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April 22, 2008

Richard Florida

The Big Sort

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Big_sort Governing Magazine's Allan Ehrenhalt reviews Bill Bishop's new book in today's Wall Street Journal.

The more diverse America becomes, the more homogeneous it becomes. No, that's not a misprint; it is the thesis of "The Big Sort," Bill Bishop's rich and challenging book about the ways in which the citizens of this country have, in the past generation, rearranged themselves into discrete enclaves that have little to say to one another and little incentive to bother trying. "As Americans have moved over the past three decades," Mr. Bishop proclaims, "they have clustered in communities of sameness, among people with similar ways of life, beliefs and in the end, politics."

I read the book in galleys and have collaborated with Bill and Bob Cushing, his statistician counterpart over the years. This is a remarkable book detailing the multidimensional sorting of the American population and the increasing importance of geography and location for every facet of our lives.  Go out and grab yourself a copy of this book, read it from cover to cover - if you want to understand the forces that have shaped and will continue to shape American politics and the culture of everyday life.


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» when sorting things out is a bad thing from digital digs
Richard Florida mentions Bill Bishop's new book, The Big Sort. The essential premise of the book is that as America has become more diverse, Americans have sought out homogeneity by moving into communities with people more like themselves. This reminds [Read More]


Mary Jane Braide

I've been observing a big sort in Toronto as our neighbourhoods evolve into balkanized identity zones. How many times do we hear people say that they never go west of Spadina, north of St. Clair, east of the Don, south of Eglinton, or that they love Queen St West but hate Queen St East. This is a kind of code language for "I'm too hip to go north, or I'm too wealthy to go west, or I'm too scared to go south." So we have this incredibly diverse city that is becoming a series of increasingly not-diverse zones. The few people who can move between the zones seem more rare all the time. The book sounds like important reading for Torontonians.


Looks like America is headed the way of the former Soviet Union after the breakup. Economic ruin and central government breakdown.

Michael Wells

As house prices have gone up in our neighborhood we've joked about worrying that Republicans will move in. At least we thought we were joking.

The place where I meet the most Republicans are on boards of nonprofits I consult with. I wonder if that's the new meeting ground, nonpolitical community organizations.

Zoe B

My neighborhood is about half Democratic, half Republican - I know of at least 2 'mixed' marriages (deduced from campaign signs in the yards). Yet a few years ago our neighborhood school was under threat, and I met NO ONE here who did not actively support preservation of the school. People here treasure living in a walkable place. We love the kid parade every schoolday and the street action on Halloween. If you live here you like to be acquainted with your neighbors. We often agree on local political matters, and find the traditional Dem/Rep split to be irrelevant at the local level. When we campaigned to save our school, the only stakeholders who did not care what happened were folks whose kids bus to the school from newer developments. Those folks chose to live in a place where you've got to drive everywhere, and saw no value in preserving walkability.


Zoe - that's an interesting anecdote. We live in a master-planned greenfield development that has some neo-traditional elements, but one major draw of the community is the highly-regarded elementary school that is largely zoned for our development. The school, neighborhoods, small commercial town center, and other amenities are all connected by several miles of walking trails (this is separate from the sidewalks the individual neighborhoods have). Most folks are happy here, but there inevitably are some complaints about the HOA, neighbors, etc. But the one thing that strongly binds the community and I believe will fight to the end for is the school and the ability to walk to it. Even with the school at nearly 50% over capacity (there are many trailers there), I think there would be a strong reaction if there was anything to significantly disrupt the school's place in the community's social fabric. The good thing is that the school district generally favors neighborhood schools, and even in fast-growing areas they try not to keep tearing apart communities by constant re-zoning (this has been an issue in places like Wake County, NC where the fast growing Raleigh area has meant shifting school assignments). The district here and parents are patient with quality, nearby neighborhood schools even if there are some capacity issues.

One of the reasons we moved to this area is that there was a palpably strong commitment to a quality public school system. I believe in this age of "The Big Sort" as Richard often mentions, a culture of strong community support for public schools is one of the few good indicators of high social cohesion and solid civic society. We aren't living in the 1950s anymore where civic society was often defined by memberships in Elk Lodges, Rotary, churches, ethnic societies, etc. And hopefully strong public schools can be used as tool to united different classes, as I see the most disturbing aspect of "The Big Sort" being class segregation. Otherwise I think we will continue seeing splintering between highly divergent groups such as childless yuppies in urban cafes, families in exurban megachurches, and many disconnected people in between.


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