Why ‘urban,’ ‘suburban’ and ‘rural’ are almost racial categories

Why ‘urban,’ ‘suburban’ and ‘rural’ are almost racial categories

Race and population density have an interesting relationship in the U.S. – so much so that “urban,” “suburban” and “rural” can almost be thought of as racial categories.

This graphic from Bill Rankin of Radical Cartography looks at where black, white, Asian, Hispanic and Native Americans in the U.S. by population density. The chart on the left shows the percent of the population that is each race at various densities. The chart on the right shows the amount of a group’s population that is living at a given density, relative to other densities.

As the right-hand chart shows, most people of all races live in cities in the U.S., where there are several thousands of people per square mile. But looking at the chart on the left, you can see a lot more variation.

Sparsely populated rural areas are much more likely to be home to American Indians and Alaska natives and whites. In cities, Asians are the most urbanized group, followed by Hispanics and blacks. Around 95 percent of Asians live in areas with more than 250 people per square mile, compared with only half of American Indians.

Below around 3,000 people per square mile – the break that Rankin says represents the divide between cities and suburbs – whites are the overwhelming majority. Ranking says there are also discontinuities at around 10, 250 and 20,000 people per square mile, discontinuities that he charted on this map.

“Might these graphs help understand where ‘suburban’ ends and ‘urban’ begins?” asks Rankin.


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