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Orlando Sentinel

Neighborhood's Diversity Reflects Greater Orlando

By Jeff Kunerth

December 5, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

In Joseph Newkirk's neighborhood, there are police officers, teachers, carpenters, utility-company workers, electricians and store managers. They are white, black and Hispanic.

When he bought his home in 1984, Newkirk passed on Orlando's traditionally black neighborhoods for the integrated subdivision of Riverside Woods. On his street were four black and three white families.

"I didn't want to live in an all-black neighborhood. That's where I lived in Sanford, an all-black neighborhood," said Newkirk, 50, the black owner of a lawn-service business.

Today, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures, Newkirk lives in one of the most diverse areas in Central Florida.

Riverside Woods feeds into Riverside Elementary School, which serves the Lockhart area that is 61 percent non-Hispanic white, 19 percent black and 17 percent Hispanic.That makes it one of the most integrated places in one of Florida's most integrated metropolitan areas.

Of Florida's major metro areas, only Jacksonville has more black integration than Orlando, according to a new census report. And only Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale have more Hispanic integration than Orlando.

North most segregated

Nationwide, the cities with the highest rates of segregation tend to be Northern cities with entrenched minority ghettos, the census figures show. The five most segregated metropolitan areas are Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis and Newark, N.J.

The 36 metro areas the census ranked didn't include Orlando because the city didn't have a metro population of at least 1 million in 1980, the baseline year for the rankings. Of the Florida cities that were ranked, metropolitan Miami-Dade was the 17th most segregated city in the nation; the Tampa area 32nd; and the Fort Lauderdale metro area 34th.

Residential segregation is measured by an index that calculates the number of minorities who would need to move before a metropolitan area could become uniformly integrated.

In the Orlando metropolitan area of Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Lake counties, every neighborhood would be 65 percent white, 13 percent black and 17 percent Hispanic.

Perfect integration would mean an Orlando metropolitan area of 1.6 million people that looks pretty much like the 5,000 residents who live within the area served by Riverside Elementary.

Follows national trend

The raw numbers for greater Orlando show this area has followed a national trend of increased integration in metropolitan areas, as blacks and Hispanics move into the suburbs and whites return to the cities.

In 1990, the area in the Riverside Elementary district was 75 percent white, 13 percent black and 11 percent Hispanic. These days, the changing composition of the neighborhood can be seen along Forest City Road, where the Hispanic congregation of Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal Mi is building a big new church not far from St. Christopher's Episcopal Church and Riverside Baptist.

Joe Newkirk estimates that his working-class Riverside Woods subdivision is now about 25 percent black, 25 percent white and 50 percent Hispanic. The racial mix doesn't stop neighbors from getting together for New Year's Eve parties, shooting off fireworks during the Fourth of July or looking out for one another's homes when neighbors are on vacation.

One of Newkirk's good friends in the neighborhood is Steve Farmer, 42, a white home-builder who developed Riverside Woods. Their children grew up together, played together and attended the same schools.

"I don't think there are any racial issues in the neighborhood," Farmer said. "It's a very good mix of people."

The decision by blacks such as Newkirk to live outside predominantly black neighborhoods contributed to the increased integration of metro Orlando blacks since 1980.

"Black segregation has declined very substantially in the past 20 years. For Orlando, it really stands out," said John Logan, an expert on segregation and director of the Lewis Mumford Center at theState University of New York at Albany.

Opposite directions

In 1980, 71 percent of blacks would have had to move to achieve perfect integration in metro Orlando. In 2000, only 54 percent would have needed to move.

Nowadays, the average black person in metro Orlando lives in a neighborhood that is 40 percent black -- down from 60 percent black in 1980. The average white person lives in a neighborhood that is 73 percent white -- down from 90 percent white in 1980.

But at the same time segregation of blacks has declined in metro Orlando, segregation of Hispanics has increased. The average Hispanic lives in a neighborhood that is 27 percent Hispanic -- more than twice the level of 10 years ago.

The increase in Hispanic segregation is largely the result of the influx of Hispanics during the 1990s that transformed the character of many neighborhoods on the west and south sides of Orlando, and developments such as Buenaventura Lakes in Osceola County.

New arrivals tend to settle in predominately Hispanic areas where they have family or friends from back home.

"They definitely try to look for their own people," said Jose Bineiro, a 36-year-old customer-service supervisor. "They are looking for their own people to make the transition easier."

When Bineiro moved to Orlando from Puerto Rico 13 years ago, it was to an apartment complex near his relatives. When it came to buying a house, he wanted an area that was integrated but also where he could find a house in the $70,000-$80,000 range.

"I didn't want to be in a place where everybody is Hispanic," Bineiro said. "I want my children growing up in a different environment where there's a mix, a diversity of people."

What he ended up with was a Conway-area subdivision that is 65 percent Hispanic.

Black segregation high

Although segregation of blacks has declined, it still remains higher than that of Hispanics -- the legacy of past discrimination and residential segregation.

Hispanic segregation in the Orlando area is largely a 1990s phenomenon, while black segregation goes back to the days before the federal government outlawed housing discrimination in 1968.

Another reason that segregation among blacks remains high is white flight from integrated neighborhoods where the balance begins to tip toward blacks.

In the dynamics of residential segregation, neighborhoods that contain blacks and whites tend to become more black.

"In neighborhoods that are half white, half black, if a white family leaves, it's less likely a white family will move in," Logan said. "If a black family leaves, it's most likely a new black family will move in."

And that is what has happened to James Plummer's subdivision. Plummer, a 42-year-old black truck driver, found a house in an integrated subdivision in north Pine Hills. In the five years since he bought the house, the neighborhood has become increasingly black and Hispanic as white families moved out. Plummer estimates the subdivision is now 70 percent black.

But in choosing a place to live, Plummer said, race wasn't an issue. His checklist for what he wanted in a house -- two stories, two baths, three bedrooms, two-car garage and an acre of land -- didn't include the skin color of his neighbors.

"As soon as I walked through the door, I knew this was my house," he said, "It was everything I was looking for. We were supposed to be here."

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