By Jenny McCoy
Since 1990, the United States has become more racially diverse—yet during that same period, racial residential segregation has climbed, according to a years-long analysis by researchers at the University of California Berkeley’s Othering & Belonging Institute. In Colorado, two cities fall on opposite ends of the spectrum: Denver is “highly segregated” while Colorado Springs is “integrated,” the analysis found.
Titled The Roots of Structural Racism Project, the analysis revealed that out of every metropolitan region in the United States with more than 200,000 residents, 81% (169 out of 209) were more segregated as of 2019 than they were in 1990. And, out of the 113 largest cities the report examined, only Colorado Springs and Port St. Lucie, Fla. qualified as “integrated.”
The report’s definitions and differences between an integrated versus a segregated community were far from straightforward, and relied on multiple factors and calculations. The study also didn’t examine why segregation has increased nationwide, or what causes certain cities to be segregated and others to be more integrated.
“Our intention was to just raise awareness,” said Samir Gambhir, an author of the report and a researcher and manager of the Opportunity Mapping program at the Othering & Belonging Institute. “There might be local impacts, or local reasons, for the segregation increasing.”
What is clear are the harmful effects of segregation, especially for communities of color. “Where you live determines how you access resources,” said Gambhir, and “what are your life outcomes.”
Neighborhood poverty rates are 21% in segregated communities of color, compared to 7% in segregated white neighborhoods, the report found. In highly segregated communities of color, just 46% of residents own homes, compared to 59% in well-integrated neighborhoods and 77% in highly segregated white neighborhoods. Additionally, household incomes and home values in segregated communities of color are about one half of those in white neighborhoods.
Conversely, Black and Latinx children raised in integrated communities go on to earn more than children raised in segregated communities of color. “All these findings really show the benefits of reducing segregation and creating policies that would actually promote integration,” said Gambhir.
The project includes an interactive mapping tool of segregation in the United States. The map displays segregation levels of every region, city and neighborhood in the country, as quantified by the study, and how those levels have changed over time. Search Denver, for instance, and you’ll notice that neighborhoods like Five Points have become somewhat more racially segregated since 2010, while the Highlands has become more integrated during the same period. Overall, though, Denver has seen an increase in residential racial segregation in the last decade, the study found.
The Denver findings didn’t shock anyone. The Colorado Springs analysis, however, was met with skepticism locally.
Denver’s ranking as a highly segregated city “doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Rita Lewis, executive director of Denver Metro Fair Housing, a nonprofit that works with residents who feel they’ve been discriminated against when renting or during the home-buying process.
Lewis, who is Black and was born and raised in the Park Hill neighborhood, believes city officials are partly to blame because of historic and ongoing policies that led to gentrification in neighborhoods such as Park Hill.
“If gentrification didn’t happen to the level that it did,” said Lewis, “it’s possible that a lot of the neighborhoods could have been desegregated and we could have had more diverse neighborhoods.”
Learning that Colorado Springs was deemed integrated was “definitely surprising,” said Max Kronstadt, co-founder of Colorado Springs Pro-Housing Partnership, an advocacy group formed about two years ago in response to the city’s affordable housing crisis. (Kronstadt also works as a community organizer for The Colorado Trust.)
The city’s ranking as integrated “doesn’t necessarily reflect the lived experiences of people on the ground in Colorado Springs,” said Kronstadt. He pointed to a number of segregation-inducing policies the city has employed throughout its history, including single-family zoning laws, redlining and industrial zoning in low-income areas.
In 1990, for example, Colorado Springs bulldozed a predominately Latinx community to build America the Beautiful Park, said Kronstadt. “If Colorado Springs is integrated,” he said, “it’s sort of an accident.”
Susan Bolduc, a member of the Colorado Springs Faith Table, agreed. “If you live in this community, you don’t get a sense that it’s an integrated community,” Bolduc said. The Colorado Springs Faith Table is a nonpartisan interfaith organization that works on issues of human dignity, including affordable housing.
Bolduc pointed to the prevalence of zoning policies that allow only single-family residences. About 83% of residential zoning in Colorado Springs is for single families only, which in turn reduces housing inventory, creates less affordable housing, segregates neighborhoods by race and class, and entrenches educational disparities, said Bolduc. The city is currently undergoing a comprehensive revision of the zoning code, and Colorado Springs Pro-Housing Partnership has been advocating for more varied types of housing in existing single-family zones.
What might explain Colorado Springs’s status as integrated in the study? One possible reason, Gambhir said, is the existence of the Army and Air Force bases. The military is “our most diverse institution,” he said, and has “more race-conscious policies.” Black Americans comprise 17% of the military, compared to 14% of the general U.S. population. Both the military and the general U.S. population are about 18% Latinx. In Colorado Springs, the military makes up 20% of the workforce.
White military veterans are more likely to live in diverse neighborhoods than their civilian counterparts. And, military benefits, like paid housing allowances and mortgage loans without down payments, help combat barriers to home ownership.
But as Colorado Springs becomes less affordable—as of 2020, one in three households in El Paso County paid more than 30% of their income on housing—”there’s a risk that whatever integration does exist might not hold,” said Kronstadt.
The Roots of Structural Racism Project did not delve into solutions for increasing integration, but Gambhir cited a prior report he and his colleagues published on segregation in the Bay Area that featured policies that would help promote integration. Such policies include implementing rent-control policies in areas that are on the verge of gentrifying and eliminating single-family zoning laws in an effort to expand multi-family housing options.
Improving integration “doesn’t only help white communities or Black communities,” said Gambhir. “It helps everybody.”