Q&A: Alden Loury: A Model for Integration in Ashburn
Growing up in chicago's Auburn Gresham neighborhood in the 1970s, Alden Loury says he would often dream about the community to the west. He remembers crossing Western Avenue and traversing into Ashburn, a predominantly white area where to him, “everything seemed better.”
Forty years later, the green lawns and single-family bungalows remain, but the residents have changed. According to census data, between 1990 and 2014 Ashburn’s white population shrank from more than 30,000 to just over 6,000 at a time when middle class African American and Hispanic families were moving in. Despite many African Americans leaving the city altogether, Ashburn remains a stronghold for black homeownership.
In a report released in March 2017 titled “The Cost of Segregation,” the Metropolitan Planning Council found that Chicago has seen a slight decline in racial and economic segregation. Here, Loury, who helped author the report, discusses integration, racial change, and how Ashburn serves as a model for the rest of Chicago.
Reuben Unrau: What have you noticed about the change in racial segregation in Chicago since the 1990s?
Alden Loury: There are communities that are shifting from one racial group to another. In 1990, Ashburn was largely a mostly white middle-class community and it has shifted to a middle-class African American and Latino community. The eastern sections of Ashburn are predominantly black now, the western sections are mostly Latino, and still maybe 13 percent of the community is white, found mostly in the western sections of it. Ashburn stands out since it saw a dramatic shift from 1990 to 2010, after a lot of the other demographic shifts in the city already happened. But you're also seeing levels of change in Morgan Park, and the communities a little north of Ashburn that have become more Latino, that were predominantly white at some point.
RU: So does Ashburn serve as an example of a racially integrated neighborhood?
AL: In 10 to 20 years from now, once those communities have stabilized as largely Latino and African American, we'll look back and say that we weren't really seeing a decline in racial segregation, we were just seeing a change in how we were racially segregated. There are census tracts in Ashburn that went from majority white to majority Latino or black literally in a 10- or 20-year period. That, I would say, is evidence that Ashburn is not integrated.
In Chicago, when we do see racial change, it's an all or nothing thing. It goes from one extreme to another. Then the question becomes: Is there a way to slow that down? If a community, like Ashburn, is able to maintain some type of racial balance for at least two decades, I would say then it has achieved some level of integration.
RU: How do Chicagoans view segregation now compared to decades prior?
AL: The challenges we've had with segregation are still there. We don't see the marches or the vitriol and the drama and the emotion we used to see, but I would say the things that were kind of underlying that kind of reaction in the 1950s and 60s are still there. We are far more sophisticated, but we still are responding in the same ways we did then, just without the fanfare and to some degree, without even openly recognizing that we are still operating in the same fashion, which I think is kind of dangerous.
RU: What do you think will happen in Ashburn—demographically and economically?
AL: My guess would be that Ashburn will eventually stabilize as a middle-class African American and Latino community. It may not, due to its racial composition, be seen or viewed as a middle-class community, but given the fact that it's not flooded with rental properties, I don't think there will be an influx of low-income renters. That's not something that always holds, but if the families that have purchased property stay there, they will be fine. Now, the tricky part is will the community be able to maintain the commerce? There was an Ultra Foods that's located at 87th and Kedzie right on the border of Ashburn and Evergreen Park that closed. If we see things like that happen, that becomes a drag on the community. If the middle-class families feel that they have to go farther and they're in a food desert and Ashburn loses its luster in that way, that makes people want to pack up and leave.
If we see the middle class flee the community, then I think the future could be questionable. Places like Auburn Gresham and Washington Heights went through the same kind of change in the ‘70s and ‘80s when black middle class families left Bronzeville and settled there. Those communities have much more rental properties than Ashburn and as more lower income African Americans moved into those communities, many of those middle class folks started to leave. Those neighborhoods saw a decline to some degree, particularly in the 1990s and 2000s. Even sections of Chatham, which is still in some sections a black middle-class haven, have seen challenges due to the loss of its black middle-class base.
RU: How does the story of Ashburn fit into the larger story of racial change in Chicago as a whole?
AL: I would say even if Ashburn does not exemplify integration, it should be held up as an example of a community where racial change was not a death sentence. The people who lived in Ashburn in 1990, when African American and Latino families were coming in, may have thought that that was some signal or some kind of bellwether for problems. Now, 20 years (soon to be 30 years) later, yes, the community changed, but it is still a safe and stable place to live. We don't hear about shootings and robberies that we hear in other South Side areas—and the same thing can be said about Beverly and Morgan Park, and I think Ashburn can be added to that list. Even though it may not be a pillar of racial integration, it should be a lesson for us that demographic change is not one to fear or to flee.
Q&A: Sylvia Puente: Comparing the Black & Brown Paradigm
Though segregation, discrimination and gentrification are not new topics for Chicagoans, some of the key findings in a may 2017 study from the University of Illinois titled ‘A Tale of Three Cities: The State of Racial Justice in Chicago,’ shed light on issues facing african american and latinx communities in particular:
1) Racial and ethnic inequities in Chicago are pervasive, persistent, and consequential across all neighborhoods
2) Black and Latinos on average have far more precarious employment options
3) Both groups have declining or stagnating wages, higher rates of unemployment and fewer opportunities to generate wealth
Sylvia Puente is the Executive Director of the Latino Policy Forum, a community organization that promotes the involvement of Latinos at all levels of public policy making. despite conclusions made in 'a tale of three cities,' community leaders like Puente are finding ways to bridge the divides between the black and brown paradigm.
Carolina Cruz: What is going on in Chicago that ends up promoting segregation among Latinos and African-Americans?
Sylvia Puente: Segregation didn’t happen by accident. There are physical barriers that really keep black, brown and white communities separate. When you look at how the Dan Ryan was constructed, there are blacks at the east of the expressway and whites at the west of the Dan Ryan. Neighborhood boundaries were constructed and just sort of reinforced like physical dividers with train tracks that separate black and brown communities and black and white and Latino communities. So how do you physically break down those barriers? That is still the question.
CC: You say Latinos are the buffer between white & black communities, can you explain what you mean by that?
SP: When you look at a map, Latino communities are in between black and white communities in most areas of the city. As the white population has declined in Chicago, those areas are being replaced by Latinos putting Latino communities in much more proximity adjacent to black communities than what it was 20 or 30 years ago. If you look at a map of Chicago from downtown, and you draw a V, Latinos are the V with whites and black communities being on either side of that V. This has eroded somewhat over the past 20 years, but if you look at demographic concentrations from 20 years ago is really clear.
CC: With white population going down, but affordability becoming an issue for minorities in big cities like Chicago, why and where are Latinos going?
SP: I think is not necessarily that Latinos are moving but that as Latino population has grown, many more people have settled in the suburbs. Meaning people are coming directly from their mother countries to settle in the suburbs, and that is what is really driving demographic growth. What we see now happening in Pilsen is what we saw play out in West Town, Bucktown over the past 20 years, those still have a big Latino population there but it has been largely displaced. For example, the Puerto Rican flags in Division Street are there for a reason, even though the neighborhood is not predominantly Puerto Rican anymore, but that was the essence of the Puerto Rican community for decades.
CC: Why is the gentrification phenomenon more evident in Hispanic neighborhoods than in African-American neighborhoods?
SP: Poor Latino neighborhoods are often seen as hip, cool and affordable for millennials, and staying close to the central city is a big factor. Nevertheless, white people moving into predominantly black neighborhoods is now happening! If you look around the United Center Stadium, around Garfield Park, even areas of Bronzeville, it is a more recent phenomenon like ten years and I never thought I would see it. But the bottom line is that in Chicago African-Americans communities are densely African-American more than 95% black. In Latino communities -for the most part- you don’t have that, is usually 60% to 75% Latino so those neighborhoods have always had ‘white people living in them’.
CC: In regards to the political landscape, can you share a moment in recent history where members from the African-American & Latino community came together for the same cause?
SP: The most positive instance where we saw the coming together of Latino and African-American community was during the election of Harold Washington more than 30 years ago. Harold would not have won without Latino support. In 1986, we elected four Latino alderman to the Chicago City Council. That block gave Harold the majority in Chicago City Council. For a short time, Chicago went into a new and different path of Latino and African-American communities working together, and really began to shape different policies. The evolution of public property in the City of Chicago. It was more equitable in respect to all communities including African-Americans and Latinos.
Q&A: Daniel K. Hertz: When Chicago Neighborhoods Merge
Daniel K. Hertz is a smart guy who loves data, maps, and Chicago neighborhoods. City Bureau Reporter Adeshina Emmanuel first came across him about five years ago as a young reporter at DNAinfo Chicago, where he covered the Uptown and Andersonville neighborhoods. The public policy buff was a graduate student at the University Of Chicago then who ran a blog titled City Notes, providing a wealth of information about urban planning and Chicago neighborhoods, including maps that illustrated the scourge of racial segregation in Chicago, one of the nation’s most diverse — yet most divided — cities.
Emmanuel reached out to Hertz to talk about segregation, integration, and the forces driving them. Despite increased mingling among races, for all sorts of reasons, including as he calls it “straight racism,” there is an unwillingness of other races to move into Black neighborhoods. That has very real consequences for the quality of life in Black neighborhoods, whether it’s fewer or inadequate amenities, economic divestment, and public safety problems, Hertz said.
Adeshina Emmanuel: When you look at a map of Chicago, if you were to imagine everything color-coded according to race, what would you see?
Daniel K. Hertz: You’d have sort of stripes coming out of downtown in different directions. There would be a stripe along the lakefront that would be mostly White. As you moved counter clockwise away from the lake to the left you’d get a mixed White/Latino stripe and a more heavily Latino stripe. Straight west from the Loop you would have a stripe of almost entirely Black neighborhoods. If you kept going counterclockwise down to the Southwest you’d have another stripe of Latino neighborhoods, and another stripe of Black neighborhoods heading straight south from Downtown. In a few places you’d have little patches that were different than the areas around them. There would be a patch of the Asian-American community in Chinatown, parts of Bridgeport and northern Bronzeville. You’d have a pretty mixed patch in Hyde Park along the south lakefront. Some mixed patches in places like Beverly. That’s pretty much what you’d see.
AE: How would you characterize that map you described in terms of segregation?
DKH: As segregated pie slices, with some zones of intermingling.
AE: Has that picture changed much since 1990?
DKH: Yes, it has. Probably the area that’s changed the most is the Southwest Side, and maybe parts of the Far Northwest Side, too, in neighborhoods that in 1990 and 1980 were overwhelmingly White are now in some cases majority Latino or have significant Latino population. So, thinking about neighborhoods like Midway on the Southwest Side and neighborhoods like Jefferson Park on the Far Northwest Side that have really seen substantial changes in the last couple decades, and the nearer Northwest Side, the Blue Line corridor up to Logan Square, areas that were very Latino in 1990 are significantly Whiter -- and that’s also true to some extent going further along the lakefront north of Uptown in areas like Edgewater and Rogers Park, although those areas are still fairly mixed.
AE: What about Black neighborhoods?
DKH: Black neighborhoods have definitely seen the least racial change in the past couple decades. The city and the metro area have become less segregated in the past couple decades but that’s been almost entirely from Black people moving into areas that previously didn’t have any Black people, rather than Whites, Asians, and Latinos moving to Black neighborhoods. That said, since 2000 or so, there are some indications that in a few places that’s starting to happen. I mentioned northern Bronzeville, that is an area that had a large majority Black population. But increasingly it’s been more Asian-American. There’s a pocket of northern Austin on the West Side that has a growing minority Latino population, and then in the border between Garfield Park and the greater West Loop or Near West Side. You’re beginning to see a little bit of Whites moving into what had been almost an entirely Black neighborhood, and that's also happening a little bit in northern Kenwood and Oakland,and a little bit in Woodlawn just south of Hyde Park. But those are really the exceptions to the rule; most Black neighborhoods have not seen that type of mixing.
AE: But what do you think explains these exceptions to the rule?
DKH: One thing that is really important is that neighborhood change in Chicago basically always happens with one neighborhood's population bleeding over into the next one. People don't just jump all the way across the city, and that’s certainly the case for those examples. With Kenwood and Woodlawn you can see it as the White population in Hyde Park and in southern Kenwood is sort of beginning to push the line. In Garfield Park it’s Whites moving further West from the Near West Side but also from the north: Ukrainian Village and Humboldt Park.
AE: Some people think when white people are sort of peppered around the fringes, that’s the slippery slope toward gentrification for a neighborhood. Is that happening here? Would it be warranted to have any fears of gentrification?
DKH: I certainly don’t think there’s any indication that any Black neighborhood in Chicago is going to see an influx of White residents in the way that Wicker Park, Humboldt Park, or Logan Square have seen, where White people were quite willing to move into these areas in large numbers pretty quickly. That's just not happening in these Black neighborhoods.
AE: Should people feel encouraged by the numbers that say there’s more integration? Is there cause for any celebration?
DKH: I probably wouldn't say celebration. Yeah it’s better than if it was moving in the opposite direction, but this city remains incredibly segregated, and that segregation attracts levels of disinvestment, stigmatization, things that really impact the quality of life of the people who live in the affected areas. So, no I wouldn't say it’s cause for celebration. I think there’s reasons to look into the areas that are integrating and especially those interacting with Chicago's Black population, which is bearing the brunt of the cost of segregation far more than any other group.