Geographic income segregation pervades, divides Utah



Jamin Rowan, second from right, speaks at a Provo City Planning Commission meeting on April 11, 2018. Rowan has served on the Commission for several years and said he often sees “not in my backyard mentality” regarding zoning regulations. (Eleanor Cain)

Editor’s note: This story pairs with Four ways to address geographic income segregation

“Not in my backyard.”

Bill Peperone, assistant director of community development for Provo City, said he’s heard this phrase again and again when proposing to mix existing homes with housing types of lower market value.

“I’ve seen this happen more times in my career than I can count. What the use of zoning has said loud and clear is, ‘if you do not work in my tax bracket, you cannot live in my neighborhood,'” Peperone said. “This frustrates me, not just as an urban planner but as a human being.”

Geographic income segregation is a problem for the Wasatch Front as much as it is anywhere else in the U.S., Peperone said. In Provo, the majority of low-income residents tend to live in South Provo. In Salt Lake City, Interstate 15 seems to be the dividing line between low-income residents and the rest.

A 2012 Pew Research Center study found a 23 percent increase of 2010 lower-income households being located in majority lower-income census tracts since 1980, with an increase of 9 percent for upper-income households being located in upper-income census tracts.

The Pew Center found racial segregation often follows.

“In 2010, the typical African American resided in a census tract whose population was 45 percent African American, though African Americans comprised only 12 percent of the population,” Pew researchers Richard Fry and Paul Taylor wrote. “The typical white person (63 percent of the population) lived in a tract that was 77 percent white; the typical Hispanic (17 percent of the population) resided in a tract that was 45 percent Hispanic.”

Infographic by Eleanor Cain

Zoning, Peperone said, might have something to do with the increasing divide and why it often follows geographical boundaries.

“Zoning has been used as a tool to economically segregate our communities since the end of World War II,” Peperone said. “Zoning was not originally intended to be used this way, but it was found to be a very effective tool to serve that end.”

A history of fear, separation

When zoning was introduced in the late 1800s, it was meant to protect residents from harmful effects of the industrial revolution like pollution, BYU professor and Provo City Planning Commission member Jamin Rowan said.

Yet, zoning practices eventually morphed into a tool to further racial and economic segregation, according to Rowan. The practice of redlining — denying loans or residential permits to individuals based on race — became commonplace, Rowan said.

While redlining and other governmental practices of segregation are now illegal, Rowan said homogenous zoning (keeping single-family homes zoned together, high-density apartments together, etc.) is another way residents mask deep economic, racial and generational fears.

“The preference that we have in our culture for the aesthetics of homogeneity mask and still harbor those class (and) racial fears, but they’re conveniently channeled in what appears to be not racially or class-motivated at all,” Rowan said. “Though I’m convinced that they are.”

Listen to one of Rowan’s personal experiences on the Provo City Planning Commission with zoning here:

LDS culture’s role

The cultural preference for homogeneity is exaggerated in LDS culture, Rowan said. LDS members become even more concerned with zoning practices because ward boundaries are determined geographically, he said.

“There’s certainly anxieties about what it means to ward members to have people who aren’t like them — people who aren’t families — in their ward, or people who might require different kinds of care or welfare assistance,” Rowan said.

But Peperone said it’s not just those requiring assistance.

“From an LDS perspective, what this means is that we are OK with minorities joining our church as long as those minorities do not live in our neighborhoods,” Peperone said.

Recently, the LDS Church has openly spoken out about how to recognize and eradicate racism, and individual leaders like General Authority Seventy Elder John Pingree gave an example in the October 2017 General Conference of church members making a difference by living in a neighborhood with “considerable social and economic needs,” rather than an affluent one.

However, geographic income affects a lot more than just ward boundaries, according to Melissa Jensen, director of housing and neighborhood development for Salt Lake City.


For Salt Lake City, Jensen said geographic income segregation often means segregating “access to opportunity.”

“You have a food desert … no transit, you end up forcing folks who can’t afford to live on a transit line or areas that are higher market value so they end up being segregated in these communities without opportunity,” Jensen said.

That opportunity often bleeds down from parents to their children and their educational opportunities, according to Teach For America Recruitment Manager and BYU alumnus  Josh Doying.

“In the United States right now, the school system is more segregated than its been since the 1960s,” Doying said. “This influences the amount of money that goes into schools and it influences the type of individuals that go and teach in schools.”

In Provo, the greatest cluster of ethnically diverse students, again, remain in the southwest areas of Provo, according to research shared with Vox by Tomas Monarrez, an economics Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley.

According to Monarrez, school lines could be drawn to decrease segregation, but often aren’t.

“So the influence that we see on kids is less integration, less access to resources and opportunities,” Doying said.

Information based on Tomas Monarrez’s research, map by Eleanor Cain

Salt Lake County Council Chair Aimee Winder Newton said she lives on the west side of the Salt Lake County and has loved the diversity it has exposed her children to.

“I love raising my kids where there’s diversity and where there’s different socioeconomic statuses,” Winder Newton said. “It’s good for my kids to see different points of view and people coming from different walks of life.”

There are also cultural consequences of economic segregation, Jensen said.

“What we miss out on by not doing this is our communities … (are those who) are rich in culture. You have thousands of languages, refugee communities,” Jensen said. “You have festivals and arts and sort of this thing that we all love as a community to engage in, and that’s also being segregated out.”

Ultimately, Rowan, Jensen and Doying agree, geographic income segregation ends up creating communities who don’t know or understand each other.

“It’s easy to get trapped into the idea of thinking that your particular desires for what your community should look like — because they’re the same as what your neighbor’s might be who come from a similar socioeconomic and often racial place — therefore coincide with the whole city,” Rowan said.

Learning about and getting involved with communities outside one’s own can decrease the fear of the perceived ‘other,’ Jensen said. Otherwise, she said, misconception and fear continue to keep dividing communities.

“This is, at the very end of it, a problem that separates people,” Doying said. “It creates entire communities that never interact with each other and therefore don’t understand the issues that are going on in the other community.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email