January 24, 2019

The segregation of small cities

Governing - Springfield [IL] may have launched the political careers of Lincoln and Barack Obama, but it is among the worst third of American cities in terms of black-white segregation, according to our analysis of federal data. Both the Springfield and Champaign-Urbana metro areas are more segregated than that of Charlottesville, Va., or the Daphne-Fairhope-Foley area near Mobile, Ala., even though they all have similar populations and percentages of black residents. Peoria -- the veritable shorthand for Middle America -- is the country’s sixth most racially divided metro area in terms of blacks and whites. When it comes to schools, we found that the Peoria area is the most segregated in the nation.

The truth is that segregation isn’t limited to the South, or to large cities. America’s racial divide, in fact, runs right through the Heartland.

Governing conducted a six-month investigation into segregation in downstate Illinois, and why and how it has persisted there... What emerged was a picture of the way segregation continues to shape and reshape metropolitan areas in Illinois and, indeed, throughout many parts of the country. In these cities, segregation means not just a physical divide, but a huge disparity in resources. White areas of town benefit from more development, better infrastructure and more accommodating government policies.

... When it comes to land use -- what gets built where -- governments use zoning restrictions to keep out rental housing, which attracts blacks and other minorities, from predominantly white areas. They approve new residential subdivisions with strict deed restrictions that make large swaths of communities unaffordable to low-income residents and often explicitly bar any use other than single-family homes.

Public schools are a key factor as well. While segregation in schools is often viewed as a product of the neighborhoods the schools are located in, the truth is much more complicated because schools shape the neighborhoods they serve. In many cases, in fact, they exacerbate segregation by driving white flight to suburban areas. That is especially true in Illinois, because of its proliferation of small school districts.

... Finally, residents in predominantly black neighborhoods routinely face more scrutiny from police and other government agencies, which reinforces the patterns of segregation that have already emerged. Government actions such as increased code enforcement, zero tolerance policies for drugs in public housing and disproportionately targeting black neighborhoods for traffic stops result in black residents facing more municipal fines or other minor punishments.

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