Why All Cities Need a Diversity Strategy

Image Credit: Flickr Contributor Digital Spy

For decades, city governments have touted their local businesses, universities, and cultural amenities as a means of attracting new residents and high-tech firms. But only recently have cities begun to promote tolerance as a key factor in economic growth.

Since Amazon announced its plan to build a second headquarters, cities like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Detroit have made a concerted effort to advertise local diversity in their bids for the high-tech giant. With slogans like “Move Here. Move the World.” and “Future. Forged. For all,” along with promotional videos and images featuring minority professionals, these cities are now eager to emphasize their inclusivity. And yet, both Pittsburgh and Detroit rank among the metros with the lowest levels of minority residents in the U.S.

In order to position themselves as destinations for the best and brightest, cities must ensure that their demographics reflect their messages of openness and diversity. To determine which cities have cultivated a diverse population — and which could benefit from greater share of minority residents — we turned to data from Gallup and the U.S. Census for 53 large U.S. metros (those with at least one million residents).

One of the strongest indicators of a city’s racial diversity is its share of residents who are neither white nor black. This metric goes beyond the traditional black-white divide (which we will explore later). For the most part, large communities witnessed a steady increase in their non-black-non-white populations from 2012 to 2016. Only two large metros — San Antonio and Austin — saw declines of 7.5 and 9.9 percent, respectively.

As the chart below shows, areas with the highest shares of non-black-non-white populations are mostly gateway metros like San Jose, San Francisco, and Los Angeles — known worldwide for their tolerant climates. The results for San Jose, however, are particularly striking: Around half of the metro’s residents are neither black nor white. This is more than three times the national average, according to a location quotient (a ratio that compares the community’s share to that of the U.S. as a whole).

While coastal cities lead the pack, metros with the lowest shares of non-black-non-white populations include Rustbelt cities like Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Cleveland. Pittsburgh has the lowest share among large metros — 4.7 percent, or about a third of the national average — followed by Birmingham with 5 percent.

When it comes to the share of black residents, the top ten list consists of D.C.-area metros like Virginia Beach, Richmond, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.; Midwestern metros like Memphis and Detroit; and southern metros like New Orleans and Atlanta. With black residents making up nearly half (46.6 percent) of its population, Memphis’ share is 3.7 times greater than the national average. Despite their high shares, both Detroit and Richmond saw a decline in their black populations from 2012 to 2016.

Metros with the lowest shares of black residents include communities like San Jose, Portland, Seattle, Providence, and Rhode Island. In each of the bottom ten metros, black residents make up less than 7 percent of the total population and fall well below the national average.

The ten metros with the highest shares of Hispanic residents are all located in the Sunbelt, with two in Texas (San Antonio and Houston) and three in California (Riverside, Los Angeles, and San Diego). These results are to be expected, given the Sunbelt’s close proximity to Mexico and South America. Compared to other large metros, San Antonio’s share of Hispanic residents is by far the highest: 54.8 percent, or more than three times the national average.

By contrast, six out of ten metros with the lowest shares of Hispanic residents are located in the Rustbelt. Once more, Pittsburgh has the lowest share of all: 1.6 percent, or just 9 percent of the national average. Midwestern metros like Louisville and Memphis also make the bottom ten, with shares of around 4 to 5 percent.

Another important metric of diversity is the share of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) residents in a given area. As the chart below shows, highly progressive metros like San Francisco, Portland, Austin, and Seattle have some of the highest shares of LGBT residents (around 5 to 6 percent).

Metros with the lowest shares of LGBT residents include Rustbelt cities like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee, as well as Midwestern metros like Memphis and Oklahoma City. One surprising entry is San Jose, where LGBT residents make up just 3.2 percent of the total population.

While this data signals a general divide between gateway and Sunbelt metros and former industrial centers in the Rustbelt and Midwest, it nevertheless paints a complicated portrait of diversity in the U.S. Despite their large shares of non-black-non-white residents, metros like San Jose, Seattle, and Portland have relatively small shares of black residents. And in Memphis — the metro with the highest share of black residents — the shares of LGBT and Hispanic residents are troublingly low. When it comes to diversity, even the most successful cities face significant challenges.

In order to substantially lure businesses and high-tech talent, cities must do more than advertise their diverse and tolerant environments. Now more than ever, they must focus on providing more opportunities for minorities through training programs, upgraded service jobs, and workforce housing, among other initiatives. While these efforts require significant time and resources, they will soon prove vital to a city’s equity and economic growth.

STEVEN PEDIGO is the Director of the NYU SPS Schack Institute of Real Estate Urban Lab and a Clinical Assistant Professor for Economic Development at the NYU School of Professional Studies. He is also the Director of the Research and Advising for the Creative Class Group, an Associate Partner at Resonance Consultancy (Vancouver/ NYC), and a Senior Advisor for Leland Consulting(Portland). Follow him on twitter @iamstevenpedigo.

ARIA BENDIX is a writer for the NYU SPS Schack Institute of Real Estate Urban Lab. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, CityLab, Bustle, and The Harvard Crimson, among other publications. Follow her on twitter @ariabendix.