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When Neighborhood Diversity Meets White Anxiety

The perception of demographic change can be more powerful than the reality of it, according to new research on how white residents can feel threatened by racial and ethnic shifts.
A shopper in Boston's Jamaica Plain, which, like many urban neighborhoods, has experienced dramatic demographic shifts in recent decades.
A shopper in Boston's Jamaica Plain, which, like many urban neighborhoods, has experienced dramatic demographic shifts in recent decades.Brian Snyder/Reuters

For most of its modern history, Old Brooklyn in Cleveland has been a working-class white neighborhood. But it’s changing. Over the last decade or so, it has become a destination for black and Hispanic families; Today, Cuban cafés and Guatemalan businesses are sprinkled among old-school coffeeshops and Polish restaurants. Some longtime residents are happy to see new energy injected into the neighborhood. But others have been wary of newcomers—in part, because of their race.

Jeffrey T. Verespej, the executive director of the Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation, which has been working to revitalize the neighborhood, tries to assuage the anxiety of these residents by contextualizing that change. “We have this phrase: ‘Old Brooklyn has always been an aspirational neighborhood,’” he said. “Folks have always moved to Old Brooklyn because it’s a land of opportunity; it’s just that now, the face of that aspiration has changed.”