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Atlanta's diversity is cause for envy 

Sure, we still have work to do. But let's celebrate our city's record-setting integration.

You might have heard the news about the great strides the country — and Atlanta in particular — has made when it comes to stirring the melting pot. According to recently released census data, three-quarters of the 100 largest U.S. cities have seen segregation rates fall over a five-year period. Many cities are now more integrated than they've been in a century. And Atlanta is among the most noteworthy examples of places where middle-class blacks and whites increasingly live next door.

Does that mean people from different racial backgrounds have become more curious and accepting of each other, that their lives intersect in more meaningful ways, that they're more willing to expand their comfort zones and abandon tired stereotypes? The numbers, of course, don't say.

But they do speak of other, indisputable truths.

At the turn of the millennium, there was an invisible line, roughly drawn along I-20, that separated two Atlantas: to the north, mostly white, to the south, mostly black. The ensuing migration in both directions, coupled with the influx of outsiders from a wide variety of backgrounds, has greatly blurred that line. There are now three census tracts in the core of Atlanta where no single race composes 50 percent of the population — an unprecedented level of integration.

While some of this metamorphosis can be attributed to middle-class whites filtering into low-income, minority neighborhoods (in a word, gentrification), Atlanta has seen middle class blacks move in, too. And while the line must continue to be blurred, preferably until there's no physical barrier separating the races at all, the advancements the city has made — wittingly or not — will help move Atlanta in the right direction, perhaps becoming the example of post-racial equality to which other cities look for inspiration.

The growing reach of Atlanta's black middle class gives us an important edge compared to those places where blacks and white mingle predominantly in the midstages of gentrification. Often, that process ends with the two groups being cast as far away from each other as ever — physically and culturally.

But in Atlanta, even in gentrified Atlanta, integration is more and more evident on your block, in your classroom, in your workplace, in your church, at your neighborhood bar, and everywhere in between. Yes, we have a ways to go, and not just between blacks and whites. The city has work to do when it comes to integrating Hispanics, upper- and lower-middle classes, even politics.

For the moment, though, we should be proud of the progress we've made — and excited about the possibilities for Atlanta's future.

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