23 September 2010

Mapping ethnic segregation and hubs of creativity

I just got back from a great trip to the US that left me feeling upbeat about life but downbeat about the US, at least in the medium term. One other consequence of my trip is a resolution to put up more frequent blog posts.

So here are two US-related snippets that caught my eye today. The first is a fascinating set of maps showing ethnic segregation in major US cities. Wonder why all your friends seem to live in the same part of north-west DC, central Boston or Manhattan? Because they really do all live there. Red is white, blue black, orange Hispanic and green Asian, are based on self-identification in the 2000 census, so are somewhat out of date (stand up Columbia Heights). Salt Lake City is 100% red, while you can actually see the city boundaries of Detroit.  Most interesting to me are the spots of diversity among the seas of red and blue: Cambridge, Hyde Park, most of Brooklyn, the Bay Area. While the macro-picture is of socio-economic segregation, there are countless neighbourhoods that are mixed in unpredictable ways - not all of them around colleges. Rather than bemoan the segregation, shouldn't we look at the exceptions and figure out if they work and why? While we're at it, is Europe is really so much better. I realize there are legal and practical obstacles to replicating this analysis for Paris or Berlin, but I wonder if anyone has tried doing it informally?

The second is a slightly less obvious piece of analysis on density hubs. This seems to say that the most human capital and creativity (as measured by educated people, patents, etc) seems to cluster in a small number of mostly coastal cities. The trend probably isn't surprising, the magnitude is. I am also surprised at the outliers and the cities that are left out. Ann Arbor is a notable hot spot; but where are tech hubs like Raleigh-Durham or Austin? Maybe they are 11 and 12.

Again, I'd love to know how this compares for Europe. My hunch is that there has been bunching over time. Compared with, say, the 1950s, there is probably a greater preponderance of bankers in London, students in Bologna and bureaucrats in Brussels than there were, as the best-educated Europeans are more mobile than they used to be and more inclined to move in search of like-minded people, interesting work and excitement.

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