By Kate Alexander and Elizabeth Cogan
WASHINGTON – Maryland is becoming more diverse, with rising Latino and Asian populations, but census numbers reveal that some areas of the state still look more like checkerboards than melting pots.
The minority population across the state grew from about 30 percent in 1990 to 36 percent in 2000, according to census figures released Monday. But increasing numbers have not meant increasing integration into the larger society for all minority groups, according to the “dissimilarity index,” a measure of residential segregation.
An analysis of Maryland census numbers shows that Latino populations, in particular, blended into the mainstream of society over the last decade. But the white and non-white populations were significantly less integrated across the state than other Hispanic and non-white groups, according to census figures.
That finding is based on a Capital News Service analysis of racial data by county and by census tract within each county in the state. The analysis produced a dissimilarity index for each county, where a score of zero means complete integration within the context of a county’s diversity and a score of 100 means complete segregation.
Because of their small minority populations, many of the smaller counties in the state had relatively even distribution of racial groups, according to the CNS analysis.
While the largest counties had significant numbers of minority residents that made them more diverse than their smaller neighbors, however, they often found those racial groups more concentrated within their borders.
In Baltimore County, Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, for instance, the white and non-white populations did not meld significantly in the past decade, a trend that some officials said is deeply rooted in history.
“I think a lot of it is. . .historical settlement patterns, which were a lot more set in Prince George’s County than they were in a lot of other jurisdictions,” said Stuart Bendelow, research coordinator for the county’s planning department.
In Prince George’s County, blacks formed agricultural enclaves long before other jurisdictions were settled, he said. He said current trends reflect “an agrarian culture that was here.”
Bendelow said that black migration from Washington, D.C., also explains the racial patterns.
“When black families want to move from the District of Columbia, one of their first preferences has been to move into Prince George’s” Bendelow said.
“They didn’t cross the river into Virginia” because of racial tension, he added.
University of Maryland professor Charles Christian said that segregation tends to be particularly acute for African-Americans.
“For decades, African-Americans have made attempt after attempt to move into integrated areas with the thought that the area would remain integrated,” said Christian. “That has not been the case.”
Christian says that in many ways, blacks have given up the ideal of integration and instead have sought good communities in which they can be comfortable.
Hispanics, in contrast, do not have the same preconceptions that they will not be accepted because there is not as strong a history of exclusion, Christian said.
But the patterns that have developed are not all dire, said Charles C. Graves, Baltimore’s planning director. He said that pride in the city’s famed ethnic enclaves helps explain the divide that is particularly evident in Baltimore.
“We sort of celebrate our diverse neighborhoods,” Graves said. “We have Italian neighborhoods, we have Irish-American neighborhoods. . . .We look at the city as a total, but also respect that different ethnic groups tend to live in areas where there are similarities.”
But he said that the city’s high poverty rate also fuels the situation by restricting many residents to certain areas.
“In Baltimore, we have at least 65 percent of the state’s poor. People don’t have a lot of choices as to where to live,” Graves said.
Among the largest jurisdictions, the notable exception to the disparate distribution is Montgomery County, where a county planner said progressive housing policies and committed officials have made the difference.
“We made a conscious decision in the early ’70s to be an integrated community,” said Drew Dedrick, chief of research and technology for Montgomery County’s planning department. “We take our master planning very seriously, such that we try to achieve a balance of housing types throughout our county.”
He said that since 1973, Montgomery has required that 15 percent of the dwellings in subdivisions having more than 50 units be moderately priced.
“We’ve intervened to make sure than moderately priced housing has been spread around,” he said. “That’s worked.”
He added that the county’s vaunted school system has helped prevent so- called “white flight.”
“Let’s talk about an excellent school system,” he said. “People don’t feel they need to leave because of changing demographics.”
But Bendelow said there could be another reason for Montgomery’s success at melding ethnic groups, pointing out that many of that county’s neighborhoods are newer.
Besides, he said, one county’s pattern is not necessarily preferable to another’s.
“It’s like saying that the farmland in Montgomery County is better than the farmland in Prince George’s County,” he said. “Well, it’s totally different farmland.”