2010 census shows lopsided growth, decline

By Darryl Holliday

As analysts and residents wait for the next wave of census data, the first set of results has shed light on Chicago’s changing demographics, revealing unbalanced development in the Windy City.

The latest census snapshot—a comparison of 2000 and 2010 data released in early February—offers a glimpse of an altered social landscape during the last 10 years. Displacement of city residents, along with crime and poor living conditions in certain areas, has taken its toll on the city population.

In total, the city lost 200,000 residents since they were last counted in 2000—a reduction of nearly 7 percent, according to census data.

The decrease stems largely from a mass out-migration of the city’s black population, which dropped by approximately 17 percent. Many analysts have said one source of this sharp decline is likely the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation, which demolished public housing units across the city.

The displacement of some minority populations, gentrification and new residential development in the downtown Loop area has also contributed to the movement of people in the last decade.

While the current census results don’t give much insight into why people have moved, and where they moved to or from, some educated guesses are being made from the data available.

“It’s a lot of things that happen in combination,” said Jim Lewis, senior program officer at the Chicago Community Trust, a foundation that strategically invests in community projects. “The net impact of all of these flows is that you see a decline in Chicago.”

Esta Kallen, president of the League of Women Voters of Chicago, a nonpartisan political organization, said this will result in a problematic lack of diversity for

the city.

According to Lewis, predominantly black portions of the South Side in particular, which began gentrifying roughly 15 years ago, experienced a disproportionate decrease in population from 2000. Englewood and West Englewood experienced some of the largest declines citywide—a combination of nearly 20,000 residents equalling a 21 percent loss of the area population.

Out of Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods, 57 decreased in population.

During the same period, Chicago’s collar counties—the five areas that border the city, including DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties that surround Cook County—all experienced growth.

“In terms of the rate at which the collar counties are growing, we think the growth probably happened earlier in the decade and toward the middle, opposed to the latter half,” said Tom Garritano, spokesman for the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the official regional planning organization for Northeast Illinois.

“I think what you’re seeing is people are moving on the basis of where they can afford to live and how much they can afford to live where they work.”

According to Lewis, Latinos are being pushed out of some West Side neighborhoods, such as Logan Square and Humboldt Park, partly due to white middle-class residents moving in. The two neighborhoods were predominantly immigrant communities but are now becoming unaffordable for some because of rising housing prices.

The gentrification of the West Side has also fueled a rebound in the area in the last 10 years, according to Lewis, making it more economically viable—often at the expense of previous residents.

The movement of these displaced residents is at least partially reflected in the rise of local suburban populations.

Portions of the South Side that have experienced sharper declines are a different story, however.

Lewis predicts the neighborhoods to the immediate southwest of the South Loop will continue to decline throughout the next 10 years as residents who can afford to leave move to more prosperous and safer living conditions, while residents who remain get caught in a downward economic spiral.

According to Lewis, the process is comparable to Detroit’s current state, where the manufacturing base that once held the area together has become less industrious, forcing people to eventually leave in search of better conditions.

“I think there’ll be a hollowing out of those places, and they’ll be increasingly less desirable places to live,” Lewis said. “It’s going to be a real challenge figuring out how to bring some of those places back. Otherwise, we’re going to have these large holes in the middle of an otherwise thriving city.”

These flourishing portions of the city are centered in the downtown Loop area, where an increase in residential developments has led to a 76 percent increase in population, according to census data.

“I think the areas around downtown are going to become more upscale and prosperous,” Lewis said, noting a comparison to the struggling areas in the neighboring South Side communities.

The juxtaposition of population trends gives some insight into how Chicago may look in the future and where its successes and difficulties may lie.

“Maybe with a new mayor and a new City Council we’ll have some better communication,” Kallen said.