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After years in the suburbs, many blacks return to city life

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Here in the Third Ward, the change is dramatic. It's meant higher land values, investment in businesses and schools, and a keener appreciation for this left-behind area.

The trend - confirmed by real-estate agents, architects, community activists, and families clamoring to move in - is also clear in the numbers. Stephen Klineberg, a sociology professor at Rice University who does an annual survey of attitudes in Houston, found that last year 17 percent of African-American suburbanites polled said they were "very interested" in moving back into the city, compared with only 3.7 percent of whites suburbanites.

But since the city has completed the first phase of its downtown light-rail project, relocated sports stadiums here, and pumped money into urban revitalization, those attitudes are changing - at least for whites. While African-American numbers were slightly higher, 14 percent of white suburbanites polled this year said they were "very interested" in moving back into the city - four times the number of a year ago.

"African-Americans were more interested in moving back because they were more likely to have once lived in the city and often retain very close connections. They come back for church, to volunteer, or to visit friends and family," says Dr. Klineberg. "But suddenly, Anglos are discovering that the city is an interesting place to live."

That's creating conflict here, as the Third Ward strives to retain its culture and character. Developers have been buying up large tracts of land to build dense townhomes like those in midtown and the Fourth Ward - areas that are already well into the gentrification process, and where, as more whites move in, many blacks are priced out.

So Third Ward activists have launched a campaign urging long-time residents not to sell out.

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