“What’s your sign?” is so pass.
Today’s suburbanites might inquire: “What’s your cluster?”
Your zip code, matched with those of like demographics from around the country that comprise a “cluster,” says more about your lifestyle to a researcher than any astrological sign ever would.
Concord 94519? You might be a Middleburg Manager, a college-educated solid citizen who reads mysteries, travels by rail and jogs. Fremont 94536? You’re among the 61,000-strong American Dreams, immigrants or children thereof living in a multi-racial neighborhood. If you call Brentwood 94513 home, you’re among the small group called God’s Country, enjoying tranquil surroundings, remodeling the basement and watching “Friends.”
“Clustering is really a new way of looking at the country, not as cities and states and countries, but as lifestyles,” explains Michael J. Weiss, author of “The Clustered World.”
A confluence of census data, marketing research and geographics, clustering shows how similar Americans are to some of their neighbors except these neighbors might live 3,000 miles away.
“You can go to sleep in Walnut Creek and wake up in Montclair, N.J., and nothing has changed except the trees,” Weiss says. The Young Literati, found in Walnut Creek and Montclair, are upscale urban couples and singles, predominantly white and Asian, who (at least in 1996) might drive their Audi 90s to Costco for low-cal frozen dinners or a gourmet grocery store for coffee beans, all charged on their American Express cards.
Virginia-based Claritas, a subsidiary of a Dutch conglomerate that owns Nielsen Media Research and Nielsen NetRatings came up with 40 clusters in the 1970s. The marketing research company expanded the number of clusters to 62 after the 1990 census. The 2000 census likely will lead to even more and even more precious names.
As much as Americans hate to be categorized, we do share certain preferences even as we are bombarded with choices from yogurt to entertainment.
Greg Watty, 53, and Glenda Waugh, 50, have lived at their Albany address for nearly 30 years. When they first bought their two-bedroom house, the neighborhood was predominantly older Italian families, although their next-door neighbors were and still are Filipino.
Families with children gradually supplanted the widows and upgraded their homes to add a bedroom or two. “People tend to move to Albany because of the schools,” Watty says. The neighborhood has become more ethnically diverse, especially with the influx of Asian-Americans.
Although Watty and Waugh might be New Empty Nesters themselves (their sports-oriented daughters now attend Ivy League schools), the area is awash in Urban Achievers (45,000), notable for its mix of single students and older professionals and its middle-income racial blend. Public universities, like nearby UC Berkeley, where the couple works, often draw these types.
Gloria Morita lives a city away in El Cerrito. The 76-year-old lives among the 25,000-plus Upstarts & Seniors. While the two groups are at different times in their lives (25 to 54 and 65 on up), both are typically employed, single and childless. Morita’s four adult children live in Massachusetts, Washington, Berkeley and San Anselmo.
Upstarts & Seniors tend to be active, whether riding motorcycles, going cross-country skiing or doing step aerobics. Morita keeps herself busy with line dancing, gardening, exercise, memoir writing and the East Bay Nikkei Singles club.
Back in 1961, she and her husband rented a home in Berkeley. When the Japanese-American couple looked to buy a house, discrimination barred doors to them in several parts of the Bay Area, but not El Cerrito.
Morita, a former secretary to the city manager, says her adopted hometown has been wonderful. Her children grew up among many young families. She observes young people moving in today although, she says, “my children wouldn’t move in. They think El Cerrito is too stuffy.”
Antonio Wong disagrees. An El Cerrito resident for seven years, the Chinese-Peruvian psychotherapist has a busy life playing Brazilian percussion with his band, inline skating, bicycling, backpacking, river rafting, kayaking, canoeing and salsa dancing.
“It’s a perfect place; it’s so centralized,” says the 50-year-old single man. He lived in San Francisco for about 20 years, but he sees the East Bay as roomier and more accessible, and, in some ways, more diverse.
Clusters are subgroups of larger socioeconomic circles. In the East Bay, the biggest circle at nearly 210,000 unsurprisingly is Elite Suburbs, whose clusters include Blue Blood Estates, Executive Suites, Pools & Patios and Kids & Cul-de-Sacs. The biggest cluster is Winner’s Circle new money globe-trotting professionals in mini-mansions who number almost 65,000.
Minnesota natives Judy and Ned Pehrson, 42 and 45 respectively, work in sales out of their three-bedroom, three-bath Clayton home and have two sons. The family of four moved from Pittsburg four years ago into a new neighborhood.
“We just kind of like the small-town feel of Clayton,” Judy Pehrson says. She guesses that her family in the predominantly Caucasian neighborhood is the oldest; the rest are households with young children.
She jogs the many trails around town. The boys, 11 and 17, play baseball, soccer and basketball. As members of the Oakhurst Country Club, the parents play tennis while their sons compete on the swim team. When time permits, they take their boat to the Delta on summer weekends. Winter means downhill skiing and snowboarding.
East of Clayton, as Contra Costa becomes more affordable, Upward Bound, one of the most common clusters (75,000 plus) in the East Bay, predominates. These are typically dual-income, computer literate, more conservative families with kids, who work in management or professional jobs.
Jennifer Blackman, born and raised in Pittsburg, left town twice and returned twice. An associate director of an educational equity program at San Jose State, she gave up living in the South Bay to go back to the house where she raised her two children.
“I would rather do the commute, as horrendous as it is,” Blackman says, “to live with my perfect little community.”
Unlike the predominantly black neighborhood she grew up in, her current neighborhood is more ethnically diverse. Although she feels comfortable here, the 52-year-old does sense a more transient, hard-working, on-the-go lifestyle here.
Her 32-year-old daughter, who moved back home from Baltimore, temporarily shares the four-bedroom house. Sometimes Blackman invites her son from Antioch so the family can have dinner together, or she invites her girlfriends over for weekend brunch. Otherwise, she’s often out of the house, attending the theater or poetry readings, walking around her alma mater, UC Berkeley, or the wharf at Monterey.
Although her neighbors are busy, on the go people like herself, “Pittsburg does feel like a community to me,” she says. “It’s not so large that it’s unwieldy. I have a long history with people, lots of family, lots of friends. Basically that’s why, it’s home.”
For the Rev. Joseph and Debra Govreau, Pittsburg offered the lure of affordable housing.
After the Concord house they rented was sold, they found a rental home in Pittsburg large enough to accommodate the family of five, as well as a piano, clarinet, trombone and flute; the drum set for the 16-year-old daughter may be coming soon.
The parents work a combined 100-hour week; they teach at a private Christian school in El Sobrante. The pastor puts in another 20 hours at the Grace Free Will Baptist Church in Concord and Delta Christian in Antioch.
The boom-and-bust economy has made the budget-conscious Govreaus even more frugal.
“It’s getting harder because things are getting so expensive, more of a chore to budget and make ends meet,” Debra says. That means Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart and Mervyns.
No matter where in the East Bay, its residents share a love for the area. “Just the weather, the lifestyle,” Govreau says, “the availability of things.”
Watty agrees, and in denser Albany, he and his wife can walk to their favorite Chinese restaurant on Solano Avenue or shopping in El Cerrito Plaza.
“Would we trade if a perfect situation came up?” he muses. “We wouldn’t leave the East Bay.”
Series Name: Where We Live
Our East Bay