Explore | Richmond, Virginia
Explore Richmond and the surrounding areas by scrolling through the interactive maps and descriptions below.
We chose Richmond, Virginia primarily because of its history as the former capital of the Confederacy (and current capital of Virginia) and the ongoing debate over Confederate monuments. It is also, however, a majority minority city (nearly 50% of the population is black) with distinct patterns of segregation in both the city and suburbs, similar to those seen in many major U.S. cities. Some of Richmond’s inequities are evident in the unequal growth experienced by its residents. The city is “booming,” its population having increased nearly 10% to 225,000 between 2010 and 2016 (the Richmond metropolitan area has 1.2 million people). Concomitant gains in employment, business growth, and property value appear to have benefited certain groups of residents while leaving out others. Below, we discuss in greater depth the demographics, socioeconomics, and politics of Richmond and its surroundings.
Richmond is a racially segregated city. As one INCITE researcher summed it up: “If you’re white, go west.” To this description, we might also add north (e.g., Mechanicsville) and some of the city center, such as The Fan, located near Monument Avenue, home to the statues of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and other Confederate generals. The east side of the city and eastern suburbs are predominantly black. Within this predominantly black and white city are also two clusters of Latinos, one on the south side and another in the western suburbs, and a cluster of Asians in the western suburbs. Several neighborhoods both within the city and in the suburbs appear fairly mixed. The map below displays the geographic distribution of Richmond’s population by race.
Richmond’s rapid growth has shifted its geographic racial boundaries. For one, this growth has not been confined to the city: between 2000 and 2016, Henrico and Chesterfield counties (which immediately surround Richmond) grew from just over 520,000 people to over 650,000 people (a 25% increase). Much of this growth was due to an influx of minority populations, specifically black, Latino and Asian people (in descending order of growth size). During this period, the share of white population in these counties decreased from nearly 72% to approximately 59%. At the same time, Richmond’s population saw a decrease in its black population, dropping from nearly 57% to approximately 48%. Meanwhile, Richmond’s white population steadily increased over this period, adding just short of 12,000 people, and its Hispanic population more than doubled. Some of this white population has settled in central areas of Richmond that were once black (e.g., Church Hill), contributing to the gentrification of these areas.
Richmond is also a relatively younger city than its suburbs and the state of Virginia (see median age map below). The median age in Richmond (33.2) is nearly five years younger than that of Virginia (37.8). The reason for this is the over-representation of 18 to 34 year olds, perhaps due to the presence of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and the University of Richmond. Indeed, during our time in Richmond, we met many young transplants from out of state who originally came to attend VCU and then stayed because Richmond was cheaper than larger cities, had decent jobs, and possessed “hip” things to do (e.g., breweries, music venues, trendy restaurants serving nouveau Southern cuisine, and the like).
On the whole, median household income in Richmond (approximately $41,000 in 2016) is lower than that of the state of Virginia (approximately $66,000 in 2016), holding across all racial groups (see map 1 below for a sense of how Richmond’s average income compares to that of its suburbs). Major disparities exist between white and black residents: in 2016, the average white household in the city made nearly 144% of Richmond median household income, while the average black household made 47%. The poverty rate was 19% in 2016, compared with 8% in Virginia.
Despite being home to such highly regarded educational institutions as Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond, as well as to a handful of state museums (e.g., the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Virginia Historical Society and the Science Museum of Virginia, among others), Richmond’s educational attainment remains lower than that of its suburbs (see map 2 below). This is a pattern present in many American cities today, whereby poorly funded and poorly performing inner-city public schools are surrounded by more affluent and better-performing suburban public schools. While we were in Richmond, many white residents spoke to us about the dire state of Richmond’s public schools. Notably, few of these residents were sending their children to these schools, opting instead to live in the surrounding suburbs or to enroll their children in private school.
Despite Richmond’s lower socioeconomic standing compared with its suburbs and the state of Virginia, it is still the state capital and a regional business hub. As such, like many American cities, Richmond’s downtown is home to a variety of major companies, educational institutions, healthcare facilities, and state/federal employers. And like many economic hubs, Richmond’s employees often do not live within the city limits. Of the approximately 90,000 employed Richmond residents, over 56,000 commute to jobs outside of the city. Meanwhile, over 120,000 employees commute into Richmond from the surrounding suburbs. The result is that if you work in Richmond, there’s almost an 80% chance that you don’t live in Richmond.
As a majority minority city, Richmond is predictably a Democratic stronghold: in the 2016 general election, Clinton received nearly 80% of the vote. The surrounding counties, however, were more mixed: Henrico County was still solidly for Clinton (57%), but Chesterfield County went to Trump with 48% of the vote. As a whole, however, the Republican share of votes in these two counties has drastically decreased since 2000, when Bush received 55% of the vote in Henrico and 63% in Chesterfield. This decrease is likely due in part to the ongoing racial diversification of these two counties, discussed above. Both Virginia’s US Congressional districts and State House districts have been the subject of discussions about Republican gerrymandering. For example, until recently, US Congressional district three, represented by Democrat Donald McEachin, hopscotched its way from Richmond to Norfolk, including black city centers while excluding white, rural areas. Virginia’s State House districts were even the subject of a federal court case that concluded legislative districts were drawn in a way that discriminates against black populations by sequestering them into majority black districts. Richmond’s city government, however, is a center of black political power, with black people holding many of the key elected and appointed positions. Despite this, Richmond’s Confederate monuments may continue to stand far into the future. A recent poll by Christopher Newport University reported that 55% of Richmond area residents (and 50% of Richmond city residents) are opposed to removing the monuments. Due to its historical relevance as the capital of the Confederacy and its proximity to recent national events such as the Charlottesville, Virginia Unite the Right rally, Richmond could perhaps be called the center of the national debate on Confederate monuments.