Detroit's Historically White Suburbs Slowly Becoming More Diverse

September 18, 2012, 9:12 PM

Metro Detroit contains more predominately white suburbs than most metro areas in the nation, but the total population of these communities shrunk dramatically between 2000 and 2010.

That's an indication that the integration of southeast Michigan suburbia continues to grow, however slowly compared to the much of the rest of the United States, according to a report by the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota Law School.

It's not news that a variety of Detroit suburbs -- such as Eastpointe, Harper Woods and Redford -- gained black and Latino residents over the past 20 years. That was made clear by the 2000 and 2010 U.S. Census.

But the new report aggregates the data locally and nationally in ways that show local and national trends. The biggest trend nationally is that suburban communities have grown so diverse that they "are now at the cutting edge of racial, ethnic, and even political change in America," according to the study. 

It adds: "Racially diverse suburbs are growing faster than their predominantly white counterparts."

Across metro Detroit, 49 percent of residents live predominately white suburbs. The total was 65 percent in 2000 to 49 percent in 2010. "Predominantly white" is defined as more than 80 percent white.

Nationally, only 18 percent of metro residents live in predominantly white communities.

In 2000, only three percent of metro Detroiters live in so-called diverse suburbs, in which between 20 and 60 percent of residents were non-white. By 2010, that figure had grown to 23 percent.

The largest diverse suburb in metro Detroit is Warren, with a 2010 population of 134,056 and a 23 percent nonwhite population. Warren's evolution is ironic, of course, given its hostility to African American residents in 1960s and '70s. At the moment, when it comes to percentage of minority residents, Warren is about where Detroit was in the mid-to-late 1950s.

Canton, population 90,173, is 30 percent nonwhite.

Metro Detroit's diversity is slightly greater than that of metro Cleveland, but significantly trails that of Chicago, where only 20 percent of metro residents live in predominantly white cities.

 The report draws attention to the danger of resegregation in changing communities. Integrated communities in the U.S. have trouble staying that way for moe than 10 or 20 years, the report says.

"Many currently integrated areas are actually in the midst of social and economic change -- change that is often very rapid."

In metro Detroit, communities undergoing rapid transition, according to the study, include Harper Woods, Eastpointe, Redford, Novi, Melvindale and Farmington. 

The best known example of a community that integrated, then resegregated, is Southfield, whose once overwhelmingly white population was 70 percent African American in 2010.

Click here for the study.

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