Digging through demographic data, Seema Iyer made a surprising find: There are six communities in Baltimore of remarkable diversity — so much so that no one racial or ethnic group constitutes a majority in any of them.
Iyer, whose background is in urban and regional planning, is associate director of the Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore. Each year, the institute collaborates with the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance to measure the quality of life in the city. They do this by looking at more than 100 factors — housing and neighborhood trends, changes in population, income and poverty, crime, transportation, and so on.
The result is an annual report called "Vital Signs," and it includes something called the "racial diversity index." The index measures, on a scale of 0 to 100, "the chance of choosing two people at random in a neighborhood and each being a different race or ethnicity."
That doesn't mean Iyer or her colleagues stand on a sidewalk and conduct inquisitions. They use census data.
They found that between 2011 and 2015, Baltimore's overall racial diversity index rose a bit, to 55.5, and that six communities might be called "global neighborhoods" because they have racial and ethnic compositions with no majority.
Keep in mind: Iyer's group divides the city into 55 statistical areas, aggregations of census tracts that often include multiple neighborhoods.
Here is how "Vital Signs" identifies the six communities with the greatest diversity: Brooklyn/Curtis Bay/Hawkins Point; Downtown/Seton Hill; Greater Charles Village/Barclay; Orangeville/East Highlandtown; Patterson Park North and East, and Southeastern.
To dig a little deeper, consider what Iyer's group found in Orangeville/East Highlandtown: A population that by 2015 was about 45 percent white, 32 percent Hispanic, about 14 percent black, and the rest Asian or other races.
Greater Charles Village/Barclay was 44.5 percent white, 32 percent black, 14 percent Asian, 5.2 percent hispanic, and the rest other races.
The findings are worthy of note for at least three reasons. First, it flies against Baltimore's long and shameful history of segregation, a history that has been highlighted and examined frequently in the aftermath of the Freddie Gray unrest of April 2015. Second, people who live here are so used to the city's segregated neighborhoods they might not realize this level of diversity exists anywhere, even under their noses. And third, this could be a sign of changes to come.
Make that changes already underway.
Three years ago, the Baltimore Metropolitan Council's Opportunity Collaborative saw the demographic transformation taking place, and it was happening beyond the city. While the region is still highly segregated, the Opportunity Collaborative identified "global neighborhoods" with strong rates of racial diversity and located in areas of high opportunity — good schools, good jobs — with strong housing markets.
As noted in "Vital Signs," the Opportunity Collaborative recommended "bolstering and preserving these areas as attractive places for people of all backgrounds to settle, countering historic regional patterns of white flight and resegregation, and establishing this as a key policy objective for the region."
In other words, celebrate the progress toward diversity and make it a selling point.
I bring this up today because of what seems like incessant hysteria over immigration, a lot of it fomented by the man who is now president of the United States. The Trump administration has unleashed a federal crackdown on undocumented immigrants, encouraging local sheriffs and state and local Republican politicians to get into the act. There are calls to ramp up deportations beyond Obama-era levels, and to penalize cities, such as Baltimore, that, absent congressional leadership on the immigration system, wish to offer sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.
It not only sounds mean, it is mean. And it is self-defeating.
The nation's population is not growing at a pace to maintain robust productivity in a sustainable way.
"For most of the past half-century, adults in the U.S. Baby Boom generation have been the main driver of the nation's expanding workforce," the Pew Research Center reported in March. "But as this large generation heads into retirement, the increase in the potential labor force will slow markedly, and immigrants will play the primary role in the future growth of the working-age population."
And that includes, I assume, a lot of health care workers who will care for us boomers as we become geezers.
I know: What part of "illegal" don't you understand?
I get that all the time, and I find it to be something of a conversation killer.
No argument from me: I think it's good to deport violent criminals and drug dealers who are found to have entered the country illegally. But the millions of people who crossed the border out of desperation and desire, who came here and found work, and live peaceably without bothering anyone? We should be offering them amnesty and a path to citizenship.
And not just because they'll make our communities more diverse.
Because we need them.