MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., May 23, 2016 – In a recent report NBC News quotes a study by Wallet Hub that rated American cities according to their diversity. To no surprise to those of us that live in the area, Gaithersburg, Montgomery County, Maryland, was found to be the most diverse city in the country. The same report found that two other cities in Montgomery County, Silver Spring and Germantown were also in the top 10 in diversity. The report goes on to say that this is in fact a very positive finding for the city and the county where it is located.’
Counties that surround Washington, D.C., are among the richest counties in the U.S. based on average income. Six of the top 10 counties are located around the D.C. area. Montgomery County was the richest or one of the richest counties in the U.S. until a couple of decades ago. Today it is No. 10, with about $20,000 lower in average income ($97,873) than the top two, Loudoun and Fairfax counties in Virginia.
What would be the reasons that make a county more diverse?
In the case of Montgomery County, it may be because being a mostly liberal/progressive county it provides better governmental and private services than others. This, of course, means that taxes are usually higher. This also means that the balance between higher taxes and better services is rather precarious. Fortunately, the government in the county and private non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been able to provide services for the population regardless of the drop in average income and real-estate price decrease or stagnation.
It is difficult to determine cause and effect in determining correlation between diversity and wealth. It seems that it is a chain reaction; as a county becomes more diverse, more diverse people move into it because the costs are lower and they may find a friendlier environment. On the other hand, as people become more affluent, they may want to move elsewhere, or do they?
It is up to the county government to walk this thin line and continue providing the environment that people want. So far, the Montgomery County population keeps increasing. The graphic below shows the 2015 statistics v. the projected 2025 population. This graphic is from Montgomery College. Notice that the Hispanic, black and Asian populations are almost equal.
Table 1 — Population by ethnicity in Montgomery County
Visiting the downtown part of Gaithersburg is like being in a (especially clean and prosperous) city in Latin America. There is an ebullience in the movement of people and their energy. Everywhere there are small businesses with welcoming signs in English and Spanish. Don’t go there expecting to see senators or high-rollers. It is a place to have a good meal and immerse yourself in Latin ethnicity.
In the same area you will find a typical 1960s planned community, Montgomery Village, a city of 40,000 residents, and The Kentlands, a 2000s planned community. The latter has been showcased as the perfect mix of an old town and an efficient 21st century community.
This area of Northern Montgomery County also includes a very vibrant bio-technology corridor and several federal government departments and agencies.
Throughout Montgomery County you will also find ethnic grocery stores and restaurants of all flavors and prices. For example, you can eat the best Vietnamese pho at Pho Nam and the best fast Mexican food hole-in-the-wall at the Taco Bar.
Surprisingly, you will pay less than for a meal in a fast food restaurant. There is even a fast food Colombian restaurant in Montgomery Village, El Perro Loco (the Crazy Dog), where you can get a hot dog with salsa rosada (pink sauce, a mixture of catsup and mayo), potato chips, cheese and quail egg. Delicious.
Don’t worry, Montgomery County also has all your box stores and other ubiquitous facilities seen in the rest of the country.
So having the choice between higher real estate costs and diversity, it chose diversity.
Mario Salazar, the 21st century pacifist, has lived in Montgomery Village, Maryland, since 1976. He loves the diversity of the area and would not live anywhere else. He is in Twitter (@chibcharus), Google+, LindedIn and Facebook (Mario Salazar).