What exactly is a Whitopia? A Whitopia (pronounced why-toh-pee-uh) is whiter than the nation, its respective region, and its state. It has posted at least 6 percent population growth since 2000. The majority of that growth (often upward of 90 percent) is from white migrants. And a Whitopia has a je ne sais quoi — an ineffable social charisma, a pleasant look and feel.
A prediction that made headlines across the United States 10 years ago is fast becoming a reality: By 2042, whites will no longer be the American majority. With growing and intermixed minority populations, the country is following California, Texas, New Mexico, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia, which have “minority” populations that are in the “majority.” Twelve other states have populations that are more than 20 percent Hispanic, black, and/or Asian. Soon, the words “majority” and “minority” may have no meaning. And as immigrant populations — overwhelmingly people of color — increase in cities and suburbs, more and more whites are living in small towns and exurbs.
“So many of the people that are here have come from areas where they have seen diversity done badly,” says Carol Sapp, a prominent civic and business leader in St. George, Utah, a bona fide Whitopia.
Another resident, Christine Blum, moved to St. George in 2004 after living for 24 years in Los Angeles. “When I lived in California, everyone was a liberal, pretty much,” recalls Blum, the president of the local Republican women’s group. “I wanted to be around people who shared my political views.” She remembers the conversations in California where liberals bashed the GOP, and the social settings in which she felt censored. “It’s like, I don’t want to say what I really think, ’cause they’re going to think I’m an evil, right-wing fascist.” In California, she worked in the animation field, mostly for Disney, and as an assistant director on King of the Hill. She came to St. George to escape the big city and to start a new career as a cartoonist and illustrator.
Blum says she doesn’t miss the many hues in L.A.’s population: “For me it’s just the restaurants.”
Denise Larsen moved to the St. George area from Milwaukee with her husband and young daughters in 1997. “When we heard the gang shootings, we thought, ‘It’s time to move,'” Larsen tells me over soda pop at Wendy’s. “This kid tried to leave a gang; they shot up his dad down the block from us. I guess you don’t try and leave a gang. We could no longer let our kids ride their bikes around. Here, they could ride all the way down to the Virgin River, and we don’t have to worry about it.” For a mother frustrated with having her daughters bused across town due to a desegregation order, fed up with shoveling snow, and terrified of the gunshots ringing out, her new, Whitopian community is the perfect elixir.
Whitopian migration results from tempting pulls as much as alarming pushes. The places luring so many white Americans are revealing. The five towns posting the largest white growth rates between 2000 and 2004 — St. George, Utah; Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Bend, Oregon; Prescott, Arizona; and Greeley, Colorado — were already overwhelmingly white. Certainly whiter than the places that new arrivals left behind and whiter than the country in general. We know why white folks are pushed from big cites and their inner-ring suburbs. The Whitopian pull includes economic opportunity, more house for your dollar, a yearning for the countryside, and a nostalgic charm.
Most whites are not drawn to a place explicitly because it teems with other white people. Rather, the place’s very whiteness implies other perceived qualities. Americans associate a homogeneous white neighborhood with higher property values, friendliness, orderliness, cleanliness, safety, and comfort. These seemingly race-neutral qualities are subconsciously inseparable from race and class in many whites’ minds. Race is often used as a proxy for those neighborhood traits. And, if a neighborhood is known to have those traits, many whites presume — without giving it a thought — that the neighborhood will be majority white.
As much as creative elites in Manhattan and Hollywood might like to dismiss this trend as corn-fed racism, or to ridicule it as boringly bourgeois, it is our present and future. Sorry, city sophisticates. Between 1990 and 2000, America’s suburban periphery grew by 17 million people. By contrast, city cores grew by a fraction — only 3 million people. In the years since, outer suburban and exurban counties have grown at triple the rate of urban counties. For all the noise over gentrification and metrosexuals, the real action will continue on the periphery: steady white migration, resilient economies, and disproportionate political power.
Aaron Renn in The New Geography:
Among the media, academia and within planning circles, there’s a generally standing answer to the question of what cities are the best, the most progressive and best role models for small and mid-sized cities. The standard list includes Portland, Seattle, Austin, Minneapolis, and Denver. In particular, Portland is held up as a paradigm, with its urban growth boundary, extensive transit system, excellent cycling culture, and a pro-density policy. These cities are frequently contrasted with those of the Rust Belt and South, which are found wanting, often even by locals, as “cool” urban places.
But look closely at these exemplars and a curious fact emerges. If you take away the dominant Tier One cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles you will find that the “progressive” cities aren’t red or blue, but another color entirely: white.
In fact, not one of these “progressive” cities even reaches the national average for African American percentage population in its core county. Perhaps not progressiveness but whiteness is the defining characteristic of the group.
In Texas, California, and south Florida a somewhat similar, if less stark, pattern has occurred with largely Latino immigration. This can be seen in the evolution of Miami, Los Angeles, and increasingly Houston, San Antonio and Dallas. Just like African-Americans, Latino immigrants also are disproportionately poor and often have different site priorities and sensibilities than upscale whites.
This may explain why most of the smaller cities of the Midwest and South have not proven amenable to replicating the policies of Portland. Most Midwest advocates of, for example, rail transit, have tried to simply transplant the Portland solution to their city without thinking about the local context in terms of system goals and design, and how to sell it. Civic leaders in city after city duly make their pilgrimage to Denver or Portland to check out shiny new transit systems, but the resulting videos of smiling yuppies and happy hipsters are not likely to impress anyone over at the local NAACP or in the barrios.
We are seeing this script played out in Cincinnati presently, where an odd coalition of African Americans and anti-tax Republicans has formed to try to stop a streetcar system. Streetcar advocates imported Portland’s solution and arguments to Cincinnati without thinking hard enough to make the case for how it would benefit the whole community.
That’s not to let these other cities off the hook. Most of them have let their urban cores decay. Almost without exception, they have done nothing to engage with their African American populations. If people really believe what they say about diversity being a source of strength, why not act like it? I believe that cities that start taking their African American and other minority communities seriously, seeing them as a pillar of civic growth, will reap big dividends and distinguish themselves in the marketplace.
This trail has been blazed not by the “progressive” paragons but by places like Atlanta, Dallas and Houston. Atlanta, long known as one of America’s premier African American cities, has boomed to become the capital of the New South. It should come as no surprise that good for African Americans has meant good for whites too. Similarly, Houston took in tens of thousands of mostly poor and overwhelmingly African American refugees from Hurricane Katrina. Houston, a booming metro and emerging world city, rolled out the welcome mat for them – and for Latinos, Asians and other newcomers. They see these people as possessing talent worth having.
This history and resulting political dynamic could not be more different from what happened in Portland and its “progressive” brethren. These cities have never been black, and may never be predominately Latino. Perhaps they cannot be blamed for this but they certainly should not be self-congratulatory about it or feel superior about the urban policies a lack of diversity has enabled.
Just to add my two cents, as I’m going to be busy today and unable to blog much till later, I don’t care about white flight, or black flight, or brown flight. It doesn’t surprise me that people want to live around people like them, whether in terms of race, class, educational level, whatever. I object only to any legal impediment to people being free to move and to live where they want to. I simply find it risible that progressives would criticize others for allegedly having bad racial motives for what they call “white flight” (though middle class people of all ethnicities do the same thing) when they themselves are doing the same thing.
I find the piece to be pretty ill-considered, and insulting to Latinos and Asians, in particular. But more than that it repeats an unfortunate trope among writers tackling race–it treats African-Americans as agency-less automatons, awaiting the right programming from white policy-makers.
There is so much wrong here. But leaving aside the fact that the author starts out by disqualifying New York, L.A., and Chicago, leaving aside the blinding whiteness of dubbing Atlanta “un-progressive,” leaving aside that most of these “progressive” cities have more black people than thier surrounding states, I think the implicit argument that these cities should be “doing more” to assure that their black population meets the national average is odious.
Man listen–Negroes like Atlanta. Negroes like Chicago. Negroes like Houston. Negroes like Raleigh-Durham (another area that doesn’t make the cut, for some reason.) Negroes like Oakland, Negroes have the right to like where they live, independent of Massa, for their own particular, native, independent reasons (family? great barbecue? housing stock?) Just like Jewish-Americans have the right to like New York–or not. Just like Japanese-Americans have the right to like Cali–or not.
This particular Negro loves Denver–and Chicago too. But the notion that black people are pawns on a chess-board, which conservatives and liberals move around in order to one-up each each other, has got to go. Sometimes–just sometimes–a black dude isn’t a problem. He’s just a dude trying to marry a beautiful woman, raise a decent kid, retire to an tropical island, smoke some good herb, and drink some good rum.
Let Portland be Portland. And let black folks be themselves. We’re getting along fine.
Dayo Olopade and Reihan Salam on Bloggingheads
UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias
UPDATE #2: Will at The League
UPDATE #3: Reihan Salam
UPDATE #4: Matt Frost at The American Scene