chris Hayes’ TV show. The premise of the conversation was more or less one of white resistance to school integration: either elite reformers ignoring integration in favor of charters and testing, or white parents not wanting to send their kids to black schools or have black kids sent to their schools. But when you look at the local politics of a predominantly minority neighborhood becoming more integrated, the typical name for it is “gentrification” and the reaction of the incumbent population to the influx of higher rents, white people, yoga studios, and farmers’ markets is often somewhat less than ethusiastic. Indeed, you’re more likely to hear this descrbed as “white people taking over the neighborhood” as part of The Plan than as a triumph of desegregation. Is it really any different on the school level?
Obviously this is pleading my biases here, but my read on it is that cities desperately need to fix their housing policies so as to lance some of the toxic politics of gentrification. Improved conditions should manifest themselves primarily as an increase in the supply of houses rather than, as is currently the case, as an increase in the cost of houses. Otherwise one man’s desegregation is always going to end up being another man’s displacement and disenfranchisement.