American University is located in Washington, D.C., at the top of Embassy Row. Chartered by Congress in 1893 to serve the public interest and build the nation, the university educates active citizens who apply knowledge to the most pressing concerns facing the nation and world. Students engage with leading faculty experts and world leaders, learning how to create change and address issues including the global economic crisis, health care, human rights and justice, diversity, the environment and sustainability, immigration, journalism’s transformation, corporate governance, and governmental reform.
Populous, less diverse, and relatively wealthy, fringing major metro areas between suburban and rural America Benton, WA pop. 182,398 $60,300 median household income Fergus, MT pop. 11,435 0.3% African American Mostly small towns across the northern tier, slightly wealthier and much whiter than average Bethel, AK pop. 17,746 82% American Indian and Alaska Native Dotting the rural west, the least white, with low levels of wealth and education In Utah and the Mountain West, young and heavily white Mormon centers Box Elder, UT pop. 50,171 77% Mormon Primarily southwestern, with many self-identified Hispanics and 30 percent of residents under 18 Yuma, AZ pop. 200,022 61% Hispanic Sierra, NM pop. 11,895 16% under 18 Conservative and fairly rural, full of retirees and near retirees with midlevel incomes Set on the Great Plains, the whitest, oldest age-wise, and least populated Borden, TX pop. 616 0.7 people per square mile What’s down the road for the American Communities Project? Chinni’s next goal is to build an annual almanac of communities in this country, an almanac that would include quarterly reports, probably online, that would look closely at different parts of the country through a variety of lenses. The data exist, he says, to examine the economy, the politics, the environment, health, and culture. One idea that’s clearly emerging from these data is that in most American communities, we tend to cluster around people like ourselves. “You want a certain feel, you want a certain look, maybe the schools to be a certain way, maybe you want certain types of stores near you,” says Chinni. “And when you live near people that are like you, those people tend to have the same education levels, they tend to have the same types of income levels, they tend to have the same political views.” Living in these clustered communities is like living in little bubbles, he says, and those bubbles become our lenses for gazing out on the rest of the world. With different people clustering into different bubbles, the end result is different economies, different politics, and different media habits, Fox News versus MSNBC. What’s down the road for the country? That’s the larger question that a lot of journalists would like to answer, and that’s where Chinni’s approach can help. He sees the country entering an era defined by a new kind of plate tectonics—with some counties 24 AMERICAN MAGAZINE APRIL 2014
Kenosha, WI pop. 167,936 Average commute 26 minutes In the Northeast and Midwest, with lower wealth and education levels than Urban Suburbs or Exurbs Low diversity and income levels, found in Appalachia and the rural South, Upper Midwest, and Northwest More young and educated people but less diverse than the nation as a whole Hampshire, MA pop. 159,795 42% with bachelor’s or higher Ottawa, OH pop. 41,339 3% Hispanic Montgomery, MD pop. 1,004,709 $97,000 median household income Urban, urbane, diverse, and densely populated, the wealthiest of all the types Mostly rural, younger than the average, with more college degrees and African Americans Columbia, GA pop. 131,627 Fort Gordon employs 24,000 Jasper, SC pop. 25,833 46% African American Running from Virginia through Texas, the least wealthy, with large African American and small Hispanic populations Most populous and diverse, with large pockets of both wealth and poverty George, MS pop. 22,930 11% with bachelor’s or higher Heavily white, southern, and conservative, with lower incomes and education levels Miami-Dade, FL pop. 2,591,035 19% live below poverty line Results of 2012 presidential election Source: quickfacts.census.gov shifting toward each other and others shifting away like continents once did. “I just think the country is changing quite rapidly right now, and I want to be able to track it.” And thanks to his new typology, he can. “I think we’re in a unique position to be able to watch it happen—and to explain, to chronicle, it happening. I think that’s really exciting.” Jon Gould thinks it’s exciting for SPA and WIPAR. “Dante’s got an opportunity here through AU to be the source for all kinds of work around America on how our communities are changing, how localities are really in a period of transition—not just politically but economically and culturally. And so we’re hoping that AU will be the focal point for all of this interesting research that can be done from here.” That kind of research could help journalists and the rest of us see more clearly the country that’s been hidden for years behind Blue America and Red America. “This is a guy who’s figured out the best way to understand change in America right now through these typologies of counties and is able to run almost any data through those to tell a better, more nuanced story about what’s going on in America,” says Gould. “He’s got the right idea at the right time.” ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ More information about the American Communities Project available at americancommunities.org and american. edu/spa/american-communities LET’S TALK #AMERICANMAG 25