Skip to comments.'White flight' in Gwinnett?
Posted on 11/15/2005 11:31:36 AM PST by beaureguard
Mary James, an empty-nester from Snellville, craves the in-town bustle. Michelle Forren is tired of planning life around rush hour in Duluth. And Louise Stewart is fed up with the Spanish-language business signs, backyard chickens and overcrowded homes in her Norcross-area neighborhood.
Though their reasons vary, all three women plan to join an emerging demographic: whites leaving Gwinnett County.
In what might surprise metro Atlantans who remember the nearly lily-white county of old, Gwinnett's non-Hispanic white population declined for the first time last year, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. The drop of about 1,500 whites came even as Gwinnett, the state's perennial growth leader, added more than 27,000 residents.
One year doesn't make a trend. And some observers question the census estimates. But the figures offer more evidence that the number of whites is at the very least leveling off in Gwinnett, adding a new dimension to a lightning-fast demographic shift that has transformed a once-uniform suburb into what one Washington think tank called a "mini-Ellis Island."
One other indicator: White student enrollment in Gwinnett schools has declined in each of the past five years.
In some ways, Gwinnett is behaving like Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties, whose non-Hispanic white populations have been dropping. But those counties aren't growing nearly as fast as Gwinnett.
Because thousands of whites still move to Gwinnett each year, the stagnating total suggests that many must be leaving, too, said Douglas C. Bachtel, a demographer at the University of Georgia. That matters because most of Gwinnett's longtime residents happen to be white. And communities can struggle when their most deeply rooted residents leave, Bachtel said. "These are the foot soldiers for your community associations the chambers, the PTAs for the various self-help groups," he said.
James is one of those leaving, now that her three sons have graduated from high school. She and her husband want to leave Snellville for a place where they can stroll to shops, restaurants and museums. They put an offer on a house in the Oakhurst section of Decatur last week. "I'm ready for a new stage," James said. "I'm ready to break out and experience life without kids."
But residents such as Stewart say they're departing not because they've changed but because the community around them has. "I used to be able to have pleasant chats with neighbors, and now few speak English," said Stewart, who lives with her four dogs in the Rockborough North subdivision off Beaver Ruin Road. "It's a lonely feeling."
Stewart, who teaches English for speakers of other languages at Gwinnett Technical College, waved to a former student as she walked down the street she's called home for 25 years. "Are you still taking English classes?" Stewart shouted. The woman smiled and shook her head no. Stewart continued walking past yards sprouting satellite dishes and cactus plants. "Oh well," she said.
The number of Hispanics in Gwinnett is now more than 12 times what it was in 1990, according to the latest census estimates. The Asian population has increased more than sixfold. And the black population has grown sevenfold. Until recently, the white population was growing, too, just not as fast. The county is now 57 percent white, down from 90 percent in 1990.
Louise Radloff, a member of the Gwinnett County school board for more than 30 years, said the additions have enriched her district between Norcross and Lilburn. It's the subtractions that hurt. Many schools in the area are now less than 10 percent white.
"It's called white flight," Radloff said. "There is a perception that with the diversity, there is low-income and there is crime. We need to learn to cope with these issues and decide that all men are created equal."
Bart Lewis, chief of the research division at the Atlanta Regional Commission, said any "white flight" from Gwinnett is limited. It's a far cry, he said, from what happened a generation ago in parts of Atlanta and DeKalb County, where neighborhoods changed practically overnight as white families moved to outlying areas such as Gwinnett.
In fact, Lewis finds it hard to believe that the number of whites isn't still rising in Gwinnett. Accurate racial breakdowns are difficult to estimate, particularly at the county level, he said.
Lewis sees the shift in Gwinnett as driven more by economics than race, anyway. Lower-income families scouring metro Atlanta for an affordable house or apartment are landing in the aging neighborhoods of western Gwinnett. Most of them happen to be minorities, Lewis said.
"What I think you're really seeing is an evacuation of more-affluent households of one race replaced by less-affluent people of another race," he said.
Kay Kim, a real-estate agent whose 450 home sales were mostly in western Gwinnett last year, said many white sellers have complained to her about culture clash. Roughly 80 percent of her sellers last year were white, and 50 percent of the buyers were Latino, she said. Many of the departing families settled farther out in Gwinnett or in Hall, Forsyth and Jackson counties, Kim said.
The turnover has been largely concentrated in more-affordable neighborhoods around Duluth, Lilburn, Lawrenceville and Norcross, she said. Subdivisions where homes are priced above $200,000 tend to be more stable, Kim said.
William Frey, a demographer at the University of Michigan's Population Studies Center, said people leaving Gwinnett is nothing new. With no natural boundaries, metro Atlanta makes it easy for people to pull up the stakes and move farther out.
That tends to accelerate as an area gets more crowded, no matter the race of the newcomers, he said.
Gwinnett also is likely drawing a smaller share of the newcomers who traditionally settle on the edge of a given city. Those whites are driving the rapid growth in the exurbs of Forsyth, Henry and Cherokee counties, Frey said.
Folks such as Forren, the Duluth resident, prefer to live near wide-open spaces. Gridlock in Smyrna led Forren to Gwinnett 20 years ago. Now she and her husband are getting that cramped feeling again. They encounter so much traffic Friday evenings that it's hard to make it to a movie theater on time.
They've already staked out their second escape to a patch of land in Cherokee County. Forren, 43, said she'll miss shopping at the new Korean market near her house and dining at her favorite Thai and Vietnamese restaurants. "I really like the different cultures," she said. "For me, it's just traffic."
The demographic shift is changing more than just the restaurants in the corner strip mall. Little-used softball diamonds at Lucky Shoals Park in Norcross were recently converted into soccer fields.
When pop star Marc Anthony performed at the Gwinnett Arena in September, he sang in Spanish, not English, the language he used onstage in Atlanta.
And officials who once expected to close schools around the aging neighborhoods of western Gwinnett are instead adding classrooms and English language teachers to accommodate the children of immigrants.
The changes have been slower to reach the county's elected offices, however. The County Commission and school board remain all white, for example. But that will change, too, predicts Bachtel, the University of Georgia demographer.
Gwinnett's business-friendly reputation should continue to attract immigrants and minorities, Bachtel said. "It doesn't matter who you are as long as you've come to work in Gwinnett," he said.
He pointed to Gwinnett schools as a bellwether. The number of white students has dropped by 6,366 since 2000, even as overall enrollment has swelled by 34,552 students, according to figures provided by Sloan Roach, Gwinnett schools spokeswoman. The schools became "majority minority" in January 2004.
It's a threshold that Gwinnett and eventually the nation is expected to cross as well. Some white families will embrace those changes. Others won't, Bachtel said. "That big number of white folks leaving," he said, "I think that's a harbinger of things to come."
Bachtel reiterated the point Monday during a video presentation to the county commissioners, telling them to prepare for the trend to accelerate.
County Commissioner Lorraine Green pointed out that some of the drop in white student enrollment could be because of the growth of private schools in the county. But she does think Gwinnett officials should make it easier for longtime residents most of whom happen to be white to stay.
Providing more housing for empty-nesters, seniors and young singles would add stability, Green said. And she sees those options coming to western Gwinnett, the very spot that has experienced an exodus of longtime residents. Green wants to allow high-rise condos that could anchor walkable mixed-use projects in designated areas.
"That way, people do not have to leave Gwinnett County when they reach that next stage in life," Green said. "I don't think people have left because they say 'Oh my God, I don't love Gwinnett County anymore.' "
What do they call it when Latinos flee an area? Hispanic Panic?
It's an unfortunate occurance. But when the population begins to change like this, property values go down. Sad but true. Basically you have to get out before you loose everything you invested in your home. It happened to me in a very short time.
Those suburban counties are far more racist now than they ever were when they were (in the fevered imagination of liberals) home to nothing but active-duty KKK members.
Insofar as "better, safer" implies areas which tend to vote Republican (it does) and "racist" implies areas which tend to vote lockstep liberal/Democrat (it does), just look at the recent county-by-county voting patterns in the Atlanta metro area, and you'll see how far those suburban counties have devolved - while others, much farther out, are thriving.
Besides, if Whitey is the root of all evil, as the article wants us to believe, then White Flight should be a good thing for the affected areas, right? It sure was good for Detroit and dozens of other once-livable cities.
I lived in Snellville and then Duluth between '94 and '03, the changes were pretty drastic in that 10 years.
I don't think I've heard the term.."non Hispanic white" before...
I don't know Atlanta. How far out are these suburbs?
Say it isn't so, and if it is, pass a law and force them to stay.
"Run from the border" maybe?
Sorry to hear your story. The very opposite happened to me.
I moved into a neighborhood where hookers came to the door!
About 15-30 miles depending on the town.
I just bough a house in Gwinnet county in July. The differences here are more socio-economic and class related than race related. My Zip code, 30084 is the fast increasing average home price zip code in Georgia. My neighborhood has a number of Hispanic, Asian and blacks families. They are just lie everybody else. My wife and I took a walk yesterday and it seemed like the whole neighborhood was outside with their kids or working on their lawns. Good middle class people being neighborly and taking care of their property.
The next neighborhood over is also mixed race but it's seedy. The grocery store smells bad. Kids seem unattended. Day laborers stand on the corners and there are three liquor stores within two blocks but no bank.
So the colors are the same but the people are different. Sometimes it's not about race no matter what the Atlanta Journal Constitution says.
Stupid statement that he probably doesn't even believe himself. This forced-upon-America "diversity" IS causing chaos in our communities. I see it widespread in California towns.
If we had a government that actually enforced immigration laws, we wouldn't "need to learn to cope with these issues". Our government has failed us.
Sorry, but I don't consider "equal" Americans who have spent their lives following the law, paying taxes, contributing to their communities, to border hoppers who spit on our laws and devastate our infrastructure while we pay the bills and try to "cope" with the mess they bring to our lives.
Those good ol' boys better not trying "going home again"; they'd be in for quite a shock.
Nevertheless, what you say has alot of validity. People want to live in an area surrounded by people "like themselves."
Of course, knowing the area like I do, white folks would really look stupid if they start driving 40 miles to go to work just to get away from "those people."
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.