Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Chicago, America's most segregated big city
Racial lines were drawn over the city's history and remain entrenched by people's choice, economics
By Azam Ahmed and Darnell Little | Tribune reporters
December 26, 2008
(Left) Whites make up about 28 percent of Chicago's population and are largely located on the North Side. Slivers of the population live on the South Side. (Right) Blacks make up about 35 percent of the city's population and are largely concentrated on the South and West Sides. (Tribune photos by Chris Walker / December 10, 2008)
First of three parts
The paths taken by Colin Lampark and Rosalyn Bates help illustrate why Chicago is the most racially segregated big city in America.
Both are young professionals with handsome earning potential. Both moved to the city a few years ago—Lampark, 28, to Lincoln Park; Bates, 31, to Bronzeville. And both chose neighborhoods reflecting their race, a practice common in Chicago.
Their personal stories, and many others, explain why blacks in Chicago are the most isolated racial group in the nation's 20 largest cities, according to a Tribune analysis of 2008 population estimates. To truly integrate Chicago, 84 percent of the black or white population would need to change neighborhoods, the data show.
The calculations paint a starkly different picture from the ones broadcast across the nation during Barack Obama's Election Night rally last month, when his hometown looked like one unified, harmonious city.
The fact is, racial patterns that took root in the 1800s are not easy to reverse. Racial steering, discriminatory business practices and prejudice spawned segregation in Chicago, and now personal preferences and economics fuel it.
"Once institutions exist, they tend to persist, and it requires some act of force to get them to change," said Douglas Massey of Princeton University, an expert on segregation.
For Lampark, who is white, the move last year to Lincoln Park from Minneapolis came because he had friends there. It wasn't a racially motivated decision, he said. Lampark, an engineer, just doesn't know anyone on the South Side.
Bates, who is black, settled in Bronzeville for similar reasons.
"It put us closer to friends," she said.
She, however, may pay more dearly for her decision. Segregated African-American neighborhoods have less access to health care, quality education and employment opportunities than white areas, the research shows. Black homeowners can expect to receive 18 percent less value for their homes, according to one study—a tax the researcher attributed primarily to segregation.
James Hamilton, 50, a deckhand from Woodlawn, can live with that. In his experience, which includes 30 years on the South Side, he doesn't think that whites would welcome him to their neighborhood.
"It ain't never been us," he said. "It's always been [whites]—just don't want to be around us."
The research shows he may not be entirely wrong. While whites are willing to vote for Obama, they aren't nearly as interested in living in neighborhoods rich in color.
Blacks make up about 35 percent of Chicago's population of nearly 3 million and are largely concentrated on the South and West Sides. Whites make up nearly 28 percent, largely located to the north and in slivers of the South Side, while Hispanics, about 30 percent of the population, are scattered to the Northwest and Southwest Sides of the city center.
Dating back to the late 19th Century, blacks were confined to certain neighborhoods in Chicago by pen and sword, with legal restrictions and real estate practices ensuring whatever bombs and batons did not.
During the Great Migration in the early 20th Century, hundreds of thousands of blacks followed those patterns of settlement, creating densely populated communities on the South Side that hardened racial fault lines.
Real estate agents showing people homes only in certain neighborhoods and restrictive covenants guaranteed that blacks did not spread across the city or into the suburbs. Redlining ensured that black areas received less financing and investment.
Slum clearance and urban renewal in the 1940s and '50s displaced more blacks. Most found housing in the deeper South Side, in areas rapidly turning over with the onset of white flight. The poorest moved into public housing, which transformed into housing largely for blacks.
The city decided to build high-rises for public-housing residents, a move that would prove fatal to hopes for integration. White aldermen refused to place the high-rises in their wards, so nearly all were placed in black areas.
"By the time civil rights comes along, the die has already been cast," said Arnold Hirsch, a historian at the University of New Orleans and author of "Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago 1940-1960."
"It's no longer how you set up something, but how do you uproot something that's already taken hold," Hirsch said.
More recently, income differences between racial groups have helped further entrench separation, clustering lower-income minorities into urban ghettos that beget further isolation.
But perhaps the most controversial driver of segregation today in cities such as Chicago is personal taste: People tend to select areas where their own color has a large presence or they have some familiarity.
Chicago is the most racially segregated big city in America Graphic
"It plays a huge role because the neighborhoods have been firmly established, and Chicago has had a greater history of racial segregation than other cities," said William Julius Wilson, professor of sociology and public policy at Harvard University.
Chicago's history meant that churches and family networks for whites and blacks developed in separate areas.
Those connections prompted Reginald Halbert's move to Kenwood 10 years ago. Halbert, who had been living in the suburbs, considered the North Side but decided to build his gated home on the South Side, where he grew up.
"We wanted to be in close proximity to all the things that matter to us," said Halbert, 44. "Our work, our family and our religious institutions."
Some studies show that blacks tend to prefer a more diverse neighborhood, something closer to a 50-50 split of blacks and whites, but those tend not to exist in a city as old as Chicago.
Research indicates that whites tend to have a lower tolerance for blacks and other minorities. A 2000 study found that whites prefer neighborhoods where they are nearly 60 percent of the population and blacks represent about 17 percent.
One theory posits that whites associate black neighborhoods with high crime and poor-quality schools. A recent study conducted in the Chicago and Detroit areas by the University of Illinois at Chicago and University of Michigan found that whites consistently rate a neighborhood higher when its residents are white regardless of the physical quality of the neighborhood.
Not only do the studies show a white reluctance to move into black neighborhoods, research shows that the share of whites who say they would leave a neighborhood grows as the proportion of black residents increases. That has proved true in Chicago.
"Chicago is a very, very large city with a large population of Hispanics and blacks and a declining white population," said Harvard's Wilson. "But it's still a city in which people can find housing in other areas, and as long as there are areas to which whites can retreat, it will be difficult to reduce the overall segregation."
Cities with smaller black populations, such as Tucson, Ariz., or Seattle, show greater integration. Chicago's large black population would exceed most white thresholds, experts say.
Another factor that separates Chicago from other places is its age. Older cities in the Midwest and Northeast were established before restrictive housing policies were outlawed. Experts say more newly developed cities—such as Austin, Texas; San Jose, Calif.; and Charlotte, N.C.—are likely to see higher levels of integration.
Said Jacob Vigdor, an economist at Duke University: "What integration requires is the presence of blank slates."
Even then, federal studies of equally matched black and white couples show that unequal racial treatment for both renters and buyers still exists.
"We live in a country where we think people should be able to move freely, so we don't have a lot of policies or laws that either encourage or constrain people's residential choices," said Mary Pattillo, a professor at Northwestern University. "Our laws that are supposed to defend against discrimination put the burden on the individual."
A final factor often cited as a reason that segregation persists is economics. Poor end up living with poor, and because blacks maintain the lowest place on the socioeconomic food chain, they are often lumped together.
But research shows that blacks largely remain segregated from whites across income levels, though to a lesser extent than 30 years ago.
Many higher-income African-Americans who could afford to live anywhere in the city choose to live among blacks, even at the expense of wealth accumulation in their homes.
"It provides a certain comfort for middle-class African-Americans who may work in a corporate environment where they are minorities to live in a neighborhood where they aren't a minority," said Richard Pierce, chairman of the Africana studies department at the University of Notre Dame.
Bates, of Bronzeville, might fit into that category. A clinical therapist, she and her attorney sister canvassed much of the city before selecting a neighborhood.
"There is a comfort level being among people of your own race," she said. "I don't think that there was any intention of segregation behind that."