|A view of Michigan Avenue in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood. Roseland is typical of many of Chicago’s communities in transition. Source: dnainfo.com|
Let me make a couple of admissions about myself. One thing I really enjoy doing is poring over tourism bureau maps of cities. They can tell you lots about how local residents view their cities. Sure, they tell you all about popular attractions and great neighborhoods, but, through omission, they tell you much about how they regard other parts of the city. Are other parts of the city simply devoid of attractions, or are they a source of danger, scorn, ridicule or embarrassment for others?
The other admission is that I love to deconstruct cities via data, so that I can understand how cities function, and make some guesses as to how they will continue to function. I’m sure everyone knows a budding engineer who took apart a PC as a child, just to see how it worked; I’m kind of like that with cities.
These things came to mind as I saw a recent deconstruction of neighborhoods in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston, recently published in Sociological Science. Researchers Michael Baden and Siri Warkentien tracked census tracts in the four cities between 1970 and 2010, and found that racial integration was not typically an end state for city neighoborhoods. In fact, they found that 35% of neighborhoods were likely to resegregate in over the next two decades. In their words, from CityLab:
“Neighborhoods in many major metropolitan areas of the U.S. appear integrated, simply because different races are present,” Bader, who is an assistant professor of sociology at American University, said via press release. “But these neighborhoods are not the portrait of long-term, racially integrated neighborhoods.”
I found the study interesting, and in many ways documenting what I already understood to be occurring in cities. I thought the study had excellent information, but possibly split things a little too finely. This also came shortly before my recent piece on Chicago.
So I took a stab at a deconstruction of Chicago to gain a better understanding of the city’s strengths and weaknesses. I have an American Community Survey dataset for Chicago’s 77 Community Areas, the officially designated super-neighborhoods of the city. Originally designated in the 1920’s, researchers have been compiling data at this level in Chicago for nearly 100 years, and they give you an excellent sense of city change at a smaller scale, corresponding more directly with how we live and how we view place.
I pulled some 2014 ACS data on income, age, race and educational attainment in an effort to reveal some of the fault lines I wrote about three weeks ago. Looking at the data, and utilizing some personal knowledge of the city, I was able to identify the “tourism bureau” view of the city versus the rest of the city. In a map, it looks like this:
The yellow indicates the popularly-understood parts of the city — the Loop, the lakefront, great neighborhoods, fast-rising hot spots, key attractions, amenities and institutions. The green indicates places that usually escape the view of many people, even local residents. It’s largely residential, with lots of still-operational industrial uses (and much that is vacant). There are parts that have the same urban aesthetic charm as the neighborhoods in yellow, but also many that have a stronger suburban orientation. In many ways, you could call the yellow area “Global Chicago” and the green area “Rust Belt Chicago”, as I did in a post a couple years ago. I’ve updated the data since then, and this is how this looks now (click to enlarge):
The data here wouldn’t necessarily blow anyone away who knows the city. “Global Chicago” is a little less than half the city’s total population. It is more prosperous, more educated, with more white residents and a smaller household size, and slightly younger than “Rust Belt Chicago”. And at the bottom, you can see how each slice of the city compares with the city overall, and with the entire metro area.
Much of this is stuff I’ve covered before. Now, I’m deconstructing Chicago a little differently, and I see six distinct categories. Here’s the map:
Here’s how I’d describe them:
Gentrified Communities (dark green): Former middle and working-class neighborhoods that have firmly become well-to-do neighborhoods over the last 30 years or so. Home to a substantial amount of Chicago’s walkable urbanism inventory. Transit supported and amenity rich.
Gentrifying Communities (light green): Historically similar to the adjacent gentrified communities, but part of a second or third wave of growth that emanated from the first group. Almost as affluent and educated as the first group, and quickly catching up, but not quite there yet.
Frontline Communities (yellow): Largely working-class neighborhoods that may be experiencing development pressure generated in the gentrified/gentrifying communities. People in the above two areas may identify with communities here as places for authentic ethnic dining or shopping. Less wealthy and with more minorities than the gentrified/gentrifying communities, but less than those on its outer flank. In Chicago, at least, fear of the prospects of gentrification here may exceed reality.
Stable Prosperous Communities (gold): Middle-class neighborhoods that sprouted in the city at the advent of the suburban era and have changed little since. Single-family home oriented and auto-oriented. In Chicago, home to many city workers who must remain in the city due to residency requirements. Rapidly growing older in its makeup.
Transitioning Communities (orange): Structurally similar to the stable prosperous communities, but more deeply impacted by one or two transitions. Some are receiving a large influx of new minority residents, largely Latino. Others are experiencing a huge outflow of middle-class families, largely African-American. Those experiencing the Latino influx are becoming younger and less affluent; those experiencing the African-American outmigration are being hollowed out, leaving behind large numbers of older and younger less affluent residents.
Isolated Communities (brown): Impoverished areas of the city. Middle-class white residents left here in the ’50s and ’60s, replaced by middle-class and working-class blacks who bore the brunt of job loss in the subsequent decades. Plenty of walkable urbanism exists here, but demolition means it’s fading away.
And if you look at the communities using this perspective, the data looks like this (again click to enlarge):
Many things about Chicago become clear using this prism. The gentrified and gentrifying communities represent about 29% of the city’s population; the transitioning and isolated communities, nearly 40%. There are clear differences in household size, household income, white and non-white resident percentages and educational attainment across the community types, and even subtle differences in terms of age.
The differences are stark enough to lead one to think that one Chicagoan’s perspective is completely and entirely different from another’s.
Why is this in any way important? This goes a long way toward explaining how Chicago is unique among American cities. It is part New Economy success story, yet also part deindustrialized desolation. Chicago has many aspects of New York, Boston, DC and the Bay Area as parts of its economy and culture; it also has many aspects of Cleveland, Baltimore, Detroit and St. Louis as well. Our understanding of the entire city is crucial for us in determining the appropriate set of policy prescriptions for what ails it.
For the most part, globalization has picked its winners already. But what happens to a city if that’s not enough?