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Study: Los Angeles Neighborhoods Are Re-Segregating

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LA is still the most integrated of the US's four biggest cities, but it's getting less integrated over time

Are neighborhoods in Los Angeles becoming more or less racially mixed? The answer has all kinds of consequences in the ongoing debates around gentrification, environmental justice, and police bias in the region. A study published last year suggested that the city is desegregating, but a separate paper, released last week, argues that that trend may be temporary.

The report, written by Michael DM Bader and Siri Warkentien and published in Sociological Science (via CityLab), studied demographic information in America's four largest cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston) between 1970 and 2010. Using these dates, Bader and Warkentien set out to chart the course of racial diversity since the 1968 passage of the Fair Housing Act, which protects buyers and renters from many types of discrimination.

In a press release from American University, Bader argues that while many of the neighborhoods surveyed appear diverse today, long-term trends suggest they are in the process of re-segregating. The study found that about 4,000 neighborhoods, or 35 percent of all those studied, were likely to become more segregated in the future.

The data does show that Los Angeles leads all four cities in neighborhoods where "quadrivial integration" is happening—this term describes areas where whites, blacks, Latinos, and Asians can all be found in sizable numbers. According to the study, about one in five neighborhoods in the LA area meets this description--most of them are located in the surrounding suburbs. But the same data also shows that around 40 percent of Los Angeles's racially mixed neighborhoods are in the process of becoming more segregated.

Bader and Warkentien suggest that while overtly racist policies were in place to effectively keep neighborhoods segregated, demographic changes occurred extremely rapidly if they happened at all. This was especially true in the years leading up to and immediately following the passage of the Fair Housing Act, at which point whites left newly integrating neighborhoods in droves. In recent years, however, change has been slower.

In the press release, Bader says that whites today are less likely to pack up and move if their neighbors don't look like them. However, when an area does become more diverse, new whites are less likely to move in. "Whites are OK if integration comes to them, but they don’t actively seek it out," Bader says.

Meanwhile, the study suggests that neighborhoods where one racial group has become prominent often become less diverse as growth is dominated by that particular group and other residents move out or pass away over time.

Bader and Warkentien argue that the primary cause of segregation is "white avoidance" of integrated neighborhoods. They advocate for policy changes that would encourage white investment in neighborhoods that have been historically segregated and also want people to seriously consider moving to the suburbs, where they found the most sustainable examples of prolonged integration.