Why Ferguson Looks Like the Inner City

Protestors and onlookers stand during a protest of the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on Aug. 11 in Ferguson, Missouri Photograph by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

Following the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown by police in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, many Americans were shocked by local authorities’ quasi-military response to protests over the death. Also surprising to some were the similarities many residents of suburban Ferguson shared with inner city dwellers. Ferguson since the 1970s has gone from being 85 percent white to about 70 percent black, thanks to waves of flight by both races from the City of St. Louis.

Restrictive zoning rules, local real estate practices, housing prices, and transportation issues have concentrated many of those black migrants into older suburbs in adjoining north St. Louis County, like Ferguson. Meanwhile, whites continued to move even farther west into once-exurban St. Charles County—now Missouri’s most-affluent county, with a population nearly equal to that of the City of St. Louis. One result: a recreation of the segregated neighborhoods many former city-dwellers had sought to leave behind.

1970: As the prospect of a school desegregation suit grew, and newer housing beckoned in the suburbs, the City of St. Louis by 1970 was experiencing white flight, especially in northern parts of the city.

1990: As the city’s population fell by a third in the two decades following 1970, the percentage of St. Louis County residents who were black tripled to 14 percent.

2010: The black population of suburban St. Louis County now surpasses that of the city by 48 percent. It’s almost equal to the total number of black St. Louis City dwellers in 1970.

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