Learn more about White flight
White flight is a colloquial term for the demographic trend of upper and middle class Americans (predominantly white) moving away from inner cities (predominantly non-white), finding new homes in nearby suburbs or even moving to new locales entirely. In areas of some of the largest cities in the United States, however, the trend reversed itself in the 1990s to a limited extent (see gentrification). White flight is often attributed to racism, but some have argued that it is primarily attributable to economic prejudice or rapidly increasing crime rates in racially mixed neighborhoods beginning in the 1960s.
 White flight in the United States
The effects of white flight have been significant in the cities affected by this phenomenon, especially in Detroit, Memphis, St. Louis, Milwaukee and New Orleans, all of which lost more than half of their white populations due to white flight. In New York City many white people moved from parts of the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn to Staten Island, suburban Long Island, suburban New Jersey, and Westchester and Rockland Counties.
Other U.S. cities that have been noticeably affected by white flight include Philadelphia, Atlanta, Houston, Miami, Cleveland, Boston, Hartford, the West and South Sides of Chicago, the Greater Los Angeles Area (in inner suburbs such as Compton and Inglewood in the mid-20th century and in many other places since then - see "White flight in Southern California" below), Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Newark, New Jersey, and numerous smaller cities.
In the years after World War II, White Americans began to move away from inner core cities to newer suburban communities. Major cities had experienced tight housing markets during the war years along with an influx of blacks seeking war work. White people with the means to leave sometimes did so to escape the increasing racial tensions they observed on television news reports of the volatile Civil Rights Movement, which they thought generated crime in inner cities between radical racists and new black residents, but in other cases simply because they thought that suburban communities, with their new housing stock and schools and their open spaces, were more desirable places to live. Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, due to racist real-estate covenants, redlining, and other discriminatory practices, non-white peoples were rarely allowed to move away from the cities, even when they may have been economically able to do so.
As the wealthier white residents abandoned the inner city neighborhoods, they ultimately left behind increasingly poor non-white populations whose neighborhoods rapidly deteriorated in the 1950s and especially in the 1960s, as in many cases even trash collection was halted. White people quickly took their tax and investment dollars and services, such as teachers, grocery stores, and clothing retail with them. The 1967 Detroit 12th Street Riot is probably the worst case reaction to these events in US history. With no local jobs or businesses, the neighborhoods disintegrated and ultimately turned into increasingly poverty-stricken and crime-ridden slums with failing and dilapidated public schools.
An important element of this migration of well-to-do whites was the availability of federally subsidized home mortgages (VA, FHA, HOLC) which made it possible for families to buy cheap, new homes in the suburbs — but not to rent apartments in cities. State and federal governments also subsidized white flight by paying for highways to carry suburbanites to work in cities where the jobs remained (the National Defense and Interstate Highway Act and its successors) and by changing tax codes to benefit suburban "minimal cities" ("the Lakewood Plan"). This plan further divided and isolated black neighborhoods from goods and services, many times encircling them within industrial corridors.
Another important aspect of this migration was the phenomenon of "blockbusting." Real estate agents would facilitate the sale of a house in a white neighborhood to a black family by subterfuge, often buying the house themselves, or using a white proxy and reselling, perhaps at a reduced price, to the black family. A panic, fanned by the real estate agents and the media, would then ensue among some white homeowners, who feared that their property values would drop — which of course they did as soon as they began selling in large numbers, generating large commissions for the agents. The real estate agents would then sell at higher prices to the incoming black families, reaping the profits of the price difference as well as the sales commissions. It was not uncommon for a neighborhood to be completely changed in the space of a few years by this process.
Several poorer predominantly white communities also face conditions similar to those of areas that have experienced white flight. The cities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls in New York serve as prime examples. The 1960s saw significant white flight from the inner city of Columbus, Ohio and smaller Ohio metropolitan areas, such as Dayton and Springfield. In these areas, manufacturing jobs were once dominant but have now largely disappeared, resulting in urban decay.
 Governmental aspects of white flight
Due to the nature of American local governmental structure, white flight enabled people who moved into the suburbans to create new municipalities outside the jurisdiction of the original city, without any of the legacy costs of maintaining existing infrastructure. By the enactment of restrictive zoning, these new entities could ensure that no poor or (in some cases middle-class) emigrants could afford to move into their enclaves. Such municipalities were incorporated by the hundreds on the peripheries of cities. The details, of course, varied according to state statutes and local politics. Milwaukee, for example, was able to annex parts of surrounding towns, including the former Town of Granville and thus expand to a greater extent than many landlocked cities. (But then-Mayor Frank P. Zeidler famously inveighed against the destructive effect of the "Iron Ring" of new municipalities incorporated in the post-World War 2 decade<ref>http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=459264</ref>.) In Atlanta, this process is still going on as new municipalities such as Sandy Springs, Georgia are created out of formerly-unincorporated Fulton County.
 Schools and Busing
White flight has also affected education. The landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education ordered the desegregation of schools. American cities affected by white flight also witnessed growing disparities in the quality of education. Thus, to achieve racial balance and equality in schools, the Court subsequently mandated in the 1971 decision of Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education the institution of busing of black students to mainly formerly all-white schools in the suburbs, and vice versa. From the mid-1970s, many minority students (especially blacks) were transported miles from poorer core cities to newer affluent suburbs. As Justice William Douglas observed in his dissent in Milliken v. Bradley (1974), "The inner core of Detroit is now rather solidly black; and the blacks, we know, in many instances are likely to be poorer ..." A similar 1977 Federal decision, Penick v The Columbus Board of Education, accelerated white flight from Columbus, Ohio to its suburbs. It should be noted, however, that opposition to integration was strongest among people who did not themselves have children in public schools, and in particular among those who already had children in parochial schools. <ref>Jacobson, Cardell K., Desegregation Rulings and Public Attitude Changes: White Resistance or Resignation?, American Journal of Sociology, v. 84 n. 3, pp. 698-705.</ref>
Busing and desegregation orders in education had also in some cases led to a further, non-geographical white flight: out of the public school systems, which are subject to desegregation orders, and into private schools, which are not. For instance, in 1970, when a federal court ordered desegregation of the public schools of the Pasadena Unified School District (in Pasadena, California), the proportion of white students in those schools reflected the proportion of whites in the community, 54 percent and 53 percent, respectively. After desegregation began, a large number of whites in the upper and middle classes could afford private schooling and so pulled their children from mixed public schools. As a result, by 2004 Pasadena was home to sixty-three private schools, which educated one-third of all school-aged children in the city, and the proportion of white students in the public schools had fallen to 16 percent. The superintendent of Pasadena USD characterized them as being to whites "like the bogey-man" and mounted policy changes and a publicity drive to induce affluent whites to put their children back into the public schools.
 White flight in recent decades
White flight continues today, but it has taken on a new aspect as some of the older suburbs have been experiencing urban decay similar to their parent cities—for example, in some of the "inner-ring" southern and western suburbs of Chicago, such as Harvey and Maywood. East St. Louis and many of the neighboring communities on the Illinois side of the St. Louis metropolitan area have also long suffered from urban decay with the decline of the manufacturing industries that had once powered the economies of the region.
Many low-income whites in East Coast cities have moved to close-in, working-class suburbs or other, more heavily white neighborhoods within the same city. This often leaves senior citizens (especially "empty nesters") who have often lived in a particular community for a very long time as the only white residents in neighborhoods that have otherwise seen complete "white flight". Usually, when these seniors die or move to retirement communities, the process is complete.
It should also be noted that affluent and professional whites sometimes remain in specific parts of a city that has otherwise been affected by white flight. For example, well-off whites continue to live in St. Louis neighborhoods around Forest Park and the Central West End even as much of the rest of St. Louis has been utterly transformed by the white flight that has been occurring there since the 1950s.
In New Orleans, there is a concentrated white population in the Garden District south of St. Charles Avenue and in the Lakeview neighborhood east of City Park and North of Robert E. Lee Boulevard. There is also a large artsy and bohemian white population in the French Quarter, Warehouse District, and in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood. In general, whites who remain in such locations do not have children or, if they do, their children attend private schools, which is also a common characteristic of New Orleans. It must also be noted that the city's Catholic population is high compared to other large cities in the nation. The immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina further complicated this situation as more whites have returned to the city than blacks. However in March of 2006 the city of New Orleans was once again predominantly African American.
Even though the demographic makeup of New York City has been dramatically altered due to white flight from the outer boroughs, parts of Manhattan have actually become more white during the past 20 years due to gentrification (see below). Some southern sections of Harlem that border the Upper East Side and Upper West Side of Manhattan now have as high as a 20% white population, whereas as recently as the early 1990s these enclaves had non-white population percentages in the high 90s. The population decline of some Midwestern, Northeastern, and Western cities has slowed down or has even reversed (such as in parts of Chicago), while other areas remain economically devastated due to seemingly-permanent economic shifts and job losses (such as in Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, & Buffalo).
A recent trend has been white flight due to large-scale immigration of Hispanics and sometimes other groups, such as East Asians, South & Southeast Asians, Middle Easterners, North Africans, & in a lesser extent, Southern Europeans. This trend has been most pronounced in New York City, northern New Jersey, and southern California, where most of these groups have settled. From Queens, white residents first moved from the northern areas of New York, then from the central and southern areas, largely choosing Nassau and Suffolk Counties on Long Island. While both Brooklyn and Queens are still home to a sizable number of white residents, their overall percentage has dwindled. Neighborhoods in Queens dramatically affected by white flight to the point of total change include Flushing and the surrounding areas, Long Island City, College Point, Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, and Corona. Neighborhoods currently being affected by a more casual white flight in which children move away (largely to Long Island) include Ozone Park, Rosedale, and Briarwood. This form of white flight rarely involves a drop in income, but involves more ethnic change, and the community is usually not affected negatively, as this is a slower and more casual process of migration. Some parts of the New York metropolitan area with emerging Hispanic populations are actually experiencing a new phenomenon where "white flight" neighborhoods that became mostly black in population are now experiencing a "black flight" by blacks as Hispanics move in. A few noted parts of the New York City area experiencing this are much of the Bronx and some sections of the 3 cities on its northern border (Yonkers, Mt. Vernon, and New Rochelle), urban areas in Union County, New Jersey such as Elizabeth, and (though only on the periphery of the area), parts of Norwalk and Bridgeport in Connecticut. Central New Jersey has recently become a perfect example of the newer white flight. Towns such as, West Windsor, Plainsboro, Edison, East Brunswick, South Brunswick, North Brunswick, Highland Park and Woodbridge, mostly Middlesex County towns, populations have shifted between 15-47 percent less white due to a modern wave of Asian immigrants in just one decade. In these cases, the economic status of the region has not become economically disadvantaged, but has stayed the same and in many of these cases has become economically better off. All of these towns are former suburban pride of New Jersey, and while their home values have generally increased seven-fold over the past decade, the majority of white and black families avoid buying in these areas. Exemplifications of this white flight, and in this case now black and hispanic flight can be seen in the public schools of these areas where in a matter of 2-5 years can see a drop of over 10% in the white population.
In southern California, eastern Los Angeles County, the eastern San Fernando Valley, sections of the San Gabriel Valley, sections of the Antelope Valley and sections of Orange County and the Inland Empire have been affected by white flight due to Asian and Hispanic immigration.
 White flight in Southern California
The forces and groups involved in white flight in Southern California are distinct from those in other areas due to the region's demography and history.
Many whites once lived in urban neighborhoods in Los Angeles before departing the city in large numbers after the 1965 Watts Riots. This trend actually began before the riots but it accelerated in their wake. The major 12th Street Riot in Detroit in 1967 and during the following year, after the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., contributed to white flight in that city. Now, the city of Detroit is over 80% black whereas a majority of its neighboring suburbs, such as Livonia, Dearborn, and Warren, are predominantly white.<ref>http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2001/08/13/national/main306205.shtml</ref>. Similarly, after the 1992 Los Angeles riots, large numbers of white Californians left Southern California or left the state entirely. The phenomenon has affected not only the central city basin, but also the suburban regions of the San Fernando Valley and the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California, where many working-class Hispanics and lower to upper-middle class Asians have moved during much of the 1980s and 1990s. In addition, during the 1990's and 2000's, many blacks have continued to move out of the historic African American communities such as Inglewood and Compton to inland communities such as Fontana, Rialto, and Palmdale. <ref>Pollard-Terry, Gayle. "Where It's Booming: Watts." Los Angeles Times, October 16, 2005. Page E1.</ref>
Some of the people leaving Los Angeles have moved to inland California and other states. Many of these ex-Californians ended up settling in the Rocky Mountain States of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho and Nevada. As these people have tended to be politically conservative, their departure from the state has helped to transform California into a stronghold of the Democratic Party, while making their new home states even more favorable to the Republicans.<ref>http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2002-10-28-gop-west-1acover_x.htm</ref>
Another form of white flight is also taking place in many parts of Northern California, such as the western suburbs of San Jose, California. White flight, though taking place at a slower pace, is also affecting high-income upper-class neighborhoods that are becoming increasingly Chinese American.<ref>http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB113236377590902105-lMyQjAxMDE1MzEyOTMxNjkzWj.html</ref>
 White flight elsewhere in the world
The phenomenon of white flight is also to be found in South African cities, most notably Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban, which saw a mass influx of Black African people into the inner cities during the final years of apartheid, and from which white people fled in great numbers to the suburbs (or out of the country altogether).
In some areas of New Zealand, there has been a gradual process of white flight, in response to mass urbanisation of Māori and arrivals of Pacific Islander guest workers between the 1950s and 1970s, though in Auckland the process has largely been in reverse since the 1980s, with white (Pakeha) New Zealanders moving to previously Māori and Pacific Islander neighbourhoods such as Ponsonby, Grey Lynn and Kingsland. Similar gentrification trends have occurred in Wellington inner city suburbs like Thorndon, Newtown, and Aro Valley. White flight has also significantly affected many areas of Rotorua, with the phenomenon being blamed for the cities slide into proverbial "Third World" conditions.<ref>http://www.nzherald.co.nz/specialreport/story.cfm?c_id=1501094&objectid=10392647</ref>
In the UK especially England, there is evidence of simultaneous ethnic minority dispersal and segregation: in the 1980s and 1990s minority groups grew rapidly (in percentage terms) in many suburban neighbourhoods and smaller towns that were formerly almost devoid of non-whites, but minorities also grew strongly (in numerical terms) in the inner urban districts of first immigrant settlement. Simultaneously, white populations in many of these urban centres declined, either because of counter-urbanisation or, in some parts of the country, general regional decline.<ref>http://sticerd.lse.ac.uk/dps/case/CBCB/census2_part1.pdf</ref>
While many skilled working class / lower middle class whites have moved out of the less desirable areas of east, southeast and west London to suburban communities in (respectively) Essex, Kent and Surrey, this has been tempered in central London by rapid gentrification. However, in outlying industrial areas such as Newham, Woolwich and Hounslow, which are not as attractive to young professionals, demographics have been skewed to the extent that white people are in some cases a minority. This is a new phenomenon in urban Britain.
Industrial towns and cities with large south Asian populations such as Oldham, Rochdale, Nelson, Blackburn and Burnley in Lancashire, Bradford, Dewsbury and Keighley in West Yorkshire, and Leicester in the Midlands also show evidence of white flight. Ethnic minorities in these areas have experienced strong demographic growth (a result of young age structure, the high fertility of some minority groups, and continued immigration), gradually expanding to new districts adjacent to their areas of first settlement. Meanwhile, white communities have been moving away from these older, less attractive urban centres to suburbs and small towns. However, segregation is increasing has been open to debate, with some arguing that as well as white families moving out of predominantly Asian areas, Asians themselves have started to move away as they become more established and affluent themselves.<ref> Dominic Casciani, So who's right over segregation?, BBC News Magazine, 4 September 2006, accessed 21 September 2006</ref>
The opposing social trend of wealthy social groups moving into an inner city area and displacing the existing residents is called gentrification. In Cleveland, as reported on Newshour with Jim Lehrer on PBS in 2003, wealthy homosexual couples have purchased and restored homes in formerly predominantly black neighborhoods. This study echoed an earlier Ohio documentary titled Flag Wars <ref>http://www.pbs.org/pov/pov2003/flagwars/special_gentrification.html</ref>, detailing similar black vs. gay (homophobia vs. racism) themes in the old silk stocking district of Columbus. In Milwaukee, restoration in houses of a neglected neighborhood, pioneered by middle-income couples but followed by wealthier cohorts as property values and prices soar, has made the Brewers Hill district a byword for gentrification. <ref>http://www2.jsonline.com/news/metro/may01/hill27052601a.asp</ref><ref>http://www.aux.uwm.edu/nho/in_the_news/news_articles/04.04.24Making_brewershill_afford.pdf</ref> In other cases, some inner city areas may witness a renaissance as a home for artists, which happens to be the case with the Silver Lake neighbourhood of Los Angeles and (to a lesser extent) the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee.
- Kruse, Kevin, White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ)
- Lupton, R. and Power, A. (2004) 'Minority Ethnic Groups in Britain'. CASE-Brookings Census Brief No.2, London: LSE.
 See also
- Caucasian race
- Sundown town
- Urban Decay
- White American
- White people