Census data notes racial shifts in Chattanooga neighborhoods

photo Southside Chattanooga in the 37408 ZIP code has been designated as one of the fastest gentrifying ZIP codes in the United States over a 10-year period according to the 2010 census.

Census data notes neighborhood racial shiftsChanging districtsYear // Population // Black // White374082000 // 1,935 // 1,640 // 1642010 // 1,486 // 676 // 671374032000 // 3,846 // 1,979 // 1,6762010 // 5,811 // 1,751 // 3,841Source: U.S. Census BureauTOP 20Location ZipChattanooga 37408Austin, Texas 78702Brooklyn, N.Y. 11205Brooklyn, N.Y. 11206Oklahoma City 73104Washington, D.C. 20001Atlanta 30317Denver 80205Charleston, S.C. 29492Washington, D.C. 20010Tampa, Fla. 33602St. Paul, Minn. 55101Chattanooga 37403Brooklyn, N.Y. 11238Washington, D.C. 20005St. Louis, Mo. 63101San Diego 92113Houston 77003Philadelphia 19123Portland, Ore. 97227Source: Michael J. Petrilli, executive vice president, Thomas Fordham Institute

The long push to attract more middle-class people to live downtown is paying off on the Southside, a new study shows.

The neighborhood and surrounding area in the 37408 ZIP code has the fastest rate of "gentrification" -- basically, white people moving into poor city neighborhoods -- in the nation, according to the study by the Thomas Fordham Institute's Michael Petrilli, though some in Chattanooga question his figures.

Using figures from the 2000 and 2010 censuses, Petrilli calculated the 50 urban areas that had the greatest shifts in black and white populations in the nation by ZIP code.

No. 1 was 37408, which marches east from Market Street, ducks south of the National Cemetery, zigzags around Montague Park and scoops up Howard School and part of Broad Street.

No. 13 on the list was another Chattanooga area. The 37403 ZIP code takes in downtown from the Market Street Bridge to Wilcox Boulevard and sags down to meets 37408 on the south.

Petrilli cited census figures showing that between 2000 and 2010, nearly 1,000 African-American residents left the 37408 ZIP code while more than 500 whites moved in. Meanwhile, the overall population shrank by almost 500 people.

Some people who live and work in that area struggled with those figures on Friday.

"I don't know where the displacement has gone of African-American families. I don't know how you lose that many people," said Ken Hays, with Kinsey, Probasco and Hays, a development firm.

The firm worked on the Craftworks Restaurants and Breweries headquarters that brought more than 100 employees to Main Street this year. Hays lives in the Fort Negley neighborhood, one of three just south of Main Street that have been the target of intensive planning and development for years.

"My neighborhood is still majority African-American," he said.

Petrilli can't explain it either.

"The ZIP codes that have seen a big influx of white residents and a big decrease in population are somewhat perplexing, but perhaps these are neighborhoods where big public housing complexes were torn down and replaced by upscale apartments or condos. Maybe that's what explains Chattanooga's 37408," he wrote in the study.

About 500 people were forced out when the Chattanooga Housing Authority tore down the dilapidated Maurice Poss Homes in 2005, but that doesn't account for all the discrepancy.

And it's not clear which ZIP code maps Petrilli used for his calculations. Two can be found online, one that includes the Westside and one that doesn't. If the Westside's mostly black population was included in the 2000 count but not in the 2010 count, the numbers would be off.

Petrilli said in an email Friday that ZIP code boundaries might have changed, but U.S. Postal Service spokesman David Walton said that's rare. He also couldn't find a definitive postal service ZIP code map Friday to try to solve the puzzle.

Most of the white influx in the area is in those neighborhoods south of Main Street -- Cowart Place, Fort Negley and Jefferson Heights.

Sarah Morgan, with the Lyndhurst Foundation, said Friday that years of community consultations, planning and carefully targeted spending have gone into developing family friendly neighborhoods there.

"Gentrification is an emotionally charged word," Morgan said.

"If gentrification is about restoring those homes and getting enough confidence in the market that this is a good neighborhood, bringing those houses back to life with people living in them, that's not a bad thing, that's a good thing."

She said there was a "very methodical campaign" to reintroduce housing in the neighborhoods that could help support businesses on Main Street.

The Southside is one of the few in-town urban neighborhoods where all of those things are coming together," Morgan said. "The people who are moving in do not want a homogenous experience. They are moving in because they want diversity and they want an urban lifestyle."

That's what brought her family to Jefferson Heights, Katie Smith said Friday.

"Some people see [gentrification] as a good thing, some people see it as a bad thing," Smith said, cradling her 4-month-old daughter, Claire.

She and her husband, Paul, had owned a house at 19th and Adams streets before Jefferson Heights even got started.

"When we lived over there this area was duplexes and they ran drugs out of it," she said.

They've lived in Jefferson Heights for three years, long enough to see new houses spring up all around them, all filled with families.

"From last July until I had her in February, there were eight babies born here," she said.

All the kids will go to Battle Academy, a few blocks away at Main and Market. The elementary magnet school was built in part to help integrate downtown neighborhood and to encourage people to work and live downtown.

"It's going to be crazy fun for all for them growing up here," Smith.

She said most of her neighbors are white but there are some longtime black residents and a few Hispanic families as well.

The kids play together in the park, the grownups work side by side in the community garden and they pitch in together for block parties.

"It's a front-porch neighborhood. We see our neighbors. People don't just hide in their houses."

Across a common that holds a playground, pavilion and community garden, Nancy Naagi stands on the porch of her yellow house watching her older boys play and holding 6-month-old Jonah.

Naagi's neighbors raised money in a Main X 24 Southside block party to help the Sudanese refugee family get a Habitat for Humanity home on the street.

Her English is tentative and fractured, but her smile is unmistakably genuine.

"Everything's good. I love very much," she said of her neighbors in Jefferson Heights.

A few blocks away in Fort Negley, LaDonald Bryant, 71, welcomes the changes that have come with the injection of public and private money for homes in the neighborhood and for retail businesses, shops and restaurants up a couple of blocks on Main Street.

The retired maintenance worker, who raised three sons in the home he's lived in for more than 50 years, said he used to have to chase the crack addicts off the streets.

There's been a "rejuvenation" since Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise and other entities began buying, rehabbing and building houses and new people moved in, Bryant said. He's not bothered that a lot of them are white.

"There were white people over here before black people anyway," Bryant said. "I don't see what different it makes -- you're either going to take care of your property or you're not."

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