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White flight is the sociologic and demographic term denoting the trend wherein white people flee desegregated urban communities, and move to other places like commuter towns; although an American coinage, “white flight” denotes like behavior in other countries. In the U.S.marker the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) decision of the Supreme Courtmarker — ordering the de jure racial desegregation of public schools in the United States — was and remains a major factor propelling white flight from mixed-race cities.

The business practices of redlining, mortgage discrimination, and racially-restrictive covenants accelerated white flight to the suburbs. The denying of banking and insurance and other social services or the exorbitant prices of said services increased their cost to residents in predominantly non-white suburbs and city neighborhoods. Furthermore, the historical processes of suburbanization and urban decentralization are instances of white privilege contributing to contemporary environmental racism.

White flight in the U.S.

White flight has occurred, and occurs, in most every U.S. city, begun consequent to the post–World War II baby and economic booms. That explosive, suburban population growth, and racially integrated city populations were made feasible by the building of highway roads and suburban parkways bypassing non-white neighborhoods to reduce travel time between town and the country. Hence, the great populations that moved from the Bronxmarker and Brooklynmarker for the suburbs; likewise in Baltimoremarker, Philadelphiamarker, and Bostonmarker.


After World War II, to avoid racial integration and cohabiting with Black Americans, many White Americans began fleeing the cities to racially-restricted new suburbs. In the cities, the housing shortages consequent to the influx of rural black workers for war-effort employment were aggravated by existing socio-economic inequalities and the automobile. Those social conditions propitiated white flight from town to country, which they believed was a better residence than the city. A condition moreover guaranteed via exclusionary covenants in title deeds and real estate neighborhood redlining — explicit, legal racism and discriminatory lending–selling practices; thus Black Americans were economically disbarred from pursuing the American Dream in the suburbs, even when they could afford it. Suburban expansion was mostly available to middle-class and working-class white people, and facilitated by their increased wages and federally-guaranteed mortgages (VA, FHA, HOLC) available only for white people to buy new houses, not rent apartments. "Racial" Provisions of FHA Underwriting Manual, 1938
Recommended restrictions should include provisions for: prohibition of the occupancy of properties except by the race for which they are intended . . . Schools should be appropriate to the needs of the new community, and they should not be attended in large numbers by inharmonious racial groups. Federal Housing Administration, Underwriting Manual: Underwriting and Valuation Procedure Under Title II of the National Housing Act With Revisions to February, 1938 (Washington, D.C.), Part II, Section 9, Rating of Location.

The roads built via the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act (1956) and its successors, built to transport suburbanites to their city jobs, much aided white flight, and proportionately reduced the city’s supporting tax base, thus, consequently, beginning urban decay. In some cases, such as in the Southern United States, local governments used highway road constructions to deliberately divide and isolate black neighborhoods from goods and services, often within industrial corridors. In Birmingham, Alabamamarker, the local government used the post–World War II interstate highway system to perpetuate the racial residence-boundaries the city established with a 1926 racial zoning law. Constructing interstate highways through majority-black neighborhoods eventually reduced the populations to the poorest proportion of people financially unable to leave their destroyed community.


The real estate business practice of “blockbusting” was a very important means of controlling non-white migration and aiding white flight for profit. By subterfuge, real estate agents would facilitate black people buying a house in a white neighborhood; either buying the house themselves, or via a white proxy buyer, and then re-selling it over-priced to the black family. The consequent racist panic among the remaining white inhabitants (aggravated by real estate agents and the local newsmedia fear-mongering), would psychologically coerce the remaining white inhabitants, fearing devalued residential property, to quickly sell, usually at a loss — a self-fulfilling prophecy realized when they began selling en masse — thus generating great sales commissions for the agents. In turn, the real estate agents would then sell at higher-than-market prices to the incoming black families, profiting from price arbitrage and the sales commissions from both the black and white victims of such fraud. Thereby, the racial composition of a neighborhood populace often changed completely in a few years.

Urban decay

Urban decay in the US: the South Bronx, New York City, was exemplar of the federal and local governments’ abandonment of the cities in the 1970s and 1980s; the Spanish sign reads “FALSE PROMISES”, the English sign reads “BROKEN PROMISES”.

Urban decay is the sociological process whereby a city, or part of a city, falls into disrepair and decrepitude — depopulation, economic restructuring, abandoned buildings, high local unemployment, fragmented families, political disenfranchisement, crime, and a desolate, inhospitable city landscape, white flight’s draining of a city’s tax base is one cause.

In the 1970s and 1980s, urban decay was associated with Western cities, especially in North America and parts of Europe. In that time, major structural changes in global economies, transportation, and government policy created the economic, then social, conditions resulting in urban decay. Urban decay contradicts the urban development of most of Europe and North America, in countries beyond, urban decay is manifest in the peripheral slums at the outskirts of a metropolis, while the city center and the inner city retain high real estate values and sustain a steadily increasing population.

North American cities suffered white flight to the suburbs and exurb commuter towns, which started to reverse in the 1990s, when the rich suburbanites returned to the city via gentrification of the decayed urban neighborhoods by over-paying for (and over-pricing) the real estate and so economically expelling the original poor inhabitants. Blight is another characteristic of urban decay — the visual, psychological, and physical effects of living among empty lots, and buildings and houses labelled “THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED”. Such desolate properties are socially dangerous to the community because they attract criminals and street gangs, thus contributing to the volume of crime. Urban decay has no single cause; it results from combinations of inter-related socio-economic conditions — including the city’s urban planning decisions, strictly-enforced rent control, the poverty of the local populace, the construction of neighborhood-excluding freeway roads and rail road lines,The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, by Robert Caro, p.522.
The construction of the Gowanus Parkway, laying a concrete slab on top of lively, bustling Third Avenue, buried the avenue in shadow, and when the parkway was completed, the avenue was cast forever into darkness and gloom, and its bustle and life were forever gone.
depopulation by suburbanization of peripheral lands, real estate neighborhood redlining, xenophobic immigration restrictions, Comeback Cities: A Blueprint for Urban Neighborhood Revival By Paul S. Grogan, Tony Proscio. ISBN 0813339529. Published 2002. pp.139-145.
"The 1965 law brought an end to the lengthy and destructive — at least for cities — period of tightly restricted immigration a spell born of the nationalism and xenophobia of the 1920s", p.140
and racial discrimination.

Government-aided white flight

The organization of municipal government in the U.S. facilitated white flight from racially diverse cities by establishing new municipalities beyond the abandoned city’s jurisdiction to avoid the legacy costs of maintaining city infrastructures, instead spending said taxes establishing the suburban infrastructures. The federal government contributed to white flight and the early decay of non-white city neighborhoods by withholding maintenance capital mortgages, thus making it difficult for the communities to either retain or attract middle-class residents.

The new suburban communities limited the emigration of poor and non-white residents from the city with restrictive zoning, thus few lower middle-class people could afford a house in the suburbs. In the event, many all-white suburbs were incorporated to the cities they had fled. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, partially incorporated towns such as Granville, Wisconsinmarker; the (then) Mayor, Frank P. Zeidler complained about the societal destructive "Iron Ring" of new municipalities incorporated in the post–World War II decade. Analogously, semi-rural communities, such as Oak Creekmarker, South Milwaukeemarker, and Franklinmarker, formally incorporated as discrete entities, to escape urban incorporation when Wisconsin state law allowed Milwaukee’s incorporation of such rural and sub-urban regions, that did not qualify for discrete incorporation, per the legal incorporation standards.

Desegregation: public schools and student busing

The post–World War II racial desegregation of U.S. society — especially of the public schools — catalyzed white flight from the cities to the suburbs. In 1954, the US Supreme Court ordered the de jure termination of the “separate, but equal” legal racism established with the Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) case in the nineteenth century, thus, with the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) case, the Supreme Court ordered the racial desegregation of public schools, because the unequal funding of majority-black and majority-white public schools ensured that black people received an inferior public education despite paying taxes for it. In 1971, in the case of Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971), the Supreme Court ordered the forced busing of poor black students to suburban white schools, and wealthy white students to poor schools in the city. In the case of Milliken v. Bradley (1974), the dissenting Justice William Douglas observed that “the inner core of Detroit is now rather solidly black; and the blacks, we know, in many instances are likely to be poorer. . . .” Like-wise, in 1977, the Federal decision in Penick v. The Columbus Board of Education (1977) accelerated white flight from Columbus, Ohio. The racial desegregation of schools and the racial integration of U.S. society were most opposed by white people whose children attended private schools, yet, the most vehement opponents of racial integration were white people whose children attended private, religious schools.

A secondary, non-geographic consequence, of school desegregation and busing was cultural white flight: withdrawing white children from the mixed-race public school system and matriculating them to private schools unaffected by U.S. federal anti-racist laws. In 1970, when the United States District Court for the Central District of California ordered the Pasadena Unified School District desegregated, the white-student proportion (54%) of the schools approximately reflected the school district’s proportional white populace (53%).

Once the federally-ordered school desegregation occurred, whites who could afford private schools withdrew their children from the racially diverse Pasadenamarker public school system. In result, by 2004, Pasadena had 63 private schools educating some 33% of schoolchildren, while white students made up only 16% of the public school populace. The Pasadena Unified School District superintendent characterized public schools as “like the bogey-man” to whites and implemented policies meant to persuade white parents to matriculate their children to the racially diverse Pasadena public school district. In the event, white flight rapidly altered the racial composition of public school systems; upon desegregation, in Baltimore, Maryland, the Clifton Park Junior High School had 2,023 white students and 34 black students; 10 years later, it had 12 white students and 2,037 black students. In northwest Baltimore, Garrison Junior High School’s student body declined from 2,504 whites and 12 blacks to 297 whites and 1,263 blacks in that period.

Recent decades

The New York City and Los Angeles metropolises now experience black flight consequent to the growing Hispanic and Asian populations settling in traditionally Black American communities. In 1967, the 12th Street Riotmarker of Detroit, Michigan, contributed to white flight, leaving contemporary Detroit more than 80 percent black, and most of its suburbs, including Livoniamarker, Dearbornmarker, and Warrenmarker, predominantly white.

Another example of "White flight" in the United States took place in Miamimarker. Indeed, the Mariel Boatlift of 1980 brought 150,000 Cubans (mostly poor "non-white hispanics") to Miami, the largest in US civilian history. During this time, many of the middle class non-Hispanic whites in the community left the city. As a consequence, while in 1960 Miami was 90% non-Hispanic white, by 1990 it was only about 10% non-Hispanic white.

Southern California

In Southern California, white flight from Los Angelesmarker was occurring before the racial Watts Riots in 1965, the violence of which aggravated the matter of residence. Like-wise, the Los Angeles riots of 1992 provoked black flight and white flight from the governmentally-neglected city. Moreover, in Californiamarker, and in the western U.S., Americans of Latin American descent are the greatest racial minority, thus, as their populace increased so increased the white flight to the suburbs comprehended by metropolitan Los Angeles. During the 1990s and early 2000s, Black Americans continued emigrating from the historically black communities of Inglewoodmarker, Comptonmarker, which now have mostly Latino populaces, especially to Inland Empire, Californiamarker communities such as Fontanamarker, Rialtomarker, Moreno Valleymarker, Palmdalemarker, Orange Countymarker, and Ventura Countymarker. (See black flight.)

In San Diegomarker, the white flight of the 1950s caused many white people who lived in southern parts of the city such as (South San Diego, East Side San Diego, and South East San Diego) to move up to neighborhoods in the norther part of San Diego Countymarker. As a result of this the majority of the neighborhoods south of the I-8 are predominantly Latino, African-American, or Filipino.

Northern California

Since 1980, in the states west of Texas, San Franciscomarker and Oaklandmarker are the only major U.S. cities whose white populations increased — despite Oakland having the largest Black populace (30% versus 50% per the 1980 census); thus, after sixty years of having been a predominantly Black American city, the gentrification begun in the 1990s changed the demographic composition of Oakland. Most of the Asian American populace of the San Francisco bay area live in San Mateo Countymarker, San Jose, Santa Clara, the east Bay, Sonomamarker, and Napa Valleymarker, not the city proper. The non-white proportions — 20 percent black and 40 percent Latino — of the socially conservative capital city of Sacramento (38% white) are greater than the comparable proportions of socially liberal San Francisco.

White flight world-wide


In Australia, white flight occurred in the cities where most immigrants, usually Asian, settled, especially Sydneymarker, from where Anglo-Celtic Australians have fled from the South-Western Sydney suburbs, because of the increased non-white populace, and have moved to peripheral metropolitan suburbs, notably Penrith, New South Walesmarker and the northern coast of GosfordmarkerWyongmarker. These white flight destination suburbs remain predominantly white (Anglo-Celtic).


Non-white immigration to Irelandmarker at the twentieth century’s end provoked white flight from Dublinmarker to the island's interior and peripheral suburbs, which an economist described as “unprecedented white flight”. In 2006, the Central Statistic Office forecast that white flight would continue. Also, international and Irish news media reported an emerging pattern of indigenous Irish self-segregation centered upon Gaeilge (Irish language) schools in reaction against the increased percentages of non-white and foreign immigrant pupils matriculated to Dublin schools.

The Netherlands

Since 2004, and especially after the Muslim assassination of the artist Theo van Gogh, many Dutch people are fleeing the Netherlandsmarker, and emigrating to Australia, New Zealand, and Canadamarker. Aggravating the high-population density stresses, the rise of inter-ethnic violence and crime between the indigenous Dutch people and non-white immigrants are cited as motives for white flight.

New Zealand

From the 1950s to the 1970s, white flight in areas of New Zealandmarker was a gradual reaction to the mass urbanization of Māori natives and Pacific island guest workers. In Aucklandmarker, white flight mostly has reversed since the 1980s, with European New Zealanders residing in neighborhoods that previously had non-white (Māori and Pacific Islander) populaces such as Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, and Kingsland. Contemporarily, those previously non-white city neighborhoods and the CBD are amongst the most expensive, desirable real estate in Auckland and New Zealand. Similar gentrification has occurred in Wellingtonmarker inner city neighborhoods of Thorndon, Newtown, and Aro Valley.

South Africa

South African white flight, notably from the cities of Johannesburgmarker, Pretoriamarker, and Durbanmarker, was a reaction to the interior immigration of Black South Africans to the cities as the legal racism of apartheid ended. In the event, White South Africans fled either to the suburbs, or emigrated from racially integrated South Africa.

United Kingdom

Trevor Phillips, head of the UK Commission for Equalities and Human Rights, and Mike Poulsen, an Australian academic, have claimed that White Britons and non-white Britons are becoming more segregated, however, researchers Ceri Peach, Danny Dorling, and Ludi Simpson have argued that segregation in the UK is either stable or declining. Demographic data indicate trends of simultaneous ethnic minority dispersal and segregation. In the 1980s and 1990s, ethnic minority populations increased in both white-majority suburbs and towns and the inner city districts of first immigrant settlement. In areas such as Newhammarker and Brentmarker, White Britons have become a minority, though they remain the single largest ethnic group. Unlike in the US, all major UK cities have white majority populaces. Researcher Ludi Simpson says that the growth of ethnic minorities in Britain is due mostly to natural population growth (births outnumber deaths) rather than immigration, and that both white and non-white Britons are equally likely to leave mixed-race inner city areas. In his opinion, these trends indicate counter urbanization rather than white flight.

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