The Historical Context of Neighborhood Racial Diversity and Crime in Philadelphia, PA

AuthorJeaneé C. Miller
Published date01 November 2022
Date01 November 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2022, Vol. 38(4) 456 –474
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10439862221110998
The Historical Context
of Neighborhood Racial
Diversity and Crime in
Philadelphia, PA
Jeaneé C. Miller1
Social science theory and research have linked racial diversity to both positive and
negative outcomes for communities. Research has also demonstrated that the effects
of demographic indicators sometimes vary across space and time. This complex web
of results calls for examinations of the spatial and temporal elements at play in
this relationship. Using spatial lag models, I analyze the relationship between racial
diversity—both as a static measurement and as the 20-year change—and crime
in four distinct neighborhood clusters in Philadelphia, PA. I first find evidence of
spatial heterogeneity—that racial diversity predicts lower crime rates in one
community, but higher crime rates in another. Second, the change in racial diversity
influences crime in ways that differ from the static diversity measure. These results
provide support for both competing hypotheses regarding the racial diversity–
crime connection while also underscoring the role of spatiotemporal contexts in
illuminating the dynamism of neighborhood processes.
neighborhoods, crime, demography, racial diversity, Philadelphia
Social scientists have long examined the issue of racial heterogeneity or diversity and
its connection to crime in communities (Krivo et al., 2009; Kubrin, 2000; Putnam,
1University of Delaware, Newark, USA
*Jeaneé C. Miller is also affiliated to Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, Old Dominion
University, Norfolk, VA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Jeaneé C. Miller, Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, University of Delaware, Newark, DE
19716, USA.
1110998CCJXXX10.1177/10439862221110998Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeMiller
Miller 457
2007; Sampson & Groves, 1989; Shaw & McKay, 1942). This topic has become more
salient over time, as gradual changes in the country’s racial composition1 have
increased the likelihood of neighborhood racial diversity. Still, a large portion of
America’s neighborhoods remains racially segregated (Logan & Stults, 2011). As a
result, research on both residential segregation and diversity has proliferated. Early
research on neighborhood racial diversity found that increased diversity was linked to
elevated crime rates (Lander, 1954; Sellin, 1938; Shaw & McKay, 1942). Prominent
theories in this area explained this connection as evidence that residents of racially
diverse communities struggle to coexist in harmony. However, more recent research
on neighborhood racial diversity has produced mixed results (Hipp, 2007; Miethe &
McDowall, 1993; Walsh & Taylor, 2007a; B. D. Warner & Pierce, 1993). This is com-
plicated by the fact that scholars have identified diversity or integration as a remedy to
residential segregation, which has been shown to be harmful for communities (Massey
& Denton, 1993).
The Consequences of Residential Segregation
Massey and Denton’s American Apartheid (1993) and Peterson and Krivo’s Divergent
Social Worlds (2010) are landmark works that established the role of residential segre-
gation in exacerbating social inequality in American society. Although these books
were not the first to highlight the effects of segregation (see, for example, DuBois,
1899, 1903; National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968), they argued that
neighborhood racial composition is a primary factor that influences outcomes in
America’s neighborhoods. Within this vein of research, scholars have established that
minority, especially predominantly Black, neighborhoods are often isolated and are
susceptible to suffering from concentrated disadvantage. The individuals who live in
isolated minority neighborhoods are often shown to experience decreased educational
attainment, limited access to employment, and greater reliance on public assistance
(Krivo et al., 2009; Massey & Denton, 1988). In addition, these neighborhoods have
been found to frequently experience decreased property values, limited access to com-
mercial goods, inferior educational institutions, increased levels of crime, inadequate
collective organization, and insufficient access to healthy foods (Charles, 2003; Galster
& Hill, 1992; Krivo et al., 2009; Kwate, 2008; Massey & Denton, 1993).
Competing Perspectives on Diversity
Given the evidence that establishes the ills of residential segregation, scholars and
policymakers have sought an appropriate solution. In many cases, these experts have
suggested that the most promising response to inequality due to segregation is residen-
tial integration or increased racial diversity (Denton, 2010; Galster, 1992). That said,
research has not definitively established that neighborhood diversity produces positive
outcomes, on average (Oliver, 2010).
Throughout the past several decades, there has been an ongoing debate as to the
merits and drawbacks of neighborhood racial diversity. This debate is multifaceted,

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