In 2015, Columbus was named the second-most economically segregated city in the U.S. by a University of Toronto study that analyzed the largest cities’ concentrations by income, occupation and education level. But it’s been a minute since that study was released, so we decided that this story needed an update. We created the map below showing income levels and how concentrated they are using census data on income for 2017 (not including occupation or education level like the original study did).
The colors on the map above show what income level has the highest percentage of people at that level in a census tract, according to 2017 data from American FactFinder. The transparency of the areas shows how much income varies. More transparent areas indicate a more mixed-income area. The completely solid areas indicate a lack of diversity of people with different income levels. Make sure to play around with zooming into neighborhoods, or use the search tool at the bottom of the map to look up specific places.
Income segregation means there are pockets of poverty, which has been linked to negative health outcomes. Creating mixed-income communities is a solution, advocates argue, because it can lead to improvements in schools, infrastructure, health care and opportunities. But, some studies show that neighborhoods don’t consistently stay mixed or benefit all residents. Mixed-income can turn into gentrification, which is the process of making a neighborhood that conforms to middle class or upper-class tastes.
Those attempts to create mixed-income communities can also create conflict among older and newer residents, often leading to the needs of higher income residents being prioritized. An example of that is a story in Franklinton from the Columbus Underground last June. Increasingly, new neighbors were calling the city to complain that their older neighbor’s houses are not up to code. Often, the Underground reported, the seniors could not afford to make changes and were charged with code violations, which carry fees and penalties.
The legacy of segregation of central Ohio communities is not just economic. It’s racial too. Columbus’ history of redlining — the practice of limiting loans and discouraging investment in communities of color — is a main reason. That means income segregation both mirrors and is rooted in racial segregation. Redlining policies, among other racist policies, caused and prolonged poverty among people of color who were not able to build value through housing the way their white counterparts were. For comparison, here is Columbus’ redlining map. In the map below, the areas correspond with grades given to each area, seen in the legend that pops out on the left.
Some officials were skeptical of Columbus’ economic segregation, arguing that the study does not paint a full picture of the economic reality in Columbus. Although that may be true, the data at least gives us an idea of where Columbus stands and is a starting point for understanding income levels in this rapidly changing city.
As the author of the University of Toronto study noted, Columbus’ ranking among income segregated cities is just information. What we choose to do with that data is what matters. So explore the map above, find out how your neighborhood stacks up and let us know what you think about it.