Foon Rhee

Op Images: McKinley Park captures Sacramento’s diversity

Children spin on the carousel at McKinley Park’s playground last Sunday.
Children spin on the carousel at McKinley Park’s playground last Sunday. frhee@sacbee.com

To get a pleasant reminder of how diverse Sacramento truly is, just go by McKinley Park any weekend when it’s nice out.

You’ll see a melting pot among families having a cookout, young people playing basketball, children squealing on the playground, couples admiring the rose garden and park-goers just catching some rays.

It’s not just that Sacramento’s demographic mix is one of the most varied among major U.S. cities – 34 percent white, 27 percent Hispanic, 18 percent Asian, 15 percent black, and the rest other ethnicities or mixed race.

Just as importantly, that diversity is routinely displayed in where we play, work and live.

In fact, new studies say that Sacramento ranks second in overall ethnic diversity among cities with populations of more than 400,000 – and ranks as the most diverse in terms of ethnic groups being spread out geographically.

Six other California cities – Oakland, Long Beach, Fresno, San Jose, San Francisco and San Diego – are in the top 10 in residential integration. Other cities have diverse populations, but their neighborhoods are largely segregated. Chicago, for instance, ranks third in overall diversity, but drops to 38th in residential integration.

I’ve lived in other places that had diverse populations, but it didn’t take long to figure out that people lived in separate neighborhoods. In the South, it was a legacy of segregation. Hickory, N.C., where I had my first real reporting job, was divided into quadrants. One was mostly black, one was where poor white textile workers lived and another was home to affluent white mill owners.

When I worked in Charlotte, N.C., during the 1980s, most blacks lived on the west side – literally on the other side of the tracks. To accelerate integration, the city put “scattered site” public housing complexes in the middle of white neighborhoods. Black children at one complex felt so marooned that they called their home “Gilligan’s Island.”

In many cities, if you’re in the minority, it’s easy to feel as isolated at business functions or civic events, not to mention worship services. A lot of places don’t have a gathering place like McKinley Park.

When someone burned down the playground in July 2012, people from across the city rallied to rebuild it. The bigger and spiffier play area that rose from the ashes a year later was worth $1.5 million – and half of it came from donated cash and materials and the labor of 2,000 volunteers.

That outpouring showed that it’s much more than a neighborhood park for East Sacramento; it’s a symbol of diversity.

Of course, race relations could be better in Sacramento. It’s important for the Police Department to be more representative of the community. But if you’ve lived elsewhere – or just watch the news these days – you know it could also be a lot worse.

For me, just looking at the kids of many hues laughing and spinning on McKinley’s carousel, it gives hope for the future.

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