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Hypersegregation in the

Grand Rapids Flood Plain

Written by Benita Mangrum

For Urban Geography 5500
At Chicago State University
December 11, 2009
Instructor: Dr. M. Bouman

Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. Hypersegregation

A. Evenness/Unevenness

B. Exposure/Isolation

C. Centralization

D. Clustering

E. Concentration

III. Conclusion

III. References


I. Introduction

I have visited Grand Rapids, Michigan several times. I love its rolling terrain and

cobbled downtown streets. My initial reason for going to Grand Rapids was because my

partner and I were looking for a place to vacation locally. After being stranded in New

Orleans, Louisiana during the chaos of the September 11, 2001 events, we though that this

was a better course of action. After vacationing in Grand Rapids a few times, I considered

moving there. Living there would afford me the luxury of residing in a metropolitan area that

did not have the population density of Chicago. My current employer has a railroad yard in

Grand Rapids, so I would not have to worry about finding a job. In addition, I would be 3 ½

hours away from family and friends in Chicago.

To educate myself more about the area, I created a statistical profile and a

topographical map of Kent County with an emphasis on Grand Rapids. The map alone

yielded concern. Even though the Grand River runs right through Grand Rapids, I never

considered that the city might be in a flood plain.

Figure 1


As an African American woman, I considered the demographic make up of the city.

Even though I had no negative racial encounters when vacationing, living there is another

story. By compiling 2000 U.S. Census data for the Kent County area, I was able to calculate

the percent African American population for each census tract and also assess the level of

segregation for the entire county. Although, there are many races and ethnicities living in

Kent County, I chose to focus on the Black, White, and Hispanic population since they are the

largest groups of people in the area. My analysis yielded more than I expected to find. In

addition to the common patterns of residential segregation found in most U.S. urban areas, I

also found evidence of hypersegregation.

II. Hypersegregation

Social scientists specify three factors that cause residential segregation: economics,

discrimination, and preferences. Economics suggests that most minorities earn lower incomes

and posses less wealth than whites and therefore cannot afford to live in the same

neighborhoods. My calculations do not support this suggestion. My analysis shows that in

Kent County, according to 2000 Census data, racial segregation occurred at all income and

wealth levels.

It has also been suggested that “segregation results from voluntary self-separation

practiced by minorities”. (David Kaplan, James Wheeler, Steven Holloway, Urban

Geography, 2nd Edition, 2009, p. 265) The conclusion that was drawn is that minorities

segregate themselves because they want to live close to members of their own group. The

Multi-City Study of Urban Inequality (MCSUI) conducted a study where they interviewed

thousands of people in Los Angeles, Boston, Detroit, and Atlanta. They asked wanted to


know what people wanted in terms of the racial composition of their neighborhoods. Their

research found that Blacks preferred neighborhoods that have a 50% Black and a 50% White

composition. Whites on the other hand, indicated that anything more than a minimal presence

of minorities was a problem.

A group is hypersegregated when it faces multiple forms of segregation at the same

time. The forms of segregation are evenness/unevenness, exposure/isolation, centralization,

clustering, and concentration. Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton, in 1988, did extensive

research on hypersegregation. They defined a group as hypersegregated when it had high

segregation numbers on at least four out of five forms. They found in an empirical

examination of 1980 U.S. Census data that “only African Americans were highly segregated

on multiple dimensions”. (Kaplan, Wheeler, Holloway, p. 264) I did an empirical

examination of the U.S. Census 2000 data for Kent County to uncover the forms of

segregation that African Americans may experience. The following explains in detail what I

found regarding the hypersegregation of African Americans in the Grand Rapids’ flood plain.

A. Evenness/Unevenness

Evenness is describes the similarity in the distribution of groups across

neighborhoods. Put another way, given the current distribution of a group across

neighborhoods, what would be required to eliminate segregation? The most common measure

of the evenness interpretation of segregation is called the index of dissimilarity. The index

ranges from 0 to 100. 0 means no minorities would have to move. 100 mean all minorities

would have to move. Values between 0 and 30 are thought of as low segregation, values

between 30 and 70 are thought of as moderate, and values over 70 are thought of as high.


Figure 2

It is obvious to see in the map above the there is an uneven distribution of African

Americans in Kent County. The map is divided spatially by census tracts and the boundary of

the city is outlined in red. Most of the African American population of Kent County lives

within the city limits. There are 14 census tracts that are completely outside of city where

African Americans reside but in low percentages. The White populations, on the other hand,


in the same 14 tracts, have populations that are greater than 57.06%. Four census tracts are

both inside and outside the city. Two of these tracts have percent African American

population that is above 13.68%. The spatial analysis of the map shows the African American

population in the southwest quadrant of the county and really nowhere else.

Before the creation of maps and spatial analysis, an empirical analysis of census data

for Kent County needed to be done to calculate the index of dissimilarity for the county. I

calculated indices for African American, White, and Hispanic or Latino. I included the

Hispanic population numbers to show that each minority experiences a different level of

segregation in an area. I was surprised by my calculations. The index for African American

to White was 63.1. Even though 63.1 fall within the moderate range, it is in the high-

moderate range. The index for Hispanic to White was 54.0. This told me that even though

Hispanics experienced segregation, it was not on the level which African Americans suffered.

I also calculated the index for African American to Hispanic. This index was a moderate 52.0

and an indication that African Americans experience segregation even among other


B. Exposure/Isolation

“Exposure/isolation captures the typical composition of neighborhoods where group

members live.” (Kaplan, Wheeler, Holloway, p. 263) The isolation index tells us on average

the percent of a group living in a particular area, in this case each Kent County census tract.

The tracts with the highest percent African American population are 28 through 34 and 35

through 37. These tracts have a percent African American population ranging from 42.7% to

85.64%. These tracts are within the city limits. Therefore, the majority of the African

Americans in the county are isolated within the city of Grand Rapids. When I calculated the


index for the county as a whole, the number was not as high as it was for each census tract.

The county scored 35%. When I expressed my findings in map form, the isolation is much

more dramatic. (See Figure 2)

For a comparison, I calculated an isolation index for the White population. Their

index for the county was an astounding 86%. 59 out of the 126 census blocks were over 90%

White. After I expressed this spatially, I was left seeing red.

Figure 3


C. Centralization

Kaplan, Wheeler, and Holloway describe centralization as “the degree to which group

members live close to the center of the city, relative to other groups.” (p. 263) In other

words, centralization is a measure of how close a group lives relative to the center of an urban

area. It is not hard to see in figure 2 that the majority of African Americans live in the

geographical center of Grand Rapids. The nine tracts that are grouped together each have an

African American population that is more than 29.37%. Five of the nine tracts are more than

57.0% African American. Tract 28, which shares its northern boundary with the downtown

business district, is 63.4% African American. In any event, sharing a boundary with the

downtown business district and being in the geographical heart of the city is about as

centralized as you can get. Centralization in the county does not apply here. It could be

assumed that outside of the southwest corner the county is rural. I personally saw the lay of

the land when vacationing. The area outside of the metropolitan area consists of forests,

farms, and small towns.

D. Clustering

“Clustering is the degree to which group members live in neighborhoods that are close

together within the city.” (Kaplan, Wheeler, Holloway, p. 263) According to the U. S.

Census a high degree of clustering indicates a racial or ethnic enclave. (U. S. Census, 2009)

Figure 4 illustrates the clustering of African Americans in Grand Rapids. Grouped together

are census tracts 28 through 33 and 35 through 37. As discussed earlier, this group of nine

tracts is centralized and has the highest percentage of African Americans residents in the city.

In other words, these nine tracts make up the city’s black belt. (See Figure 4)


Figure 4

The definition of clustering, given by Massey and Denton (1988), specifies that the

group members live in neighborhoods that are in proximity to each other in the city. After

taking an additional look at figure 2, I see another pattern of clustering. Even though

clustering by definition specifies a city location, there is also a clustering of African


Americans in the county. African Americans are clustered into the southwest portion of the

county. This is the only part of the county where African Americans make up more than

4.53% of a census tract. Outside of this quadrant, African Americans make up a scant percent

of the population. All of the tracts in this part of the county, where African Americans make

up more than 4.53% of the population, are spatially connected except for one. Census tract

one stands alone in the northern most part of the city. African Americans make up 5.3% of its

population. My assumption is African Americans may have been displaced there due to urban

revitalization or gentrification. Therefore, I conclude that the Grand Rapids metropolitan area

is the black belt of the county.

E. Concentration

Concentration “describes the extent to which a group lives in a restricted amount of

urban space; that is, the extent to which the group lives in high-density settings.” (Kaplan,

Wheeler, Holloway, p. 263) Put in simpler terms, concentration refers to the amount of

physical space occupied by a minority group in a geographic area. Minority groups of the

same size, occupying less space, would be considered more concentrated and consequently

more segregated. The shapefile that I used to create the maps for this paper has an attribute

table that lists all relevant information for each tract. In this case, I examined the column

called “SQMILES”. This column lists the area of each tract in square miles. The tracts that

have the greatest area are rural. The city tracts have less area and contain on average more

people than the rural tracts. As of 2007, the population density of Grand Rapids was 4,333

people per square mile. ( Website, 2009) The tract containing the greatest

percentage of African Americans (85.6%) has an area of 0.47 square miles. There are a total

of 5356 people in tract 32 which is equivalent to 11,395.7 people per square mile. Tract


120.02, which is the largest tract in the county, has an area of 64.89 square miles. It has 5,555

residents and is 96.3% White. Its calculated population density is 85.6 people per square

mile. Based on my empirical analysis, I can conclude that large percentages of African

Americans are concentrated in Kent County census tracts that are much smaller in area than

those that contain large percentages of Whites.

Figure 5


The exploration of concentration based on population density lead me to consider if

concentration was affected by poverty as well. It has been said that minorities have lower

incomes and possess less wealth than Whites and therefore cannot afford to live in the same

neighborhoods. The economic data that I collected from the census does not support this. In

fact, it suggests that racial segregation occurs at all income levels. In any event, research has

confirmed that urban African Americans have been “disproportionally affected by the spatial

concentrations of poverty”. (Kaplan, Wheeler, Holloway, p. 277)

The estimated per capita income in Grand Rapids in 2000 was $17,661.

(, 2009) The percentage of residents living in poverty in 2000 was 15.7%.

According to the Grand Rapids City-Data Website, the percentage of residents living in

poverty in 2007 was 22.7%: 12.7% for White Non-Hispanic residents and 45.5% for African

Americans. Using 2000 census population data, I calculated that roughly 16,500 of White

residents and 18,300 of African American residents were poor. Even though, there are more

than three times as many White residents in Grand Rapids than African American, the African

American poor outnumber the White poor. Based on my findings, the Grand Rapids’ black

belt can also be considered a ghetto because of the spatial concentration of the African

American poor in this area.

III. Conclusion

A group is hypersegregated when it has high segregation numbers on four of the five

segregation indices. The African Americans in Kent County, Michigan scored high on all

five indices. The first measure of unevenness is measured by the index of segregation. My

empirical analysis yielded an index of 63.1 which is in the high-moderate range. To


substantiate my math, I created a map to provide a spatial view of these calculations. The

map shows that the majority of the African American population resides within the city limits.

There are a few tracts outside of the city limits where African Americans live, but the percent

African American in those tracts are lower than the ones that are city bound.

The African American population is also within the geographical center of the city. It

is illustrated spatially in figure 4. Being isolated in the geographical center of the city

indicates that African Americans are centralized too. The nine tracts that are clustered

together in the center of the city form the city’s black belt. There is also a county black belt in

the southwest part of the county which includes the city black belt. These tracts in this

portion of the county are much smaller in area than those outside of it. These smaller census

tracts contain the highest percentages of African Americans in the county. Because of the

high density settings, African Americans can be said to be concentrated as well.

With all of the criteria for the five indices being met, it can be said that African

Americans are hypersegregated in the city and also the county. I previously thought of Grand

Rapids as an idea place to relocate to in the future. It was pleasing to the eye, had the

necessary amenities, and job opportunities. My analyses lead me to rethink this possible

move. With the city being as segregated as it is, where would or could I live? Would I be

steered into an area within the black belt? Has the racial segregation gap closed any in the

last ten years? With the Decennial Census less than a year away, I have time to process what

I have learned about the racial situation of African Americans in Grand Rapids, and make my

decision or at least perform another spatial and empirical analysis before making my final




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Hoboken, NJ: Wiley., Official Site of Grand Rapids, Michigan. (2009). Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Retrieved November 27, 2009, from <>

United States Census Bureau. (2000). American Factfinder. Retrieved November 10, 2009,

from <>

Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. (2009). Grand Rapids, Michigan. Retrieved November 27,

2009, from <,_MI>