The Changing Face of America

"Time keeps on slipping into the future." -- Fly Like an Eagle, The Steve Miller Band

What a difference a decade makes. A new online tool from the Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York visualizes the changes in demography that have occurred between the 2000 and 2010 censuses in local communities situated in fifteen of the country's largest urban areas: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.

The tool is simple to use, as described by the folks behind the site. The racial and ethnic composition of census blocks -- which are about the size of city blocks in urban areas -- are displayed by different colors. There are three ways to view the maps. My favorite employs a divider in the center of the screen which separates a view created from 2000 census data with a view from the 2010 data. Dragging the mouse moves the map across the divider and reveals a decade of population change.

When I use the tool to visualize the Washington D.C. area and my home county of Fairfax, Virginia; I see patterns that are playing out in a similar manner as other urban areas. Latinos and Asians -- who are experiencing population growth -- are forming new communities. In Northern Virginia, new Latino communities are emerging in Manassas and Woodbridge and new Asian communities near Fair Lakes and Reston.

Countervailing the Latino and Asian growth trends are decreasing concentrations of African-American in their communities. Demographers that I have spoken with attribute this to two factors: gentrification and children seeking job and housing opportunities outside their neighborhoods when they come of age.

As African-Americans disperse into the suburbs and Latinos and Asians move in, the percentage of Whites is decreasing throughout the entirety of Fairfax County. This is likely a contributing factor to how the region has been drifting from Red to Blue politically in recent elections, which has profound political implications for the region, the state, and the country.

The "Real Virginia" -- as George Allen infamously described it -- is giving way to the Real America, a racial and ethnic melting pot where no one race or ethnicity dominates. The Census Bureau projects by 2050, Whites -- who currently are about two-thirds of the population -- will constitute the slimmest majority in the country as a whole. So, over the next decade, expect the face of the nation to continue to evolve in a similar direction.

Try out the tool. I'm sure that you will be fascinated -- and perhaps surprised -- at how your favorite urban area is changing.