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Left In Lowell » Blog Archive » Race and Integration in Lowell (Updated)

Left In Lowell

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August 26, 2013

Race and Integration in Lowell (Updated)

by at 4:11 pm.

A lot of different groups and people are making use of the map of race in America, based on the US 2010 census. Many are noticing that while we’re far less segregated than we were 50 years ago, too often, cities have clear and stark enclaves of single-race groups.

So how does Lowell fare? I decided to take a map of streets and voting precincts and try to match it up as best I could to a screenshot of the race map. (The result is pretty well lined up, but may not be exact.) Click the image to get a very large resolution - 3000 pixels - though the dots will be pixelized since I used a screenshot of the dot data (it still works to give you an idea of the makeup of the neighborhoods).

Map of racial census data in Lowell, Massachusetts

The obvious first observation to make is with Belvidere, the western parts of the Upper Highlands, and Christian Hill/Pawtucketville, where whites (blue dots) are pretty dominant. Basically, the “outside” of the city (and also a portion of JAM/downtown) are white. It’s like white flight, in miniature…people are staying in the city, but moving to where there is more space/single family neighborhoods. If we were truly better integrated as a society (not just as Lowellians), the number of Hispanics, Asians and blacks would, proportionately, be able to afford the aforementioned affluent neighborhoods. We should see more mixed dots in Belvidere. This is, of course, less a condemnation of Lowell, and more a condemnation of our nation and its inability to address poverty and the lack of equal opportunity for minorities.

The fact that you can see some mixed dots even in the bluest parts of the city, particularly the red dots of Asians, speaks well of Lowell, if only compared to some of the other race data maps of cities in the US I’ve seen.

There are certainly a lot of very mixed neighborhoods, as well. Precincts 10-1, 2 and 3, 11-1, and 5-1 seem to have areas of high integration, my neighborhood included. (This reflects my experience in my neighborhood.) I think part of this is the affordability of these neighborhoods - houses in several of these locations are in “decent” neighborhoods but not overly expensive. I have pretty diverse neighbors, mostly in single or owner-occupied two-family homes. Do we integrate well? Not as well as I’d hope. Of course, my neighborhood doesn’t really have a neighborhood group truly representing it, so I’d be hard pressed to say whether or not such a group would have a proportionate representation of the ethnic diversity of my neighbors.

Then there is also, of course, the Acre, the Lower Highlands, and other enclaves of minorities. Concentrated in what I like to call the “transient” areas of the city (ie, largely rental units), Hispanics (yellow dots) dominate Moody Street almost exclusively, and are found around the borders between Precincts 5-2, 9-1, and 9-2, and also in some of Back Central and Lower Belvidere.

Again, I think this speaks to a much larger issue of inequity than can be simply addressed by our own city; minorities are behind whites in unemployment numbers, pay scale and other measures of economic wealth across the entire nation, and we should address those issues as a whole country. I think it’s also true that immigrants coming to the US, be they Hispanic, African, Middle Eastern, Asian, or other ethnicities often wind up in these enclaves where there is affordable rental housing. You’ll note that our Asian population, peopled by a large number of Cambodian-Americans who have been here for two, three, or more generations, have long since begun their migration out of the center of the city into the more open, single family, ownership neighborhoods.

Those are only simple observations I’ve made on the mostly macro level. I’m sure readers will be able to take a look at this and comment further on it. Hope this is useful to you!

Update: Check out this post by Dick which talks about the Cambodian makeup of the electorate!

16 Responses to “Race and Integration in Lowell (Updated)”

  1. Corey Says:

    You’re reading into it a bit too far, IMHO, at least with the Asians. It took my family *70 years* to escape the neighborhoods that you’re saying we haven’t done enough work to integrate, often with groups who have been here for fewer than 30 years. Some places, like the outer edges of Belvidere, I bet if you looked at the age groups, are populated by the same Greek and Irish descenders who first bought those homes when they were new in the 1960s and 70s.

  2. Lynne Says:

    I disagree. I’ve lived in several neighborhoods in Lowell, one of the “edge” neighborhoods, and two of the moderate-owner-occupied ones. (We’ll not speak of the first two years in Dracut.) I have to say, the Cambodian-Americans (those who are staying in the city that is) are expanding into these types of neighborhoods; when, and this is a guess, but a good one, their first gen arrival was concentrated in the affordable-rental areas of the city. I doubt a large number of them were in these largely-owner neighborhoods during the first decade or two they lived in Lowell. So many came here with nothing.

    What’s weird about Lowell, is this: Two blocks in either direction in many areas of the city, you wind up in a totally different “type” of neighborhood. I live in a largely owner-occupied part of my street. Down one way is high concentrations of slightly ratty rentals packed in like sardines, and down the other end is a weird mix of single fam and ratty rentals which are packed in. When we were looking for a house, I noticed this happens all over the city (well, OK, at least south of the Merrimack, we didn’t we even consider any address that requires a bridge crossing!). Move a block, or two, and the street or block totally changes character. Maybe this a result of inconsistent zoning laws or enforcement, I don’t know. I think I like it, if only because it doesn’t totally concentrate the .1 acre single fam lots in a few large areas, and the tenement/three-to-ten-family rentals totally separate areas. But it is rather schizophrenic!

    Other places in the country, I think, are more like the difference between Pawtucketville and the Acre, or at least, that’s my impression. Or maybe more like the difference between the Acre and the Upper Highlands. Except there’s not a lot of places in between mixing it up like we have here.

  3. Lynne Says:

    I think I can safely say, Manchester NH is one such place. So many nice, neat, .1-.2 acre lots in a large swath of this or that part of the city, and then there’s the packed in areas that are mostly rentals, and the parts that are one or the other are large areas of the city, not a block-by-block shift between one or the other.

  4. Corey Says:

    Are you disagreeing though? You’re saying it’s taken time with the Cambodians, as it always has with everybody who has ever come through this city. Like everybody else who has ever come through, they really can’t go home. This is in sharp contrast to *my understanding* of the “other” big immigrant group in Lowell: the Caribbean Spanish. Many come and go as they please, and they often don’t plan to stay or integrate. Puerto Ricans are citizens already, even. Come for a few years, make some money, send it home. That’s going to look very different.

    I think it’s unfortunate that we spend so much time with “Asians” and “Hispanic” and “White” demographics. Southeast Asians, who escaped from genocide and war, have nothing in common with the Indians and the Chinese who often come here highly educated from well-to-do backgrounds. Yet they are the same color dot.

  5. Lynne Says:

    I guess I misunderstood what you were getting at. :)

    Good point about the truly transient (coming in, making some money, leaving the country again).

  6. Mr. Lynne Says:

    “It took my family *70 years* to escape the neighborhoods that you’re saying we haven’t done enough work to integrate”

    I didn’t read where she prescribed what people should do and what ‘enough’ is. To the extent that she even came close it was a comment about class and affordability.

  7. Corey Says:

    Mr Lynne,

    “…a condemnation of our nation and its inability to address poverty and the lack of equal opportunity for minorities…we should address those issues as a whole country.”

    Doesn’t that mean that it’s wrong that we have racial/income enclaves (and that they are often one and the same) and that we should work to fix it, which would imply we haven’t done enough?

  8. Lynne Says:

    The bottom line is, it ALWAYS comes down to money. If everyone had equal opportunity (say, the unemployment rates were the same across racial lines, there was no pay gap, equal access to good education, higher ed, etc), I think this map would look totally different. I think it looks this way on mostly economic grounds. Every person, no matter their race, wants to “move up and out,” as in, you start out renting at the beginning of your adult life, and if things go well, you wind up buying a house or moving to a more desirable location. I think if all things economic were equal, this racial divide would wind up being more of an age divide, with the Acre and other “transient” areas full of young adults just starting out, going to school, etc, and ownership areas are where they eventually move to.

    The disparity between whites and minorities is both where they start out in life, AND what opportunities are given whites compared to similar-in-background minorities. These two elements serve to push the gap wider, and create what I suspect are mostly economic enclaves…there are other reason for enclaves (for example, first gen immigrants tend to want to be with people who speak their native language, while their kids, who are more integrated into the culture, don’t need this as much), but I think most of the enclave problem is all about money, and who has it. I don’t think there’s a (permanent, long term resident) minority group who would NOT, given the economic power, move “up and out” to the single family neighborhood with a backyard and a fence and a dog.

  9. Lynne Says:

    Let me revise that, somewhat. I think it’s mostly economic, BUT there is still a certain amount of enclavery that is about racism and tribalism. However, I think that’s mostly in the older generations and the younger generations would learn to live without that pretty quickly. At least that is my impression.

    Especially in places like the northeast. Maybe this would be a more difficult item to address in, say, Atlanta.

  10. Mr. Lynne Says:

    I may have misread something:

    “we haven’t done enough work to integrate”

    I heard that ‘we’ as the minority ‘we’ (’they’), not the all of us ‘we’. People often blame the enclave’s themselves for their own lack of integration.

    To address the issue directly, there is a ’stickyness’ to class that minority populations seem to be more vulnerable to. Our problem with income mobility in this country is worse among minorities. The result is often that enclave’s that appear to be based on class also often appear to be based on race. In a less ‘class-sticky’ world we’d have more integration, although I think cultural enclave’s would still exist. The difference is that they’d represent opportunities to live in a cultural enclave, not difficulties in escaping a class enclave.

  11. Corey Says:

    The situation is complex, isn’t it? We have these factors:

    * The US Government breaks down people into neat color-coded categories that stretch across all sorts of actual lines.
    * Prior to the 1960s, it was harder for non-white people to come to the US because of the countries immigration was open to and who lived there.
    * Around that time, changes in the domestic economy made it harder for people at the bottom of the ladder to move up. Note the famous erosion of income gains in the bottom quintile.
    * The end result of that, mixing in some good old-fashioned racism here and there, is that entire color-groups came over poor and are still just as poor, a generation or so on. We can no longer tell race from class in large American cities.

    This is most clear I feel with Asians. Many of them are fairly new to the US, a generation or two. However, they are, on average, wealthier and more educated than White People. Why? Unlike many groups, they didn’t come over with nothing. Talk to Indians about the servants they have back home.

    Compare the Africans we have in Lowell, who are coming over and can somehow afford college, etc, with the African Americans, who were facing institutional racism up into the 1960s, which, as we know, was about the end of the good expansion years for class movement. Now we have a real problem there because we have multi-generational hatred, disrespect, and mistrust all around and we have a cultural divide to add to the economic divide. It gets even worse because unlike the Asians, who will always look Asian and the good stereotypes that carries with it, we have a different–as the Canadians put it–”visible minority group” who is reminded day in and day out they are different in a way that people think negatively about. The connotations of “acting Black” and “acting White” really upset me.

  12. ax41 Says:

    In a paper entitled “On The Measurement of Segregation” , the author developed spectral segregation index which is supposed to avoid some of the concerns arising from the use of census tracts.It is found at www.vanderbilt.edu/econ/sempapers/Fryer.pdf.
    This index shows Lowell to have been , based on the 2000 Federal Census ,the most segregated city in the US from a White perspective.

  13. ax41 Says:

    The link I sent before does not seem to work now. Try www.nber.org/papers/w11258

  14. Paul Marion Says:

    Thanks for posting the research paper. It would be good to get a 2010 Census update. I suspect there would be some change in pattern, but nonetheless this analysis provides a different view.

  15. joe from Lowell Says:

    Based on that paper, I can safely draw the following conclusions:

    White people smoke too much and talk a lot, and these behaviors are contagious.

    Statisticians need to make sure they have an English major in their circle of friends.

  16. Magnolia Says:

    I don’t know the map goes - but my street has 5 white families, 1 Brazilian, 1 Azorian, 2 Cambodian, 1 Lao and some doofus who has decided to turn his Mother’s 3 family home into student housing (Mixed bag there) Some speak good English, the others try really hard. We all smile and wave , talk over the fences and last week commiserated over our third fried squirrel in transformer outage. None of us are wealthy and range in age from 99 to 6 months. All in all, it works.

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