Diverse Twin Cities suburbs: Can they last?

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Across the country, suburbs, especially those of major metropolitan areas, are becoming more diverse. A recently published study by Myron Orfield and Thomas Luce, both of the University of Minnesota Law School’s Institute of Metropolitan Opportunity, stated that the average suburb today is racially diverse (20 to 60% of residents are minorities). According to the study, between 2000 and 2010, the number of diverse suburbs in the nation’s 50 largest metro areas increased by 37%.

In the Twin Cities Metro, the number of residents living in diverse suburbs grew immensely, from only 5% of the state’s 2000 population to 23% ten years later. The amount of the population residing in all-white suburbs also declined from 62% to 45%. Bloomington now has a 23% minority population and Brooklyn Park’s minority population is 50%. 

The increase in diverse suburbs is a huge step forward in ensuring equal opportunity for all residents, yet the diversifying previously all-white communities does not come without challenges. While diverse suburbs can be stable and thriving, and often start out that way, it can be difficult to sustain the diversity for more than a few decades. The neighborhoods transition to majority minority and begin to experience many of the same problems that plague inner city neighborhoods. 

The re-segregation of previously diverse suburbs is caused by several different factors, including discriminatory mortgage practices and racial steering by real estate agents. These factors, along with several more, works to not only keep diverse suburbs from staying diverse, but also to prevent re-segregated suburbs from becoming re-integrated. 

While there is always a risk of re-segregation, the outlook for diverse suburbs in Minnesota is good. Re-segregation has not plagued them, at least, not yet. The road ahead, however, is long and integrated suburbs are fragile. 

Ultimately, for the minority populations to grow and thrive in the suburbs both in Minnesota and across the country, policy makers must push for strong fair housing laws that eliminate discrimination and racial steering and encourage the construction of affordable housing in all parts of metropolitan areas. Cookie-cutter suburbs are a thing of the past and policy should reflect that.