3 min read

Our Cities are Tribal by Design

Our Cities are Tribal by Design

Whether we like to admit it or not, our cities are divided.

Recently I came across an interactive map of the project called the Racial Dot Map: One Dot Per Person for the Entire U.S. I encourage you to spend some time exploring the interactive map and visit your own city to see if there are any obvious trends that you recognize.

Driven by data gathered during the 2020 census, this project aims to put a dot on the map for every person currently living in the United States. There are currently 308,745,538 dots displayed on the map. Each dot on the map is also color-coded by race and ethnicity which leads to a highly compelling data visualization.

The first thing this maps makes very clear, is that the overwhelming majority of our population is concentrated in urban environments. As of the 2020 census, 83% of the population lives in metropolitan areas. Absent of any geographical features such as rivers or coastlines, this map shows both the desire and need for human beings to centralize to maximize the efficiency and flow of information, resources, and culture.

However, when you begin looking at the color coding of this map, a story as old as time begins to emerge.

Whether a natural phenomenon or the direct product of economic of government policy, it's hard to deny looking at this data that human beings have a tendency to band together and build communities amongst people of a similar race.

A visible line is drawn across America's cities, step over it and you are clearly in a different world. While this is most apparent in cities like Atlanta and Chicago, it is hard to find an example of an equal distribution and true integration.

There are multiple reasons for this:

  • community development
  • language barriers
  • housing costs

I was reminded of this  recently when shopping for houses.  And as I browsed various neighborhoods, an ugly truth emerged about how we perceive safety in a diverse setting such a modern city. Even despite the potential upside of buying into an up and coming neighborhood, I tended to shy away from areas in which were my particular racial group was the minority. To have more integration between these communities, we must speak with our actions and not just our words.

And while there is no shortage of social justice warriors online, how many of them actually relocate to a lower income area. How many of them go out of the way to make friends in adjacent neighborhoods? How many go out of their comfort zone to actually push forward real change in their everyday life.

It is all too easy to be stuck in your own perspective.

Especially during lockdowns, where for many their exposure to the world is limited to their online echo chamber and the occasional runs to their neighborhood grocery store. It is all too easy to loose perspective. We forget how impactful our immediate environment is in informing our worldview. It is easy for someone living in an affluent suburb to say think the sky isn't falling, while someone living in government subsidized housing can't leave their front door without the glaring effects of wealth inequality staring them back in the face.

So how do we gain perspective?

Drive around your city. Visit an area of town that you would never normally visit. Find an area on the map which you might have no reason to visit. I'm not suggesting anyone put themselves in a dangerous situation, but at least try, for one afternoon, to gain some perspective and see how members of your own community are living their lives.

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