The Urbanist Musings of Pete Saunders

The Corner Side Yard’s Top Ten Posts of 2018

New Year’s fireworks celebration in Chicago. Source:

Wow. So another year has flown by. 2018 saw another decrease in content here at CSY as responsibilities increased in other areas. Many readers here may be familiar with my work as an urban affairs contributor for That, plus shifting work responsibilities and interesting new projects, led to me putting CSY on the back burner more than I’d like. However, my work in other areas may result in increased exposure in the coming months. Stay tuned.

I like to give a little roundup of popular posts from the year. They give me a sense of where my wandering mind traveled over the course of the year, and which ideas struck a chord with readers. Here’s my top ten for 2018.

10. Can Detroit’s Suburbs Survive The City’s Rebirth? (6/12/18)

“Again, I stress that this is, in a sense, Detroit simply reclaiming what it lost as it acquired its stigma over the last 60 years.  It’s settling into a position familiar to other cities nationwide.  The economic and cultural divide between the two (city and suburb) was too great.  For better or worse, the city’s rebound has the ability to equalize them.  The suburbs just better be ready.”

9. Seeking The Whole Story On Metro Growth (5/3/18)

“Increasing rates of domestic out-migration from “superstar” cities like New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Seattle and others may be true, and it has become incredibly difficult to maintain a middle-class lifestyle in many of them.

But if you look at economic performance and not simply population growth, the data tells a different story…

(T)he large Midwestern hubs are far outpacing the national metro average and the fast-growth metros in terms of per capita GDP change — and indication that their economies are becoming stronger, more efficient and more productive.”

8. More on Bifurcating Chicago and Detroit (5/21/18)

“The point I was trying to make about Chicago and Detroit is that I view both cities are pioneers of a brand of revitalization/gentrification that might be unique to the Midwest/Rust Belt. Both cities, and many others in the Midwest/Rust Belt, had development patterns that were impacted by their response to the Great Migration in the early part of the 20th century, and they impact development patterns to this very day.  Most Rust Belt cities, from Buffalo to St. Louis, gained significant numbers of black residents between 1910-1930 and again from 1950-1970, as blacks moved away from the Jim Crow South and toward the opportunity presented by plentiful manufacturing jobs.  The near universal response by all of the Rust Belt cities was to “carve out” a section of town for blacks to live in, and leave it alone.  This caused dramatically different development patterns than in today’s “superstar” cities, which generally received far fewer black migrants (Boston and New York, to some extent, while Washington, D.C. is a notable exception.  Most West Coast cities received even fewer black migrants).”

7. Revisiting the “Big Theory” On American Urban Development (1/14/18)

“I’d say that the Great Recession put an end to the dominance of the Auto Era that emerged after World War II — putting urban revival on roughly equal footing with suburban expansion for the first time since the early 20th century.  There is no dominant American development pattern at this time.  I’m guessing that by the middle of this century people will view this period as one nearly as tumultuous and transitional as the other two I’ve noted.

So what’s next?”

6. Black Urbanists, Part 6: Politicians and Private Practice (3/15/18)

“I tend not to think of politicians as urbanists, for the most part. Persons who address urban issues and concerns through a private practice, however, are a well-recognized group of urbanists. Sadly, blacks remain an underrepresented group in these professions, perhaps leading to (incorrect) perceptions that blacks aren’t taking an active role in addressing urban concerns.  In my view we should note the work of blacks working in these fields, and actively seek greater diversity in these very visible professions.”

5. Chicago Is The American Metropolitan Platypus (2/11/18)

“So what type of city and metro is Chicago exactly?  Is it the darling of the corporate set, becoming a fantastic location for headquarters relocations and expansions?  Is it a place with a middling economy, perhaps still struggling with its transition from manufacturing-oriented to the 21st century New Economy?  Is it a place with a crime and demographic profile more akin to its Rust Belt and Old South brethren, with less in common with the coastal superstars?

Intriguingly it’s all of the above.  And that makes it difficult to make any kind of guess what Chicago’s future will be.”

4. Black Urbanists, Part 7: A Definition Of Black Urbanism (3/27/18)

“Rather than having an architectural, design or economic academic approach, many blacks bring a sociological perspective to their work.  Instead of working in the private sector, many are working with small nonprofits.  Instead of being motivated by the possibilities and potential of cities, many are motivated by civil rights and social activism.  That’s how the people who were nominated in this series came to me, and it begins to describe the four ways I see black urbanism as distinct from what I’ll call mainstream urbanism.”

3. Curated Diversity in Chicago (10/4/18)

“Chicago’s North Side CCAs (Chicago Community Areas) are more diverse than they’ve ever been.  The North Side CCA of Lincoln Square (#4 on the map) was 94 percent white in 1970; in 2015 it was 65 percent.  Irving Park, #16 on the map, was 96 percent white in 1970, and 40 percent in 2015.  To the extent that those communities have become open to minorities, it is progress.  There are many Chicagoans who are committed to, and just as importantly feel, that Chicago is a more tolerant and welcoming city.

By contrast, Chicago’s West Side and South Side CCAs are nearly as segregated as they’ve always been.  The Grand Boulevard community (#38 above), was 99 percent black in 1970.  By 2015 it was 91 percent.  Woodlawn’s black population in 1970 was 96 percent; in 2015 it was 85 percent.  
Moderate changes, yes.  But it’s clear that “diversity” is happening in the places where it’s being curated.
What remains is a Chicago that, despite dramatic increases in the numbers of Latino and Asian residents, consistent numbers of African-American residents over time, and a substantial loss of white residents, is virtually as segregated today as it was nearly 50 years ago.”
“Let’s come back to my parents’ pleasant old house in Detroit.  Again, they bought it for $17,500 in 1968, sold it for $36,000 in 1981, and it is estimated to be worth $72,100 today.  It is a wonderful home, and it’s as affordable as they come.  However, it’s appreciated at a rate less than the rate of inflation for fifty years.  That’s right — CPI measures suggest that a home purchased in 1968 for $17,500 would’ve cost $43,000 in 1981, by virtue of inflation alone.  And that same home would be worth $107,000 today.  A far cry from the $36,000 sale price in 1981 and $72,100 estimate today, and even further from the real estate windfalls witnessed in other places for decades.”
“I think Chicago boosters tend to overestimate what’s happening in Chicago, and underestimate the scale of revival in Detroit and other Rust Belt cities.  I don’t mean to suggest that Detroit is on the leaderboard for top booming cities in the 2020’s, or that Chicago is on the precipice of collapse.  I do mean to suggest that Detroit’s revival is real and could continue to remake much of the city, while there are legitimate questions regarding the ability of Chicago’s global economy sectors to revitalize even more of the city.”
Have a great New Year.

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