It’s do-it-yourself week. I give you the data; you do the thinking. Don’t worry; it isn’t hard, and I’ll help you along a bit. Just something for you to think about.
A couple of preliminaries. First, don’t ask me where this data came from – it’s from all over the place, and it isn’t all as of the same date. Trust me, it’s reasonably accurate and reasonably comparable. Precision isn’t the point; it’s about getting some sense of the community we live in, and this is close enough.
Second, I got some of this from Jack Dougherty, Professor of Educational Studies at Trinity. Turns out Jack is in the midst of writing a book entitled On The Line: How Schooling, Housing, and Civil Rights Shaped Hartford and its Suburbs. What’s more, what he’s done so far is on line; I haven’t read it yet, but it looks like great stuff. https://ontheline.trincoll.edu/ Plus, Jack has all these cool interactive maps showing changes in Hartford’s population over time, relative housing costs over time, and other neat stuff. https://ontheline.trincoll.edu/maps-and-charts.html
Finally, as you probably know, I think we should merge Hartford with several of the surrounding towns to make one city that’s more like comparably-sized cities around the country. Which towns should merge is an open question, but just to have something to talk about, I’ve proposed that Hartford merge with the seven contiguous towns: East Hartford, South Windsor, Windsor, Bloomfield, West Hartford, Newington, and Wethersfield. In the tables that follow, I’ve followed the same suggestion. If I had included Farmington, Avon, Manchester, and Glastonbury, the four next most likely merger candidates, some of the data would be even more dramatic.
Okay, put on your thinking caps:
Here’s some basic population data for Hartford and the surrounding towns. We’re about 370,000 people, total. These are U.S. census figures. Some people respond to more than one race and ethnicity category; that’s why the percentages total over 100%.
What’s interesting is how we got there. Here are a couple of tables drawn from data Jack Dougherty and his team put together. The first shows total population of Hartford and each of towns every year from 1900 to 1990. Notice how Hartford peaks at 1950 and then begins to decline. Notice the population explosion in the surrounding towns during the same period.
Compare that table with this next table, which shows the non-white population changes in Hartford and the towns over the same period. Notice the non-white population explosion in Hartford beginning in 1950, and the negligible non-white population growth in the towns.
What happened in the 50s and 60s? The same thing that happened all over the United States: the soldiers came home and the baby boom started. There was a huge housing shortage, and the federal government decided that it would be good for the country to subsidize the cost of constructing and purchasing new homes. The Federal Housing Authority and the Veterans Administration provided those subsidies, which resulted in thousands of houses being built in greater Hartford. Since almost all of Hartford had been developed before World War II, the housing boom driven by the FHA and the VA happened in the surrounding towns.
And one more thing: The FHA and the VA expressly prohibited the financing of any single-family housing in Black neighborhoods or the sale of any of that housing to Black people. Redlining and restrictive zoning completed the system. The housing boom was for white people only. So white people got the new houses in the surrounding towns, and Blacks got the old, deteriorating housing in Hartford. It started in the late 1940s and it continued that way, formally, through the early 1970s and informally beyond that.
That’s how we got where we are.
Here are some numbers about the per capita and household incomes of people living Hartford and the various towns.
How’d that happen? Easy. It’s a combination the massive head start people in the suburbs got by buying new houses with large federal subsidies and the long-term impacts of substantial, racially driven job discrimination. People of color in Hartford paid more for lower quality housing and had the lowest paying jobs. Add the consequences of generations of totally segregated and underfunded schools that result directly from the non-white population having been forced to live in Hartford, and the income differentials shown above are not surprising.
All of that has resulted in the median net worth of Black families in the United States lagging behind others. The following graph from the Brookings Institute shows the data since 1989, but it isn’t news; the relative net worth of whites and Blacks – about 10 to 1 – was the same for decades before 1989.
So, there it is, the greater Hartford we live and work in.
Here’s a list of U.S. metropolitan areas that are about the same size as the Hartford metropolitan area. The data is about what the Census Bureau calls Metropolitan Statistical Areas; MSAs aren’t exactly the same as what we would call greater Hartford, but I think the data is reasonably comparable. What strikes me about this data is how tiny Hartford is – 18 square miles and 125,000 people – compared to the geographic size and population of most other core cities. The reason is simple: in other similarly-sized cities, the residential areas that are like West Hartford and Wethersfield and Windsor are part of the core city. If the seven surrounding towns were part of Hartford, we would have a city of 370,000, similar to the core cities in other comparable metropolitan areas.
That’s it. Here’s one question to think about: Is there any reason for greater Hartford to continue to be this way? Like it or not, racism was a way of life in 1950, so it isn’t completely surprising that Hartford became a ghetto for Blacks. But why is that way now? Why do we continue to confine our non-white population in separate, underfunded legal jurisdictions? Simply put, why can’t we live together, in one city, like Black and white people live together in one city all over the country? Why must we perpetuate this segregation? We’re better than that.