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    Integrated only on paper?

    A U.S. Census Bureau report says the bay area is one of the nation's least segregated, but many residents say that's not their reality.

    [Times photos: Kinfay Moroti]
    Charity Small, 82, waves to a neighbor outside her home on 18th Avenue S in St. Petersburg while waiting with her husband, Isacc Small, 90, for a ride to church.

    By ALICIA CALDWELL, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published December 22, 2002


    Oh sure, Frank Jimmie says, you see a few white people in the North Greenwood neighborhood.

    There are some white businessmen like himself who own property in the largely African-American neighborhood. And when the Phillies play spring training games, the streets are bumper-to-bumper with white people.

    It is not, he says, a segregated area. There are no laws, written or not, keeping people separate. But neither is it the profound residential and social mixing of races that he would call integration.

    "It's really not integrated. You can't say that, even though a few white people are moving in," said Jimmie, 63, who runs a demolition business with his brother out of a few square blocks in the neighborhood.

    That's why Jimmie and many others were surprised to hear what the U.S. Census Bureau recently said about segregation in the Tampa Bay metro area: It is one of the five least racially segregated in the country when it comes to white and African-American people.

    Many Tampa Bay area residents say they live a different reality. Why? There are problems in using a statistical perspective on something people see not only in terms of where they live, but how they live. And a close look at the numbers reveals a less auspicious truth: This area is still pretty segregated, just not quite as severely as many others.

    There are other reasons, too. Statistics being what they are, the area's relatively small population of African-American residents could have been significantly dispersed by the destruction of four major public housing projects in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties in the last decade.

    All of these things would explain the surprised reaction of local activists, historians and educators when they heard how the area fared in the statistical analysis.

    "Really? I wonder how they measured that," said Jay Sokolovsky, a University of South Florida anthropology professor who is a director of a local black history project. "It's clearly changed since the 1970s. There are some integrated areas, but I get the sense that it is still a fairly segregated area."

    In Tampa, that's a reality that 16-year-old J. George has lived, growing up in Tampa's Central Park Village, a largely African-American public housing complex. George, who is African-American, said that while his family has officially moved out of the project, he still spends most of his time there.

    "I feel more comfortable," he said. "I know everybody. Everybody knows me. I'm safe."

    He said white people who see him in "their" neighborhoods immediately think the worst of his intentions. They suspect he's going to steal a car or break into a house, he said.

    "They want to blame us for everything," he said.

    Still, he said he bears them no ill will. But white people in Central Park Village are suspected of something, too.

    "If you see white people in the projects, you think they're the police," George said.

    Howard Jimmie, right, and brother Frank Jimme have operated a demolition and auto repair business in a largely African-American area of Clearwater for more than 30 years.

    The clustering of where people live is something the census bureau analysis attempted to address and measure. Susan Rine, in Pasco County, finds that perplexing. Pasco is part of the metro area, and while only 2 percent of its residents are African-American, they tend to live in pockets in and around Dade City.

    "To think about this area being more integrated is a bit shocking to me," said Rine, the district administrator who oversees elementary schools in Pasco County. Among other duties, Rine helps set school district boundaries and is aware of the district's demographics.

    "I think a lot of people have taken steps to make it so, but if we look at all of Pasco County, I'm kind of surprised because we don't see the minority population spread evenly through the neighborhoods," she said.

    Clustering is one of five indexes Census Bureau researchers used to measure features of racial segregation. The clustering index measures the degree to which minority group members live disproportionately in contiguous areas.

    Other indexes the researchers used measured the evenness of racial distribution, the distribution of a minority group around an urban center, the extent to which people of different races are exposed to each other and the proportion of a group's population that would have to move across neighborhoods to achieve a uniform density.

    When all of those measures are taken together, the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area, which includes Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties, scored fourth highest.

    The metro areas included in the analysis had at least 3 percent or 20,000 African-Americans in their populations and in 1980 had populations of at least 1-million each.

    The top four metro areas for integration were: Orange County, Calif.; San Jose, Calif.; Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Newport News, Va.; and the Tampa Bay area. The fifth was San Diego, Calif.

    There are several statistical reasons why the Tampa-St. Petersburg area would score higher on the indexes and therefore register numbers that might make it seem more integrated than it feels.

    A Brookings Institution report from last year said that while residential segregation is declining, the effects are most prominent in places where there is a relatively small but growing minority population.

    In Tampa-St. Petersburg, the African-American population is 11 percent of the total, and it grew by 28 percent in the last decade. Large changes in relatively small populations can have dramatic statistical effects.

    Some of the things the indexes measure are clustering and concentration of populations and the tendency to live in the urban core. A real, but potentially temporary effect the numbers could show is the decimation of several big public housing projects that largely housed African-Americans. Several of them will be rebuilt, though in smaller versions.

    Jim Hosler, research director for the Hillsborough County Planning Commission, pointed to the destruction of public housing projects in the Tampa neighborhoods of Belmont Heights and Jackson Heights just before the 2000 census. About 1,500 units, home to 6,000 to 8,000 people, were destroyed.

    "When those projects were torn down, those people spread everywhere," Hosler said.

    In St. Petersburg, the residents displaced before more than 500 public housing units at Laurel Park and Jordan Park were torn down could have affected results as well.

    It is difficult to predict whether the rebuilding of some of those units would affect the segregation indexes during the next decade because it's impossible to predict who is going to return.

    Also at work, in all likelihood, is something experienced by newer, growing areas in the West and South. In places where new subdivisions are popping up there are not historic patterns such as those in older metro areas, such as Detroit or New York, which have high segregation levels.

    When people move in, they adjust to "what appears to be a new norm of a more integrated America," according to the Brookings report.

    Furthermore, as African-Americans see increases in median income -- as they did in the Tampa Bay area during the last decade -- and move out of the poorest neighborhoods, they decrease segregation.

    Charity Small, 82, and her husband, Isaac, 90, have lived in the same house in St. Petersburg's Perkins neighborhood for 35 years. They watched as fellow African-Americans did better for themselves economically and moved to areas farther south and west of their area along 18th Avenue S, in which 29 percent of individuals live below the poverty line.

    Those areas are more racially diverse than hers, Mrs. Small said. A devout Christian, she said much of her interaction with white people comes when her church group arranges a revival meeting or seminar with a largely white church from north St. Petersburg.

    "The white congregations from the north side come over when we're having something, and they'll let us know when they're having something," Small said. "We're supposed to be one."

    Integration through economic equality is a theme pointed out in several analyses. The Brookings report notes that integration typically happens when formerly all-white census tracts gain African-American residents -- not from African-American neighborhoods gaining white residents.

    In that sense, Joe Prado is an aberration. He didn't know he was moving into an African-American neighborhood when he arrived from California.

    Not that it's a problem for him. But as a white guy who just moved to the North Greenwood neighborhood from Los Angeles, he had to admit to some trepidation when he realized the racial makeup of his neighborhood, which is north of downtown Clearwater. In L.A., he said, you wouldn't dare live in an area where you're different from everyone else. People get beat up for less.

    "I've been here two weeks, and I haven't had one indication of any kind of racial conflict," said Prado, 39, an unemployed pet groomer. While there is little question the analysis shows some real progress in integration, it is a mixed bag. In looking at the single most popularly-used segregation index, the Tampa Bay area doesn't fare as well.

    That "dissimilarity index" measures the percentage of a minority group that would have to move for each neighborhood within the area to achieve perfect integration. Perfect integration is determined by the percentage of that minority group in the metro area. In Tampa-St. Petersburg, 11 percent of the population is African-American. To be perfectly integrated, each neighborhood would have to be 11 percent African-American.

    According to the census study, the dissimilarity index shows that Tampa-St. Petersburg is the 18th least segregated area of the country's 43 metropolitan statistical areas with African-American populations of 20,000 or more and at least 1-million residents in 1980.

    But when the parameters are widened to include smaller areas, the Tampa Bay area fares much worse. In Florida, the dissimilarity analysis shows Tampa-St. Petersburg as the sixth most segregated area of the state's 20 metropolitan statistical areas.

    Darryl Rouson, president of the St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP, said he wasn't familiar with the study, but that he knows the area pretty well and regularly has traveled to other parts of the country.

    Said Rouson, "Honestly, it doesn't seem any less segregated than a lot of other areas in the country."

    Integrated cities

    The five metro areas with the least segregation among white and black people are:

    1. Orange County, Calif.

    2. San Jose, Calif.

    3. Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Newport News, Va.

    4. Tampa Bay area

    5. San Diego, Calif.

    Source: U.S. Census Bureau

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