Geographia Polonica (1997) vol. 69

The changing context of racial segregation: an examination in metropolitan Detroit

Robert Sinclair

Geographia Polonica (1997) vol. 69, pp. 153-167 | Full text


The study of racial segregation has long been an important theme in urbangeography, encompassing a broad range of topics, from static racial patterns to the emphasison race as a political and social construction. The present study takes a broader approach,focusing upon the changing contexts (national and metropolitan) within which a city's urbanracial patterns evolve. More specifically, this paper (a) raises some questions concerning thenature and assumptions of some of the segregation literature, (b) looks at the changing racialpatterns of one city, Detroit, in terms of their social and historical context, and (c) considerssome of the social implications of the contemporary spatial pattern of race within the metropolis.The postwar spatial pattern of Detroit's black population can be divided into fourdistinct periods, described as (a) spatial confinement, (b) spatial release, (c) spatial stability,and (d) spatial diversity. The racial pattern in each period is placed in its local and nationalcontext, and related to broader contemporary socioeconomic processes and problems whichare molding the metropolitan landscape. In the 1990s, these problems are quite different, butno less severe than in the past, and might well include a spatial division within the metropolitanblack community itself.

Keywords: national/political context, socio/economic context, power relationships, polarization, spatial separation

Robert Sinclair, Department of Geography and Urban Planning, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, 48202, USA