Houston: equal in diversity, separate in class
Houstonians can relish in the fact that 2015 was a big year for Houston, having received sweeping recognition as a national-metropolitan heavyweight contender.
January kicked off with Forbes saying Houston was the fastest growing city in terms of population and economy. Then in May, WalletHub released a study revealing that Houston finally cinched a top 10 spot for the most diverse city overall in the U.S. In September, Reuters announced that Houston was set to blow Chicago out of the top three most populated cities in the U.S. before the decade is up. December closed out with an honorable mention from Huffington Post for the Buffalo Bayou’s notable development in landscape architecture.
But what does all that mean? Yeah we’re bigger, but are we better?
For several years now, Houston has been dubbed the future of America, from scholars, architects, businessmen and immigrants. Seventy-eight percent of the under-30 population is non-Anglo, and we have Nigerians, Ecuadorians, Pakistani, Indonesian, Bangladeshi, Iranian, Mexicans, but what else is there?
“The great danger for the future of America is not ethnic divide but class divide,” said Stephen L. Klineberg, sociologist and co-director of the Kinder institute. “Houston is on the frontline, where the gulf between rich and poor is widest. We have the Texas Medical Center, the finest medical facility in the world, but we also have the highest percentage of kids without health care. The inequality is so clear here.”
While Wallethub ranked Houston 7th overall, the complete survey has Houston ranked at 257 in worker class diversity and 221 in income diversity. The lowest ranking for income diversity was 350, in Flint Mich. Only four years ago, Houston ranked as the leading metropolitan for economic segregation.
The 2012 Pew Research study found that population growth and a rise in income segregation went hand in hand and Houston was edging out all the competition.
Let’s also not forget that the data for these were taken before our oil bust facts and figures rolled in, which have result in an estimated 30,000 layoffs. After Houston had already lost the ranking of leading Metropolitan in job creation, which it held in 2013 and 2014.
Now, Houston must see if its economy is as diversified as its population.
What does this diversity even look like? In 2010, the Center for Urban Research released a map of Houston that indicated the changes in race and ethnicity that’d occurred over the decade via coloration. The product was a map of condensed color clusters, with statistically insignificant pockets of “no plurality.”
I’m not saying it’s segregation, but I’m not saying Houston isn’t segregated – especially when you view it next to Pew Research’s map of residential segregation, where the red of lower income overlaps mostly with minority colors.
Still, our population map is more colorful than most.
“Texas has a long tradition, and Houston has it in spades, that we are not so much interested in where you are from. We want to know what you can do,” said former Houston Mayor Annise Parker in an interview with Reuters.
It seems that the lack of zoning is the perfect metaphor for Houston. In many ways it’s augmented the city’s urban diversity from the bottom-up and shows what hard work and diversity can get you. But there are these seemingly inevitable income and racial/ethnic zones that aren’t self-imposed anymore. And they are growing into chasms that threaten the unity and strength of the city.
This concern extends beyond the qualms of a soon-to-be college graduate.
The future of America is being worked out here. Where blue and red collide. Where foreign and native work side by side. Where arts and sports compete for international recognition. Where education swells and segregation lingers. Where economies boom and gentrification follows. In a city, where a polity elects a lesbian mayor but rejects HERO. Where some histories are remembered and others forgotten.
Houston, we still have a problem.
Opinion columnist Leah Lucio is a journalism senior and may be reached [email protected]