No, Gentrification Isn't Making NYC Less Diverse
New York is losing its diversity cred. Affluent Starbucks-swilling, kale-grazing white people are taking over the city’s multiracial ecosystem.
At least that’s what the sophisticates tell us.
The truth is Gotham’s population — even apart from the famously immigrant-rich Queens County — is way more diverse and way less white than it was 25 years ago.
According to the Census Bureau, 43 percent of the denizens of the five boroughs were white in 1990. As of 2010, the figure was only 33.3 percent. Over the span of those same two decades, the total population of the Big Apple increased by a million people, or about 16 percent. Most of those newcomers were “people of color” from Latin America and Asia.
Even in Manhattan, the whitening theory doesn’t hold. Some historically minority neighborhoods like the Lower East Side and Harlem have seen a big jump in white population. But Manhattan overall remains majority-minority. In 1990, non-Hispanic whites reached their Manhattan peak of 49 percent. In 2016, it was 47 percent.
Unsurprisingly, Staten Island holds its place as the palest borough, but even there, the white majority has been on the wane. Today 62 percent of Richmond County is non-Hispanic white — mostly Italian, Irish and Russian — but the black, Asian and Hispanic presence (12 percent, 9 percent and 18 percent, respectively) has been growing apace.
Granted, New York has become a less African-American city in the past quarter-century. The black population declined from 25.2 percent in 1990 to 22.8 percent in 2010.
Most people would presume this is proof of gentrification, a plague of white trust-fund hipsters and deep-pocketed lawyers driving out the poor and working-class natives of Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights from their rightful homes. After Mayor de Blasio announced a rezoning plan for East New York last year, reports had it that even that seemingly secure fortress in central Brooklyn was about to fall to white invaders.
There are reasons for this presumption. The white population of central Harlem, for instance, has increased more than 1,000 percent since 1990. Bed-Stuy’s numbers are even more dramatic: close to 3,000 percent. Bed-Stuy has had the fastest growing white population in the city. And speculators, many of them likely white, have been buying up property in the upzoned East New York.
But a closer look at what’s happening to black New York reveals a far more multicultural story. For one thing, in 1990 there were barely any — fewer than 2 percent — of whites living in Harlem. Since then, their numbers have increased, all right — to an unremarkable 10 percent.
Far more than whites, immigrants have been changing Harlem’s complexion. Today almost a quarter of Harlem’s denizens are foreign born. A substantial number of them are black immigrants. A small but rising number are Asians.
The largest racial and ethnic group, second to blacks, isn’t white but Hispanics; 23 percent of today’s Harlemites are from Latin America. (Their growing presence — along with some redistricting — helped elect the first Dominican member of Congress to a seat that had belonged to black patriarchs Adam Clayton Powell and Charlie Rangel.)
“As Harlem has become less black,” writes the CUNY sociologist John Mollenkopf, “it has also become more diverse.”
The same holds for Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights. For all of their increase, the white share of Bed-Stuy is still relatively small — 21 percent.
Moreover, many of those whites aren’t the Trader Joe’s customers most people imagine but Hasidic Jews spilling over from nearby Williamsburg. In Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights and East New York, immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Bangladesh, Mexico and Central and South America have been moving onto the same blocks occupied by the children and grandchildren of the Jim Crow South.
Of course, diversity doesn’t mean New Yorkers are holding Kumbaya songfests. Urban sociologists have found more neighborhood-level diversity throughout the United States but not much social mingling. Churches, restaurants, hair salons and classrooms tend to still be spaces segregated by race and class, as they have been in the past.
Even in New York, some things never change.
This piece originally appeared in New York Post