The Geography of the Higley 1000
The concept of “neighborhood” in America is to say the least, amorphous. Realtors are notorious at “stretching” ill-defined neighborhood boundaries of wealthy places in the interest of generating higher prices through a halo effect.
Mapping companies vary from identifying virtually every sub-division (ADC Maps) to the grudging vagueness of a few well known neighborhoods (eg. Thomas Brothers Guides, Rand McNally). Google Maps, my main source for updating the Higley 1000 for 2010, has done an excellent job of adding neighborhoods in recent years. Still, there are many areas that are difficult to name as a “neighborhood”. I have used a variety of resources in trying to identify individual neighborhoods including extensive use of the internet. Although I may not have identified every single neighborhood at this point, I think any fair observer will find that my sample is impressive and further refinement will do little to alter the basic statistics.
The basic building blocks of all of the statistics on this website are Census Tracts and Block Groups. A typical tract has about 2,000 households which are then subdivided into Block Groups (ideally about 500 households). The Census originally drew the Tracts and Block Groups to be socio-economically homogeneous. In 2010, I ended up using population counts for racial data instead of households. This was militated by changes in the way census data is reported. The data for 2010 Higley 1000 was culled from www.usa.com.
The Methodology of the 2010 Higley 1000 started with downloading every Block Group in the United States with an Mean Household Income of over $200,000. There are 3,070 Block Groups in this category (out of a total of 216,279 in the country). I built the neighborhoods by looking at contiguous block groups with income over $200,000. All incorporated or unincorporated places with a mean household income of over $240,000 are on the list. Smaller places (with over 400 residents) were added to the list geographically intact. Larger places, such as central cities or large affluent suburbs (such as Bethesda or Lake Forest) were broken up into neighborhoods. Some places that are large defy breaking up into neighborhoods due to the nature of their development. Great Falls, Virginia is an example of a relatively large suburb that was added intact. Great Falls has myriads of small subdivisions with 10-15 homes and the names mean little in the greater scheme of things. My choices were guided by each place’s unique geography. When I wasn’t sure of just what the locals called a block group or neighborhood, I used geographic identifiers: country clubs, parks, water features, or cardinal directions (e.g. Northwest Minnetonka). In the special case of Manhattan (New York County), the neighborhoods such as Sutton Place or the Upper East Side were determined by the contiguous Block Groups with mean household incomes over $200,000.
The Census Bureau first used tracts in selected urban neighborhoods in the 1940 Census. The system of Census Tracts gradually expanded over the decades until it covered the entire country by the 2000 Census. The point of the system was to maintain geographic boundaries from decade to decade to allow researchers to compare socio-economic changes over times within set boundaries. At the same time the system had to be supple enough to accommodate growth (particularly on the ever expanding suburban fringe). For the most part, the boundaries appear to be well drawn.
Mean Household Income
The mean household income statistics will immediately strike the viewer of this web-site as being incredibly modest considering the pricey real estate they must support. This is because of the way the Census collected income data in 2000. The one in six households that received a “long form” were limited to six income categories in which they could not claim more than $999,999 income in each category. The two categories “Wages” and “Investment Income” would account for the bulk of the income reported by households in the Higley 1000 effectively capping reported income at approximately $2 million dollars. The other categories such as “Social Security” or “Government Assistance” hardly apply to the Higley 1000!
The bottom line of this discussion is that Mean Household Income should have a big asterisk next to it as being representative, not necessarily absolute.
Another complicating factor is the Servant issue. If live-in household servants have their own kitchen and bathroom facilities, they are counted as a “household”. This would account for some of the lower incomes found in almost every tract and block group. This also would account for some of the minority households found in the Higley 1000. It is possible to tease out household income by race at the Block Group level to determine just how much the “staff” factors affects Higley 1000 neighborhoods.
Although neighborhood and mean income may be an inexact science, the Census does collect racial data in a perfect count (theoretically!). Every one is counted and cataloged by race. In the interest of simplicity, I have used the four categories of Non-Hispanic White, Asian, Hispanic, and Black. Hispanics can be of any race and include Cubans, Mexicans, and all other Latin-Americans. “Asians” include everything from the most common Asian ethnic group, Chinese to the less common Hmong. Not satisfactory, but racial sub-categories are not available at the Block Group level.
During the course of my research over 3,000 neighborhoods and places, I was struck by the low mean household incomes in affluent retirement communities. Plush places from Hilton Head to Palm Springs failed to have a high enough mean household income to make the Higley 1000.
In 2010, the paucity of retirement places in the Higley 1000 has lifted a bit. Evidently, wealthy people are taking up residence in many communities that formerly were left to the seasonal help. Huge increases in mean household income were found in places as diverse as Southampton, NY and Kiawah Island, South Carolina.
Apartments & Condominiums
Nothing lowers mean household income of a Block Group faster than the presence of rental apartments. Surprisingly, condominiums also appear to cause a dramatic decline in mean household income. Could it be that when considering condominiums, there is also a retirement factor influencing income?
Higley Designated Places
I have included a relatively small number of neighborhoods that I am personally acquainted with and feel comfortable estimating their income. As household and race statistics are broken down on a block by block basis by the Census, the racial make-up of these places is accurate.
I will not enumerate Higley Designated Places for the 2010 Census