The Antiplanner’s Library: The Big Sort

Urban areas like Portland are sorting themselves, with young people who like the New Urban lifestyle moving to city centers and families with children moving to the suburbs. People have noticed other sorts across the country, such as blue cities and red rural areas.

Someone has written a book about this titled The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart. This sorting, says co-author Bill Bishop, is happening at a neighborhood level, and one of the problems is that many people rarely encounter or talk with people who have different histories, lifestyles, or political views. I confess I haven’t actually read this book yet, but I’ve ordered it and will do so as soon as it arrives.

As the Economist points out in its review of the book, “Because Americans are so mobile, even a mild preference for living with like-minded neighbours leads over time to severe segregation. . . . When a group is ideologically homogeneous, its members tend to grow more extreme.” This is why we are becoming more polarized.

Bishop gives examples of this in his book, excerpts of which you can read on his Big Sort web site. As a former liberal, I find it sad that so many of his examples are of leftists shutting out other points of view. We can see this in the New Urbanists who think everybody should live like them. But I suppose this is a predictable response no matter what the political view.

What should we do about this? One of the goals of the New Urbanists was to build mixed-income communities so that people would be more likely to rub shoulders with others who weren’t the same as them. I doubt this is working very well, and income isn’t a major factor in the big sort anyway.

Instead, we each need to make more efforts to communicate with others who are different from us. The Antiplanner has always appreciated the fact that DanS, D4P, MSetty, and other loyal opponents so frequently comment on this blog so that everyone can be exposed to other views. I frankly admit that I have often learned from their comments.

We also need to keep our discussions civil, and I appreciate Francis King’s comment (comment #24) the other day reminding some of our other commenters to focus on the facts, not name calling. (Though I’d like to believe that the name calling was good natured, someone new to the blog might not see it that way.)


14 thoughts on “The Antiplanner’s Library: The Big Sort

  1. TexanOkie

    Sounds like an interesting book. I think I’ll get it. I’ve noticed the basic premise of the book already (I even live in Austin, the town the authors live in), but it should be interesting to see just how deep this segregation and along what specific lines it goes.

  2. John Dewey

    I think many conservatives – not all – are tolerant of other lifestyles and preferences which contrast with their own. The disagreement starts when leftists demand that their form of transportation or their form of housing be subsidized with our taxes. If rail transit was paid for by the users of rail transit, why should anyone object? If the cost of urban, high density housing was fully born by the residents or owners of such housing, why should anyone object?

    Well, one objection is that adding rail transit to highway corridors requires time sacrifices of the incumbent group, especially during construction but usually afterward as well. Building high density housing in low density communities adds congestion where it formerly did not exist. Adding subsidized, low-income housing to an upper middle class community breeds envy and resentment, on the part of both adults and children.

    On the other hand, I did live through the desegregation of schools in the southern U.S. It is clear to me now that segregation caused unwarranted fear and mistrust of both “races”. (I really do not like the concept of “race”, which I wish could somehow disapper before I leave this planet.)

  3. Neal Meyer


    You ask, what should we do about this sorting? I would suggest that you circle back around to this post with a follow up post, where you review Mr. Bishop’s book and then tell your loyal readers what he thinks should be done about it. That is, if anything could or should be done politically about sorting.

    I would add that we do have an example from American history where political attempts were made in our past, via the judiciary, to command integration. That attempt was made with public schooling. We all know what happened after that.

  4. John Dewey

    “political attempts were made in our past, via the judiciary, to command integration. That attempt was made with public schooling. We all know what happened after that.”

    I wonder if we all agree on the results of school integration, and if we all interpret the causes for those results the same way.

    IMO, school desegration was proceeding very well in the 1960’s – until the courts “commanded” that children be bused far out of their neighborhoods in order to achieve further desegregation. I recently read an excellent book on desegregation of Dallas schools, though I misplaced it and cannot credit the author right now. The author provded statistics showing that the initial desegregation itself did not cause alarming white flight from the Dallas Independent School District. Forced busing, though, had an immediate and significant impact. I think the proportion white, non-hispanic students in DISD dropped from 70% to 35% in less than a decade following court-ordered busing. Desegregation was thus immediately followed by re-segregation.

    Today, Dallas and its suburbs, like most large cities, is severely segregated based on family income, not race or ethnicity. Small attempts to achieve socioeconomic desegregation are bitterly opposed by upper middle class suburbs. That’s because socioeconomic segregation was always the goal of the upper middle class who bought into expensive suburbs.

  5. bennett

    “Today, Dallas and its suburbs, like most large cities, is severely segregated based on family income, not race or ethnicity.”

    Not true. I just finished some intense demographic GIS studies of Dallas and the city is segragated by race, at least according to the census. You are correct that income is the primary factore of segragation in big D, but the data I’ve seen shows more segragation on the basis of race. So is your point that there is an unfortunate correlation between income and race in the city?

  6. Neal Meyer


    The busing issue was the matter I was referring to. I apologize for the confusion. It should be noted that President Eisenhower had to send out the 101st Airborne Division to literally march the black kids into the first school at gunpoint. Things began to calm down after that. Then the busing issue flared integration back up again and your pattern you describe of Americans resegregating themselves afterwards is correct.

  7. John Dewey


    I was referring to the intent of those making laws, those electing lawmakers, and those controlling the sale of homes.

    50 years ago Dallas and its suburbs were intentionally segregated by race. Through tricks now illegal, black homebuyers were denied access to housing in white neighborhoods.

    Today, through zoning and other laws which prohibit or restrict multi-family and inexpensive housing, Dallas suburbs intentionally segregate based on income and wealth levels. But there are no longer any barriers – legal or otherwise – which prevent blacks or Hispanics having sufficient economic resources from moving into upple middle class white neighborhoods.

    Quite frankly, Bennett, race seems irrelevant to those living in upper middle class suburbs. That mostly white southern Denton County has a black County Commissioner – that mostly white Flower Mound has a black city manager – that mostly white Highland Village for years had a black mayor – that African-American Ron Kirk was twice elected Dallas’ mayor with the strong support of white business leaders and voters – indicates clearly how irrelevant race has become.

    Again, Dallas and its suburbs are segregated – by intent – based on income, not based on race or ethnicity.

  8. bennett


    Thanks for the clarification. I see what you are saying. The only thing is that while “race seems irrelevant to those living in upper middle class suburbs” this is not the case in poorer neighborhoods in south Dallas. It is easy for whealthy white people to dismiss race as an issue and elect black officials, and I agree with your point that the overt intentional racisim is mostly a thing of the past. However there are still serious and severe social barriers that exist, even if the white people in north Dallas have one or two black friends. There ARE still barriers, NOT legal but otherwise.

  9. johngalt

    I’ll bet Jim K. doesn’t like the name calling but I have seen it on many a blog. I think it just means that the name callers know that he has the facts on his side more often than not and they have not other alternative.

  10. sustainibertarian

    I agreed in part with one of your last book reviews on Boomburbs – I tried reading the book, but lost complete interest after the first chapter or two after endless population growth figures and a bland writing style put me to sleep 😉

  11. John Dewey


    Can you give me an idea of what barriers you are referring to? I’m meaning “serious and severe” barriers that all blacks in the Dallas area face, as opposed to barriers that low income people who happen to be black might face.

  12. TexanOkie

    I grew up in Arlington and was an avid traveler throughout the DFW area in my youth. It’s been my experience that while there are pockets of lower socio-economic classes that are primary minority in DFW, there are also concentrations of non-minority poor areas. However, overwhelmingly, DFW suburbia and DFW as a whole are extremely well integrated when it comes to race for reasons John Dewey stated: race doesn’t matter to the upper middle class. I’ll go one step further and say that race doesn’t matter to the entire middle class and the working class, especially in Dallas and other Sun Belt cities. You don’t see the rampant de-facto segregation there that you see in the old Northern and Midwestern cities because the South was forced to deal with racism head-on, forcing us to make huge steps forward. The North, not so much. It’s been a much more gradual process that still is a large issue in many areas.

  13. msetty

    ‘John Galt’ said:

    I’ll bet Jim K. doesn’t like the name calling but I have seen it on many a blog. I think it just means that the name callers know that he has the facts on his side more often than not and they have not other alternative.

    You’ll note that Jim K. also engages in it. I seem to recall he was the first person to call those who agree with me and me names. “Gridlock” seems to annoy Jim, so it did have some entertainment value. But Randal asked Jim and I to knock it off, so I am!

  14. lgrattan

    San Jose Mayor proposing a $30,000 school fee for North San Jose housing.

    At the American Dream Coalition Conference in SJ in Nov. one of the featured banquet speakers was Joseph Perkins, CEO, Home Builders Association of Northern California. His presentation was on ‘Housing Affordability ‘. He made the statement that regulations and fees that increase the cost of housing, effect the minorities the most, and therefore are Racists. He is a Black Man. Clips of his presentation can be viewed at ‘Sample Previous Conferences’ The American Dream conferences on the subjects of density, and housing .

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