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Who lives there? Visual stats and social engineering

By Murray Bourne, 10 Jan 2011

This is a fascinating representation of where the various races live in the USA.

Mapping America: Every City, Every Block, by the New York Times.

The real estate in the area around Central Park in New York is very expensive. This sector is predominately white. (The statistics refer to the block surrounded by a black rectangle).


The Bronx, north of Manhattan, is predominately black (indicated by the light blue color).


Not surprisingly,there are many Asians in the Chinatown area.


"Typical" racial mix

The US is currently around 64% white, 16% Hispanic, 12% black and 5% Asian. I managed to find one census tract where the racial mix was close to these typical values. Here it is , on the West side of Central Park:

typical racial mix

"Even" racial mix

For interest, I went looking for a place in the USA where there was a reasonably even racial mix (that is, the same percent for each race). This is not so easy, because when you zoom to city block size, most are homogenous.

But I did manage to find one area - Alameda County, in San Francisco, where there was at least a reasonably even mix of the various races.


Note: Of course, "race" is a social construct and almost impossible to define, so there are many gray areas with such statistics. (See 2010 Census for more on this issue.)

Why does racial mix matter?

Most countries have had unpleasant episodes where racial intolerance has ruled the agenda. Singapore is no exception, with violent race riots in the 1950s and 1960s.

As a result, the Singapore government is keen to keep racial tensions low. They mandated that the proportion of different races living in public housing reflects the population in general.

So each apartment block (and district) has a racial mix approximately the same as the overall population (which is around 75% Chinese, 13% Malay, 9% Indians and 3% "others").

When you want to buy a public flat, your eligibility is based on the current mix in the block. So, for example, if the proportion of Malays is too low, the flat can only be sold to a Malay.

The idea behind this is if people need to live side by side, they get to know each other better, they share the same problems and understand where each other is coming from better.

And basically, it works. Racial tensions are low, people do live together (they may not love each other - "tolerate" is probably a better word) and you feel comfortable walking around, not worried that someone will hurl some racial taunt at you.

I haven't come across a map of Singapore showing races in each suburb, but it doesn't take much to imagine what it would look like. There would be around 75% Chinese, 13% Malay, 9% Indians and 3% others.

Social engineering? Yes.

But for a worthy outcome? Also, yes.

[Hat tip to gasstationwithoutpumps for alerting me to the NY Times maps.]

See the 4 Comments below.

4 Comments on “Who lives there? Visual stats and social engineering”

  1. Sue VanHattum says:

    I couldn't get it to show the population numbers by county - how'd you do that?

    If you go one county north from Alameda, you'll be in Contra Costa county. It's not well-mixed across the whole county, but neither is Alameda. If you look at 94805, where I live, it's pretty well-mixed. On my street on this short block there are about 2 black families, 3 Latino families, 3 white families, and a few mixed families (mine included). There are Asian families nearby, but not on this short block.

    My son has never lived in a homogeneous place. We visit family in Michigan twice a year, though, and my Black and Latino son is the only person of color anywhere around most of the time. So far it doesn't bother him, though he has certainly noticed.

  2. Philip Petrov says:

    I will have to disagree with the thesis of the article. It's a myth that if you mix the races the intolerance will disappear. In a matter of fact the intolerance is not "racial" - it's just intolerance to the "different".

    And yes, people are not equal (and this is good by the way - elsewere the world would be very borring). There are many places in the world where the people are homogeneously distributed from one race and guess what - there is still intolerance, riots, street violence against other people. I will give an example with my country - in North Bulgaria there are almost only white people living. And yes - the violence is the same level as it is in the capitol where there are much more racial mixtures.

    The intolerance between is absolutely normal function of the economical standard. If the people are rich and live well - they do not fight each other. As soon as they start to feel problems - it is usual to search the problems elsewere but not in themselves. If there is a radically different person nearby - he starts to be guilty. If there is no such - the person will again find an enemy, sometimes even inside his own family.

    So my answer is - no, the racial intolerance cannot be fixed by mixture. It can be fixed with social reforms and mass trust in the political system. It can be fixed with philosophical ideologies (like the Christianity did in the very beginning). It can be fixed with finding of "foreign enemy" (like Adolf Hitler did raise the masses in Germany). It can also be fixed by police repression (which I think is not better than the other), which by the way happens now worldwide (trust me - teaching kids dogmatically that black is white and white is black is not leading to a good end).

  3. Murray says:

    @Sue: Thanks for sharing. When you zoom out far enough, the default "Census tract" region becomes "county".

    @Petrov: Yes, my statements were somewhat simplistic, I agree. This is a multi-variable headache for governments. Singapore is certainly very keen to keep the economy humming (it does a good job of that with record growth coming out of the global financial crisis) and to keep unemployment low (at around 2.3% currently). This has probably contributed more to racial tolerance than anything else.

    But I stick to my main point - that if governments take the trouble to set up policies that increase tolerance, including housing policies, they are more likely to achieve that goal.

  4. Philip Petrov says:

    Just a hint: Do you really think that the social problems are "headache for the governments"? Because I actually think that they are a tool for distracting the violence in "non-political spheres".

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