Kate O’ Brien and Jessica Nelson
The Desirability of the Suburb Orange
American suburbs have long been thought as more desirable than cities. They can offer better schools, less crime, more affordable home prices, and simply more space. Orange, Connecticut is an example of one such space. However is Orange desirable beyond its identity as a suburb? In short, is Orange a desirable suburb compared to other suburbs?
Orange is located just West of New Haven and covers 17.6 square miles of Connecticut. At a population of just 13,956 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015), it’s significantly smaller than the city of New Haven and the other surrounding suburbs. The houses have spacious lawns, there’s a restaurant boasting the “best pancakes in Connecticut,” and the school system is wealthy enough to return a surplus to the town (Thiel, 2015). Overall, we have determined the suburb of Orange to be a relatively desirable place to live for the average middle class family.
Orange, Connecticut is a homogenous place. White residents make up 89% of the population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015) and 96.2% of the population is above the poverty line (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015). Though the population is only about 10% nonwhite, the town is actually more diverse than it has been in years past. As illustrated on the right-side map below, Orange was about 97% white in 1990 (Social Explorer, Total Population, 2016). The suburb has been diversifying slowly over the past few decades, yet it still has the archetypical white and wealthy composition that is often attributed to suburban areas.
(Social Explorer, Total Population, 2016)
For white middle class families, these demographics are attractive. In Micromotives and Macrobehavior, Thomas Schelling explains the tendency for white people to live around mostly white people (Schelling, 2006). According to Schelling, white Americans have a limited tolerance for living around those of the opposite race, and will move to a place where the majority of neighbors will be the same race as them (Schelling, 2006). This bodes well for a majority white area such as Orange. White families will be drawn to a suburb where they will be able to comfortably live around people who are like them.
Although comfort through similarity is a draw for white families, difference may not necessarily be a deterrent for minority families. If minority families are middle class, they sometimes choose to forgo racial diversity for a neighborhood that has other positive attributes. For example Geri Delgato says that him and his wife chose a neighborhood because “‘the home is nicer and the area is nicer and the school is better [than more racially diverse areas]’” (Wells, 2009). Despite having previously lived in diverse areas, and being minorities themselves, the Delgatos are not concerned with actively searching out a diverse area if it means sending their daughter to poor schools and living in an area with less opportunities (Wells, 2009). The same can be said for minorities living in Orange; the mostly white environment is not a concern due to the other things the community can offer.
With a median household income of $105,190 and only 3.4% of residents below the poverty line, Orange is a wealthy place (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015). Compared to the suburbs and cities around Orange in the greater New Haven area, Orange is still relatively wealthy. The map below shows Orange’s median income compared to the surrounding areas. The cobalt blue areas which represent the highest brackets of median income are located within Orange itself, while purple and red shaded areas that represent lower income levels span out from Orange.
(Social Explorer, Median Income, 2016)
The relative economic wealth of Orange suggests its relative resource wealth. If they could afford it, families would choose to move to Orange because its wealth means that it can offer well funded schools, high quality shopping centers, and homes that will retain their value.
Orange’s housing is at the same time a desirable feature for some and a barrier to entry for others. The median home value is $387,800 and the median cost to rent is $1,716 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015). The most expensive home for sale in Orange at the moment is 5,018 square feet with 4 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms (Zillow, 2016). The least expensive home for sale is currently a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom, 1,238 square foot house listed at $199,500 (Zillow, 2016). The houses are shown below with the most expensive on the left.
There are limited apartments available in that are actually in Orange proper. On ForRent.com, only one 2 bedroom apartment was listed that was $1,965 (ForRent.com, 2016). Earlier this month, the town zoning committee denied a mixed use development that would provide 119 new apartments (Nicefaro, 2016). The committee reasoned that the development, which was slated to be four stories tall would take away the small town feel of the area (Nicefaro, 2016).
The residencies in Orange are thus almost entirely composed of houses and neighborhoods. In fact 88% of the housing is owner-occupied (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015). A certain sense of community is developed in an area where almost everyone lives in a house. There is the idea that children can play in yards and go trick or treating safely. Parents can be a part of neighborhood associates and have block parties and barbeques. For middle class families, the possibility of home ownership and the community that forms around such an environment is a benefit of living in Orange and increases the neighborhood’s desirability.
Orange has five public schools: one kindergarten and preschool, three elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. The national review and acclamation for these schools combined with the local parent commendation of them makes the suburb of Orange desirable to parents. Greatschools.org, the leading national source of school information for parents, with coverage of 70% of the country’s schools rated all of these schools with a 9/10 and 4 stars (Greatschools.org, 2014). On the anonymous online forum at Greatschools.org, it seems that Orange school parents only have praise for their suburb’s schools. Several elementary school parents claim that the teachers are amazing and “academics are excellent, the Music and Sports activities are phenomenal” and middle school parents applauded the teachers and their dedication to their students. As Jennifer Jellison Holme highlighted in her paper, “Buying Homes, Buying Schools: School Choice and the Social Construction of School Quality,” most information employed by middle class families to make their school choice was acquired through their social network (Holme, 2002). Therefore these positive school reviews by parents will be instrumental in helping other families of the same social network choose where to send their children to school.
In his 1985 book “Crabgrass Frontier,” Kenneth Jackson highlights the importance of the school system in drawing families into suburbs as he states: “Millions of families moved out of the city ‘for the kids’ and especially for the educational and social superiority of smaller and more homogenous suburban school systems,” (Jackson, 1985). The racial and socioeconomic demographics of the town of Orange are reflected within its school district in that they are homogenous and wealthy. In 2013, 79.42% of the public school population was made up of white students and 5.91% of Orange public school students are enrolled in Free or Reduced Lunches (US Department of Education, 2013). It is worth noting that the Orange School District is becoming more racially and socioeconomically diverse, but at an extremely slow rate. Between 2008 and 2013 the number of minority students attending Orange public schools increased by only 2.73% and the number of students enrolled in the Free and Reduced Lunches increased by less than 3.50% (US Department of Education, 2013). According to Jackson, these two features homogeneity and wealth make Orange a desirable suburb to families moving “for the kids.”
The academic success of Orange’s schools makes this suburb incredibly desirable. In 2014, Amity High School was ranked 112th amongst public high schools nationally with 92.67% of students achieving a college readiness score and 79.6% of graduates going into college (Newsweek, 2014). This was the highest ranking in the state of Connecticut (Turmelle, 2014). In the 2013-2014 school year, there was a 96.2% graduation rate from the high schools in Orange. The average high school graduation rate in Connecticut for the same year was 87%. It is worth noting that the high school graduation rate in Orange has risen by 2.4% over the past three years (Connecticut Data Collaborative, 2014).
Amity Middle and High School are also desirable schools as a result of their facilities, their ethics and their specialized programs. Amity High School is pictured center below and Amity Middle School is pictured on the right and on the left. These bright and open spaces are not always common in school spaces.
Amity has worked to modernize its schools through new special programs and its online presence.Both middle and high school offer a range of special programs with the Middle School highlighting a world language program, with particular emphasis being placed on the “Music and Mandarin Elective Program” and the high school supporting three special fields for career and technical education: technology education, family & consumer education and business education and independent study programs, community outreach programs, partnerships at Yale, Southern CT and Gateway Community College for high school students to attend classes.The school system is also working to be more accessible and interactive with new generations so is moving to advertising their school and students from a social media platform on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/amityreg5/. This new Facebook page is aimed at targeting the newest generation of parents in order to make them more involved in their children’s schools. Parents want to be a part of their child’s classroom and this new social media leap facilitates this opportunity.
In 2014, Orange residents were asked what they were proud of about their town, (“prouds”) and what they would change about their town, (“sorrys”). These “prouds” and “sorrys’ were then transferred on to the maps below. It is evident that Orange residents are much prouder of their town than they are sorry for it (Orange Community Issues and Concerns, 2014). A community love for the town they occupy is desirable to any individual, regardless of age, marital status or race.
Orange, Connecticut is, in many ways, the stereotypical suburb. It has a homogenous and wealthy population. It boasts fantastic residential areas, high median incomes and it is home to the best public high school in the state. To answer our opening question is Orange a desirable suburb compared to other suburbs? Orange is a desirable suburb and we are confident that middle class families would find it more appealing than surrounding Connecticut suburbs when choosing where to live.
Connecticut Data Collaborative (2014)
4-Year Cohort Graduation Rate [data file]
Apartments for rent, Orange, Connecticut
Retrieved from http://www.forrent.com/find/CT/metro- Central+CT/Orange
Retrieved from http://www.greatschools.org/
Holme, J. J. (2002). Buying homes, buying schools: School choice and the social construction of school quality. Harvard Educational Review, 72(2), 177-206.
Jackson K., (1985) Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 287, 289-90
America’s Top Schools
Nicefaro, Melissa (2016)
Town Rejects Apartment Development at Firelite Shopping Center. Orange Town News.
Orange Community Issues and Concerns, 2014
Executive Summary [data file]
Retrieved from http://www.orange-ct.gov/govser/03%20Scoping%20Summary.pdf
Schelling, Thomas (2006)
Micromotives and Macrobehavior: Sorting and Mixing: Race and Sex. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Social Explorer (2016)
Median Household Income
Retrieved from http://www.socialexplorer.com/6f4cdab7a0/explore
Social Explorer (2016)
Total Population: White Alone, Black Alone, Asian Alone, 1990 and 2014.
Retrieved from http://www.socialexplorer.com/6f4cdab7a0/explore
Thiel, Bettina (2015)
Amity to Return Most of Its Surplus to Towns. Orange Town News.
Turmelle, L. (2014)
Amity, Daniel Hand, Haddam-Killingworth, Cheshire make Newsweek’s top 500 high
schools list. New Haven Register
United States Census Bureau (2015)
State and County Quick Facts: Orange CDP, Connecticut.
Retrieved from http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/09/0957670.html
US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (2013)
Elsi, Elementary/Secondary Information System [data file]
Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/ccd/elsi/
Wells, Amy Stuart, et. all (2009) Both Sides Now: The Story of School Desegregation. Berkeley: University of California Press. 155-198
Zillow (2016) Orange, Ct Real Estate
Retrieved from http://www.zillow.com/homes/for_sale/Orange-CT/pmf,pf_pt/19768_rid/any_days/priced_sort/41.336543,-72.921152,41.222374,-73.144312_rect/12_zm/3_p/