Eight Mile, epitomized by Eminem in the film of the same name, is a street in Detroit that marks the boundary between the majority white northern suburbs and the majority black neighborhoods closer to the inner city.
But what causes this segregation in the first place?
Hypothesis 1: The Central Planner
In Detroit’s case, as with many cities across the USA, it was, in part, due to the zoning of the city by the federal Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, which zoned the city into areas of risk, meaning that banks were indirectly encouraged to develop outer suburbs while not offering mortgages to inner city properties. This lead to wealthier, generally white, residents moving to the suburbs.
Indeed, physical barriers, such at the Detroit Wall, also known as the Eight Mile Wall, were built to separate majority black and majority white neighborhoods.
The legacy of these zones live on today, as seen in the map below from the 2010 US Census. The dividing line between the green (black) areas and the blue (white) areas is Eight Mile Road.
So, segregation exists, and is caused by a central actor. But is there an alternative explanation?
Alternative Hypothesis: Emergence
In 1971, Thomas Schelling set out to model the phenomenon, not by assuming a central planner, but by modelling the interactions of individuals.
Thomas Schelling’s model was this. Assume individuals are placed in a grid, similar to being located on a chess board. Allow individuals who are in a local minority to move. In the example below, the blue circle is in a minority (with 5 out of its 6 neighbors being a different color), and according to the rules of the model, is unhappy. It could decide to move to the vacant square to the north-west, but it would still be in a local minority (with 4 out of 6 neighbors being a different color) and would remain unhappy. So instead, it chooses the space to the south west where 3 out of its 6 neighbors are of the same color, and not being in a minority, it settles there.
Schelling, perhaps without knowing it, introduced agent-based modelling, where, instead of modelling the system as a whole, the modelling of individual agents enables us to see the emergence of macro-level properties, in this case segregation, via the modelling of micro-level (local) interactions.
We can see the effect of micro-level interactions causing macro-level segregation in the model below (developed by Duncan Robertson after Wilensky after Schelling). Each individual, or agent, decides whether they are unhappy or happy; if they are unhappy, they search until they find a vacant location where they will become happy. This continues until all individuals attain happiness.
So, perhaps segregation is not imposed, but is down to us. Or maybe, in reality, it’s a little bit of both.
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