Chicago still separate, unequal

By Editorial Board

Chicago has a long history of racially and ethnically segregated neighborhoods. The U.S. Civil Rights Commission declared us the most segregated city in the country in 1959, and the situation has not improved much since.

Residents were steered into the city’s different neighborhoods in the 19th and 20th centuries through corrupt lending and real estate practices, forcing different groups to live in specific parts of the city. Population maps of the city illustrate these divisions continue to be in place. Clear borders could be drawn to show the divisions between where different cultural groups live. For example, the Dan Ryan Expressway serves as a stark boundary separating black communities on the South Side from the rest of the city.

The separation has continued today largely due to the strong cultural communities that developed in the city’s neighborhoods. People born and raised in a specific neighborhood often want to stay there to raise their families. Other times, people simply can’t afford to move somewhere else, but the net result is the same: Chicago’s neighborhoods remain mostly divided according to race or ethnic background. Many people live their whole lives within these neighborhoods, never so much as venturing out to see other parts of the city.

It is difficult to say whether it would even be possible to break up or integrate such deeply rooted neighborhoods. Doing so might disrupt the positive sense of community and cultural identity these neighborhoods create, so that may not be the best course of action.

However, the comparative quality of some of Chicago’s neighborhoods poses a more serious problem than the geographic division of the city’s cultural and ethnic groups. More affluent—and predominantly white—neighborhoods tend to have plenty of bus and train service, not to mention better schools and nicer homes. The Chicago Transit Authority should extend bus and train service into underserved neighborhoods on the city’s South and West sides. Better housing and education would also go a long way toward making these neighborhoods feel equal to other parts of the city.

While decades of deeply rooted segregation in Chicago will take some time to overcome, ensuring an equal standard of living throughout the city would be a great place to start. With the start of a new mayoral administration and some sweeping changes happening in city government, now could be the ideal time to initiate some of these reforms and break away from Chicago’s legacy of inequality.