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Staff File Photo / The Wild Ridge subdivision rises on Signal Mountain in 2015.

The census tract bounded by the Tennessee River on the north, East Main Street on the south, King and Lindsay streets on the west and Central Avenue on the east is the densest in Hamilton County, according to information released last week by the Census Bureau.

That area not only contains the students dorms at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga but many apartments that have been renovated or constructed for new student housing.

With a land area of but 1.1 square miles, the tract has a population of 5,415, or about 5,013 people per square mile. Its population is 73.6% white, 13.4% Black and 7.5% Hispanic.

Fifty years ago, before the growth of student housing at UTC, the census tract was largely Black.

Student housing and downtown gentrification have changed that.

Two census tracts in East Chattanooga, north of Third Street, east of Amnicola Highway and west of Missionary Ridge, now have the highest concentration of Black residents in Hamilton County. The northernmost of the two, census tract 122, has 87.6% Blacks, and the southernmost of the two, census tract 4, has 83.7% Blacks.

Both are tightly packed, too, with tract 4 having a population of 2,309 people per square mile.

The third highest concentration of Black residents (82.1%) is in Alton Park. Compared to the more crowded East Chattanooga tract, the Alton Park tract has a population of 4,329 and about 1,312 residents per square mile.

The fourth and fifth most populous Black census tracts in the county are in the North Brainerd/Bonny Oaks Drive area (76.8%) and in Eastdale (75%). However, the Eastdale tract is more dense with 2,111 people per square mile, while the North Brainerd/Bonny Oaks Drive tract has only 736 per square mile.

(READ MORE: Tennessee census: Major changes likely in 3rd, 4th congressional districts' lines due to massive Nashville-area growth)

East of Alton Park, the five census tracts in Hamilton County with the most members with Hispanic origin are contiguous. Three of them lie on either side of Rossville Boulevard and extend to the Georgia border on the south, and the two on the east border Missionary Ridge on their east. The fourth lies between Main Street and Interstate 24, and the fifth takes as its borders McCallie Avenue on the north, Willow Street on the west, Main Street on the south and Missionary Ridge on the east.

The Hispanic population does not compose a majority in any of the census tracts in Hamilton County, but the one between Main Street and the interstate comes the closest with 49.7%. Next is the one which borders Georgia on the south and east of Rossville Boulevard with 46.2%.

All five tracts are densely populated, ranging from 4,148 people per square mile, the second highest in the county to the UTC tract, to 909 per square mile.

According to U.S. statistics, many of the minority census tracts are among the highest in the county for households receiving help from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps). In both the Black and Hispanic tracts, they range up to nearly 46% of households.

While much has been made of the disproportionate number of minority individuals who have suffered from the COVID-19 virus, maps from the Hamilton County Health Department do not show that to be the case in the county.

In cumulative totals of COVID cases, the East Chattanooga census tracts with highly concentrated areas of Black residents have slightly elevated numbers. But in current cases, the census tracts in which both Blacks and Hipanics are highly concentrated are among the areas of the county where the numbers are lowest.

(READ MORE: Collegedale grows the fastest among area cities, new census shows)

The county census tracts with the highest percentage of white residents are in North Hamilton County and on Lookout and Signal mountains.

A Lookout Mountain tract, with 94.6% white people, tops the county, followed by a tract on Signal Mountain (93.9%), two in the north end of Hamilton County (93.6% each) and one encompassing part of Soddy-Daisy and part of Mowbray Mountain (92.7%).

One difference between one of the North Hamilton County census tracts and most of the ones where minority residents are concentrated is the lack of density. Census tract 102.02, which borders Rhea County on the north, has 4,674 people but only 124 people per square mile.

On the county health department's ZIP Code heat chart of active COVID-19 cases, much of the Soddy-Daisy area is in the next to highest range, but the northernmost — and very rural — areas of the county bordering Bledsoe, Rhea, Meigs and Bradley counties have among the fewest cases (along with the aforementioned highly concentrated minority areas) and the rural extreme southeastern tip of the county.

For Hamilton County, the decennial census has revealed a more diverse populace, a population center in Chattanooga which has been changed over several decades by UTC, by gentrification and by the upward mobility of some of its former downtown residents, but, stubbornly, one where minorities often still remain concentrated and in need of assistance in small areas.

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