Pennsylvania’s history is one of the richest among all the 50 states. It is home of the Liberty Bell, it hosted the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, and was the birthplace of the Constitution. The state’s founding father, William Penn, had a distaste for cities and special disdain for London’s crowded conditions and sought to promote religious (and by extension cultural) toleration. Philadelphia was and is called the City of Brotherly Love for that reason. Fast forward a couple hundred years and his dream is still alive. Although the landscape of the Keystone State has changed considerably in the last two centuries, the Poconos in special still embody that same spirit of diversity and acceptance.
A Little Bit of Conjecture and Common-Sense
In the last few decades our lifestyles have evolved in many ways and many aspects of the house-hunting experience have gone in the same direction. Mobile phone reception quality became nearly as important as that big yard. Solar power availability, proximity to specialty stores and even the distance to the nearest Tesla Supercharging station are some modern features that people will evaluate to determine whether that neighborhood is really for them. Following that trend, today a potential home-buyer is much more likely to make a decision based on how culturally rich her new neighborhood is.
It is easy to see why diversity is much more relevant nowadays. Going back to as early as the 1990s the amount of foreign-born individuals was much lower throughout the country than today, in nominal as well as relative terms. That created a very uniform cultural makeup across the board with fewer places standing out, mostly in large metropolitan areas. Back then, if you were from Bangladesh looking for another place with a large Bengali-speaking population you were probably out-of-luck looking anywhere outside of Philadelphia, Washington D.C. or New York.
I would only be speculating if I tried to pin-point to a single reason why this started changing. It might have something to do with the fact that Americans today are ever more willing to move across state borders to pursue a career or higher education. The internet surely has contributed some to this enhanced mobility by making a plethora of information, solutions and tools available to anyone with access to it. Today a simple Google search will easily tell you how diverse a given neighborhood is. And because the playing field is more level, today you may find people with the most varied backgrounds almost anywhere you go, even the most remote regions of the country.
Diversity in the Poconos
According to one survey based on U.S. Census data, the Poconos rank among
the most culturally diverse regions in PA. Penn Estates is a local neighborhood and is listed among the top 20 in the state. Although not nearly as diverse as NYC, Philly and its suburbs, some municipalities can still be considered very diverse and rank around the top 50. Stroudsburg ranks just ahead of Pittsburgh (numbers 45 and 46 respectively as of 2016). Stroud Township and East Stroudsburg also come in respectful 47th and 53rd places according to the same survey.
There is one very positive aspect of diversity in Northeastern Pennsylvania that departs completely from what became universally true in many large neighborhoods in major cities. There is much more inter-cultural integration across our area than you will find in Queens County, New York for example, where people tend to self-segregate by neighborhood. Flushing is today predominantly Asian. Corona has a significant Hispanic population. Jamaica houses what is probably the largest African-American community in the borough. But here people with completely different backgrounds tend to live much closer to each other. The low population density is most likely a contributing factor, and so is the low total population itself. It makes it harder for people to clump together their respective cultures, giving them the opportunity to get out of their cultural bubbles. My own neighbors are an excellent micro-sample of that. We would be classified as Hispanic and right across the street we have an African-American couple with Caribbean roots. But we also have Guyanese, Indian, Persian, as well of course as Caucasian families up and down the street. Coincidentally the vast majority lived in New York prior to coming to the area.
Diversity in the Poconos’ Schools
In school systems around the Poconos you will also experience cultural diversity. The main schools are far from predominantly represented by a single race. For example, my oldest daughter is 7 and her 1st Grade class is somewhat evenly represented with 40% Caucasian students, 21% African-American and the remaining 39% made up of other non-Caucasian students, mostly Asian, Hispanic and the Indian sub-continent.
Another recent survey shows wide diversity across Pennsylvania school districts. Again, the school districts in Poconos come up among the most diverse in the state. That data shows East Stroudsburg School District at number 7, followed closely by Stroudsburg and Pocono Mountains at 9th and 10th place.
A Purple County
The 2016 General Elections were another great chance to evaluate how heterogeneous the region is, this time in terms of political inclinations. As a reminder, Pennsylvania was one of the deciding toss-up states that ended up determining the outcome of the presidential election. When we look at the state as a whole, the county map clearly shows Allegheny County (home of Pittsburgh), Philadelphia County and other neighboring suburban counties such as Chester and Montgomery voting overwhelmingly Democrat, whereas most the rest of the state counties tilted heavily towards the GOP. This is the same pattern observed in 2008 and 2012 elections. But when we look at Monroe County voting results they appear much more balanced along party lines, and thus much closer to the state average.
That to me means that you are much more likely to find many like-minded people when it comes to social and economic issues no matter what side of the political spectrum you find yourself in. It also means that your opinions tend to be much more respected since you will never be part of an under-represented political minority.
Other Aspects of Diversity
There are other aspects where diversity is manifest in the Poconos. In the past we published a post about restaurant diversity in the region. And as you keep exploring the region, it is clear that homogeneity is far from the rule. For example, one would expect Pennsylvania to be evenly divided between Steelers and Eagles fans given that they are fairly traditional state-based franchises. At first glance the map to the side would lead you to believe that. But when you look closer, northeastern Pennsylvania seems to be in the intersection between those two teams and yet another strong brand: the New York Giants. In fact, there are two counties right here at the Poconos where their fan base is larger than any other, Pike and Monroe.
So although it is hard to compare this area with some of the major cities mentioned previously purely in terms of cultural diversity, it is still clear that it is very rich and welcoming in that regard. Even though it is relatively far from other large urban centers it is just as receptive to people of all backgrounds. If William Penn could come and visit the state he founded, I’m sure he would be fairly impressed with how his fellow Pennsylvanians embraced his dreams in this region.