In the late 1980s, Princeton sociologist Douglas Massey dug into census data and determined that certain metropolitan areas were not just segregated, but hypersegregated. Under the definition, these were metros where the black population is historically unevenly distributed through a region. Instead, the minority population is slotted tightly into a specific geographic area. Under Massey's rubric, Cleveland was one of the top hypersegregated cities in American.
Just last year, Massy published a report looking at whether hypersegregation still had a headlock on as many cities as it did 30 years ago. According to the 2010 census, the good news: Half the cities that had been hypersegregated back in the 1980s had shed the label, including Columbus and Cincinnati. The bad news: Cleveland is still hypersegregated. Unlike its Buckeye state brethren, Cleveland remains as racially bifurcated as ever.
Massy's argument is that the numbers game has serious, far-reaching consequences for people living here. Hypersegregation creates the kind of social and economic isolation that pools poverty and cuts off these parts of a city from the mainstream civic bloodstream, creating the harsh differences between locations separated by a 15-minute drive. Imagine the psychological blow of living close to the new buildings climbing into the Cleveland skyline in the Flats or downtown. Then imagine living on the boarded-up blocks deep on the east side that look like Sarajevo after Milosevic.
"People growing up in such an environment have little direct experience with the culture, norms and behaviors of the rest of American society," Massey wrote, going on to explain the irony that in a diverse and densely populated society such as the United States, some inner-city individuals "are among the most isolated people on earth."