Segregation and Urban Mobility

A major expression of social inequality is residential segregation, for example when people of different class backgrounds live in different neighborhoods.  Racial segregation is another feature of inequality in American neighborhoods.  Do these differences align with how people move about and engage with different areas of the city? What is the relationship between residential social isolation and contact well beyond the confines of where one lives?  While researchers have identified consistent patterns in everyday urban mobility, few have systematically examined whether that consistency transcends economic and racial differences. Everyday mobility in the 50 U.S. largest cities is estimated by analyzing over 650 million geo-tagged micro-messages from Twitter collected over an 18-month period.


The analysis covers three aspects of urban mobility: distances, spread, and composition.  As shown below, there is similarity in the distribution of radii of everyday mobility spaces across the 50 cities and in the number of different block groups visited by residents of poor and non-poor neighborhoods.  The average radii of mobility are also similar for residents of poor and non-poor neighborhoods, with the former being only marginally shorter than the latter.  However, those living in poor black neighborhoods are more isolated from exposure to nonpoor neighborhoods in their everyday travel than are residents from poor white neighborhoods, reinforcing patterns of racial and economic segregation in American cities.



Wang, Ryan Qi, Mario Small, and Robert J. Sampson.  2016.  Segregation in Neighborhood Exposure from the Perspective of Urban Mobility.  Boston Area Research Initiative, Working Paper. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.  For more details, contact