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Rainier Valley: One Of America's Most Diverse Neighborhoods

This article is written by Anna Johansson.

East of Beacon Hill lays the neighborhood of Rainier Valley. This neighborhood of 40,791 has been getting a lot of attention because the Census Bureau proclaimed it the most diverse neighborhood in the country in 2010. This claim was made because only a quarter of Rainier Valley's population is white, while the rest of the neighborhood is made up of Hispanic, African-American, and Asian residents for the most part. The Somali population is also growing very quickly in the area, according to the Census Bureau.

Why Is Rainier Valley So Diverse?

Populations of any area are rarely static and unchanging and the same can be said for Rainier Valley. In the 1940, 97% of the neighborhood's population was white and twenty years later in 1960, roughly 85% of the area was still white, with the biggest population increase having been in the area's Asian community. However, the 1960s were a time in which various factors contributed to a large shift in the area's diversity.

In 1965 the government passed an Immigration and Nationality Act that altered the way that hopeful immigrants were classified when attempting to gain entrance into the country. Instead of being approved or denied based on how desirable an immigrant's country of origin was (which was heavily biased towards white Europeans), immigrants were to be judged on the basis of their skills and relationships to current American citizens. This change in policy led to a significant rise in the amount of immigrants coming into the Seattle area, with a particularly large increase in the number of immigrants coming to the city from Asian countries.

The closure of many low-income properties in the more central areas of Seattle, a part of 'urban renewal' schemes, one of the most famous of which was coined in 1993 by Mayor Norm Rice, also led to many minorities choosing to move to the Rainier Valley area. Additionally, the Somali civil that began in 1991 augmented the interurban migration and created a large Somali diaspora.

A Unique Type Of Balance

Though the diversity of the Rainier Valley area may seem like its most notable trait, there are other factors that also contribute to making the climate of the area different from that of the average neighborhood in the nation. These factors make the neighborhood appear to be much more egalitarian (at least on a statistical level) than other areas in the country appear to be. Some may assert that this is due to the diversity of the area, while others may argue that these anomalies are just a result of the area's unique history and resulting fulgurations in its population.

For example, the area's white and black populations have the same average income instead of the disparity seen in national averages. Also, the area's racial population is evenly distributed on most blocks instead of having pockets with high concentrations of each population in different areas, as is the case in many diverse areas. Though there are some instances of the aforementioned pocketing, they are the exception rather than the rule.

Is Rainier Valley Special?

Despite the claim made by the Census Bureau, it is important to note that there is some dispute over whether or not Rainier Valley can be considered the most diverse neighborhood in the country. Other areas may have close or similar rates of diversity and some statisticians do not agree with the Census Bureau's methodology that led to the 'most diverse' conclusion. Many, like John Hoole who authored the diversity myth study are quick to point out that, though very diverse, the neighborhood has clearly divided populations densely cluster in the same few block area.

However, even if Rainier Valley isn't the 'most' diverse place in the nation, it is certainly a very diverse one with many factors that make it a unique location on the national landscape.