Walkable Communities & Diversity: A Look Using Census 2010 Data


The Short Version

I pulled Census 2010 data for 20 walkable neighborhoods in the United States and compared the racial percentages for those neighborhoods to the racial percentages of either the city or county surrounding the neighborhood. Two patterns appeared.

  1. Walkable neighborhoods are less diverse than their surrounding cities/counties.
  2. Blacks & Hispanics are less likely to live in walkable neighborhoods. Whites are more likely to live in walkable neighborhoods.

A Conversation About Walkable Communities & Diversity

The issue of walkable communities and diversity came up recently in a Twitter conversation. I sent out a tweet about an article titled “How Walkable Streets Can Boost the Economy.” The following conversation ensued.A Twitter Conversation about Walkable Communities and Diversity

I found a list of the most walkable US neighborhoods on Walkscore.com. Well, now if I just had a tool that would let me pull demographic data for neighborhoods in seconds, I could start to look at walkable communities and diversity…oh right…

How to Pull Census 2010 Race Data for Neighborhoods/Communities

First, I selected 20 of the most walkable neighborhoods in 20 different cities across the US from the Walkscore.com list.

20 Walkable Communities

Walkscore Neighborhood City Region
100 Tribeca New York East Coast
99 Dupont Circle DC East Coast
99 Chinatown San Francisco West Coast
99 Pearl District Portland West Coast
99 Pioneer Square Seattle West Coast
98 Loop Chicago Central
98 City Center East Philadelphia East Coast
97 Lodo Denver Central
97 Back Bay-Beacon Hill Boston East Coast
96 Lower East Side Milwaukee Central
96 West End Historic Dallas South
96 Core San Diego West Coast
95 Downtown Cleveland Central
95 Old Westport Kansas City Central
95 Federal Hill Baltimore East Coast
95 Five Points Atlanta South
95 Richmond Grove Sacramento West Coast
94 Downtown San Antonio South
93 Central Business Louisville Central
91 Cherry Charlotte East Coast

Walkscore.com had the neighborhood boundaries for these 20 neighborhoods. I drew the Walkscore neighborhood boundaries on Cubit’s interactive map (see below). I pressed the Save button. In 30 seconds, I got maps & Census 2010 demographic data at the Census block level for the entire neighborhood. [Author’s note: Forgive the bragging; I just LOVE pulling data fast so I can do fun stuff with it. You can get the exact same data for your neighborhoods for free with a 7 day free trial of Cubit.]


How to Get Census 2010 Data for Neighborhoods via Cubit

Once I had the Census 2010 data, I pasted it into Excel and built some charts (see below).

1. Walkable neighborhoods have less racial diversity than their surrounding cities or counties.

The chart below shows the total minority percent for the neighborhood compared to the total minority percent for the surrounding city and/or county. The region with the highest percent of minorities is highlighted in yellow. Total minority percent was calculated by summing the total of all minority races & ethnicities and dividing by the total population.


Total Minority Percent for Walkable Communities

In a nutshell, Census 2010 data indicate that walkable neighborhoods have less racial diversity than their surrounding cities or counties. Of the 20 walkable neighborhoods, 4 neighborhoods had a larger percentage of total minority residents than their surrounding cities and 1 neighborhood had an equivalent percentage of minority residents. That means that the other 15 neighborhoods had smaller total minority percentages than the total minority percentages for the surrounding cities and counties.

2. Blacks & Hispanics are less likely to live in walkable neighborhoods; whites are more likely to live in walkable neighborhoods.

The chart below shows minority percentages for neighborhoods and their surrounding geographies broken out by race. I highlighted all of the data where there is greater than a 10% difference between the percentage of a racial group who live in a walkable neighborhood versus the percentage of a racial group who live in the surrounding geography (city or county). Green indicates that a larger percentage of that racial group lives in the walkable neighborhood. Yellow indicates that a larger percentage of a racial group live in the surrounding geography. Note: this chart is much easier to see on Slideshare’s website.

A pattern quickly emerges. A smaller percentage of blacks and Hispanics live in walkable neighborhoods than the percentage of blacks and hispanics who live in the surrounding geographies. A larger percentage of whites live in walkable neighborhoods than the percentage of whites who live in the surrounding geographies.

Also, there are 5 neighborhoods where the racial percentages of the neighborhood are similar to the racial percentages of the surrounding geography: Five Points, Atlanta; Pearl District, Portland; Core, San Diego; Downtown, San Antonio; and Pioneer Square, Seattle. It’s interesting to note that all of these neighborhoods are in the South or on the West Coast. None of these neighborhoods are on the East Coast or Central US.

6/19/2011 Update: If you like this post, you might check out: Walkable Neighborhoods have Higher Housing Vacancy Rates per Census 2010 Data

What Do You Think?

These percentages are definitely back-of-the-napkin numbers, but I think some interesting patterns emerged from the data. What do you think? Were you expecting walkable neighborhoods to be less diverse than their surrounding regions? Would you like to see additional Census 2010 data analyzed for these 20 neighborhoods? If you’d be interested in more blog posts like this post, leave me a comment.

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14 Responses to Walkable Communities & Diversity: A Look Using Census 2010 Data

  1. Walkonomics May 13, 2011 at 5:34 am #

    Thanks for a really interesting post. Your findings seem to fit with similar studies into other Environmental Justice (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_justice) issues. Such as the fact that people in disadvantaged/minority groups are more likely to live next to busier and more dangerous roads and experience worse air quality from traffic.

    Improving walkability is all about reducing these problems (less traffic, safer streets) and so enhancing everyones lives. Therefore I don’t think we should be discouraging walkability just in case it increases house values (which is argueably a good thing) but rather making sure that every neighbourhood is made walkable and everyone feels the benefits, regardless of their ethnicity or income.

  2. Kristen Carney May 13, 2011 at 8:50 am #

    I agree with you that walkability shouldn’t be discouraged. That was not the goal of this post!

  3. Kristen Carney May 13, 2011 at 8:51 am #

    Conversation on Twitter

    @cubitplanning Awesome post! Great research. As I expected, less diversity. Now, what to do about it?

    @GvilleJen Asked my Hispanic cofounder–he says: 1. lack of money & 2. connection to the old neighborhood. Those w/ $ often choose to stay in their current neighborhoods even though they could afford to move to a walkable community. His POV: concentrate on making old neighborhoods > walkable & less on building walkable neighborhoods that only rich people can afford–which seems to match your point of view as well?

  4. Kristen Carney May 13, 2011 at 8:52 am #

    Conversation on Twitter

    @cubitplanning Shouldn’t we look at median income when talking about #walkability? I would think that affordability drives diversity.

    @JaceDeloney I would love to look at income data, but Census 2010 median income block data hasn’t been released yet.

  5. Ben Shardlow May 13, 2011 at 9:28 am #

    Interesting post, thanks! I just finished a literature review on walkability, so I just want to pass along some resources on this topic and share a few thoughts. Your point that Cubit is useful to study such topics is definitely well taken, and your conclusions are too, but I think they may not be generalizable to the extent you suggest.

    First, a few interesting articles to recommend. Cutts published an article in 2009 called “City Structure, obesity, and environmental justice”, which studied Phoenix neighborhoods and found that Blacks and Latinos were more likely to live in an objectively walkable setting. An article by Lovasi in 2009, “Effect of Individual or Neighborhood Disadvantage on the Association Between Neighborhood Walkability and Body Mass Index”, had a different focus, but found that the correlation between walkability and lower BMI was strongest for non-Hispanic Whites in NYC. Gebel published an article this year – “Mismatch between perceived and objectively assessed neighborhood walkability attributes: prospective relationships with walking and weight gain”, finding that those who are less educated, overweight, and low income are more likely to “misperceive” their objectively walkable neighborhood as not walkable.

    Second, the conventional wisdom is that neighborhoods built before WWII are more walkable, and that white flight from central cities (and inner-ring suburbs) has left high concentrations of racial minorities in those places. The issue of perceived walkability and race raised above suggests that the benefits of those objectively walkable environments may be curtailed by safety concerns for these populations. I know I’ve read other things that suggest the direct reverse of your conclusion – that most walkable neighborhoods in the US have higher concentrations of racial minorities – but my recall isn’t good enough to come up with them right now.

    Third, and finally getting to my point, I think your methodology is leading to a more limited point about the most walkable neighborhoods in the country according to Walkscore. The top 20 neighborhoods are going to have extremely high densities of amenities like grocery stores, restaurants, coffeeshops, etc., so it’s not surprising to see the most chichi neighborhoods in the country on this list. Conclusions drawn about this upper echelon can’t safely be extended to the rest of country. There are definitely walkable neighborhoods that are affluent and predominantly white, but what I’ve read suggests that there are more objectively walkable neighborhoods out there that are not.

  6. Kristen Carney May 16, 2011 at 9:36 am #

    Hi Ben,

    Thanks for taking the time to post a well-thought, well-researched reply to counter-balance my post. I really appreciate it!

    I agree with you 100% that the conclusions drawn from data on walkability & diversity from 20 neighborhoods in 20 different cities should not be generalized as representative of all walkable US neighborhoods. And you really hit the nail on the head with your point about the large number of “chichi neighborhoods” in my list of 20 walkable neighborhoods.

    Looking back, I probably should have discarded the most walkable neighborhood in a city and instead used the 2nd or 3rd most walkable neighborhood. Hindsight is 20/20, no? I wonder if we would have seen different results with either the 2nd or 3rd most walkable neighborhoods instead of the MOST walkable neighborhood in each of the 20 cities?

  7. Robert June 6, 2011 at 9:07 pm #

    Thank you. I am planning to do a research project on this using NY data for a transportation course which I am taking.

  8. Kristen Carney June 7, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    Let me know what you discover in your research project.

  9. Chuck June 6, 2012 at 11:20 pm #


    I’m a bit late to the conversation, but I wanted to chime in here since I just found this blog post. It’s an interesting dialog because there’s so much meat underneath it all.

    I’ve been a planner/demographer/site acquisition specialist in the Chicago area for over 10 years. I’ve found that pedestrian neighborhoods in suburban areas are nearly impossible because of shopping habits and development patterns.

    “Trip chain” shopping (making several close-by stops for different purposes within a commercial corridor) discourages pedestrian activity because we only have two arms with which to carry things.

    Many suburban municipal planners push the idea of pedestrian friendly shopping centers, but for most people, walking over 150 feet requires the use of a car.

    Chicago is significantly more complex because of the historical development of ethnic neighborhoods outside of the Loop. Walkability in the Loop is largely a function of the work day population and tourism, but that isn’t the whole story.

    A decade ago we noticed a Loop renaissance as new residential developments sprung up all over downtown. Of course, these developments were marketed to affluent urban professionals. Retail followed.

    On the other hand, there is adequate evidence to show that racial/ethnic groups, including Europeans, prefer the neighborhoods (many of which are also walkable) instead of downtown for a variety of reasons.

    Underneath it all, was there a conscious plan to keep the Loop as segregated as possible? If the demolition of Cabrini Green and Robert Taylor Homes is any indication, well, it’s Chicago.


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