Lab | Log

Mapping Urban Ethnicity—What Do New York City’s Shifting Demographics Tell Us about the City, and Ourselves?

This week the Lab has had a strong focus on multiculturalism, migration, and immigration, which got me wondering about the actual demographics of New York City.

In a country where wealth and power are so deeply tied to ethnicity, I thought it would be fascinating to see how the map of New York’s ethnic landscape has changed over the years, especially in light of all the discussion with ZUS last month about gentrification and neighborhood displacement.

Lucky for me, the New York Times has taken it upon themselves to be the Google of infographics—the all-seeing, all-knowing mega giant who knows you better than you know yourself and always creates exactly what you want before you even realize you want it.

In their article “Then as Now—New York’s Shifting Ethnic Mosaic,” they present a map that shows the predominant ethnic group in each neighborhood, further distinguishing between U.S.-born and foreign-born populations.

They also use a decade of data to chart where populations of individual ethnic groups have declined and increased in the city over the past ten years—represented by orange and gray circles, respectively.

The results are downright fascinating.

The first of these maps, for instance, shows an increase of whites all over the city, especially in and around Brooklyn and Harlem, and little decline in any neighborhood.

The second map, by contrast, boasts an explosion of orange circles, indicating declines of blacks—you guessed it—in and around Brooklyn and Harlem, as well as elsewhere in Manhattan, and increased populations almost exclusively in the furthest reaches of the city, like Canarsie.

As the accompanying text puts it:

One of the principal demographic trends of recent years, U.S.-born whites moving into cities, is apparent in Manhattan and northern Brooklyn. White populations are declining in northeast Queens, where immigrant populations are increasing, and parts of Staten Island, which are attracting more blacks.

Black populations are declining in some traditionally black areas; in central Brooklyn and Harlem, where whites are moving in, but also in southeast Queens, which black families may be leaving for the suburbs. In Canarsie, the U.S.-born black population has grown 20 percent. In nearby Brownsville, it is down nine percent.

Layering that information with data indicating the movement of other ethnicities, such as East Asians, Latin Americans, South Asians, and Caribbeans, as well as your own experiences watching neighborhoods change over the years (or the stories of those who have), provides a fascinating picture of the relationships between place, ethnicity, wealth, and community.

If you’re at all interested in the migration patterns of the city, I geekily recommend spending some serious time with these maps, but I have to warn you that you may get sucked into hours of overlapping and analyzing. This is especially true if you also take a look at this other delightfully interactive New York Times map, which completely breaks down the ethnic fabric of New York (and any other city you want!) nearly block by block.

Even a cursory look is enough to prompt questions, concerns, and revelations about the way we divide ourselves—and why and how we are so divided.

. . .

Image: map showing racial/ethnic self-identification in New York City in the year 2000 (data from Census 2000). Each dot is 25 people. Via Wikimedia Commons.