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A view of Lake Street in Oak Park, IL.  Source: city-data.com
(Note: This post, originally published on January 29, 2015 and again on February 7, 2016, outlines how a neighborhood-based program to manage the negative impacts of gentrification -- namely, displacement and lack of affordability -- could be developed.  I looked for precedents in recent history to develop the program, and found how the suburban Chicago community of Oak Park, IL confronted segregation by putting in place a rigorous integration program.  However, some thoughtful dissents noted some differences between Oak Park then and the cities of today, and implied that such a program couldn't work.  

I'm bringing this back because, after years of further investigation, I've found no apparent feasible alternative. Sure, the rising group of YIMBYs have accelerated their call for more housing to dilute gentrification's negative impacts and create more affordability, but more research is strongly suggesting that more housing construction only sends a signal to developers to build more housing for those at the top end of the market, offering no relief for those in the middle and lower segments of a metro housing market. I go back more than five years saying that upzoning mostly benefits younger affluent people who want to move to certain areas, but can't. 

A recent Planetizen piece argued that last month's Urban Affairs Association conference in Los Angeles virtually bubbled over with scholarly definitions and explanations for gentrification, but no solutions. Consider this as a possible solution; one that can't be implemented on a metro-wide or city-wide basis, but at the neighborhood scale -- as gentrification threats emerge. As always, reader feedback is not only encouraged, but welcomed. -Pete)

I’ve come to the belief that gentrification can be managed.  Its benefits can be harnessed; its costs can be mitigated.  It requires will and engagement at the community level, as well as strong direction and coordination from local government.  But I believe it can be done.

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed in recent years, as the debate about gentrification has grown and sides have formed, it’s that many people talk about the inexorable force that is gentrification and its inevitability.  Gentrification detractors speak of its inevitability even as they try to halt its spread; gentrification proponents cite its inevitability as a means of dissuading the detractors.  In either case, gentrification then devolves into a series of discussions around displacement, affordable housing, cultural control, community authenticity – and indeed, the process of gentrification continues moving forward.

It’s important to remember that American cities have been at similar points before, even if we don’t look at it in the same way.  For generations throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, successive waves of immigrants came to our shores and settled into American cities.  When that happened, the newest group usually upset whatever equilibrium had been established in a community, and a new equilibrium had to be forged.  Sometimes that happened through violent means (think “Gangs of New York”), but it more often happened through much subtler and cooperative ways.  In a physical space sense, one immigrant group was ready to aspire to the next level of the American Dream while another was willing to begin its quest within the immigrant hub, and in the interim period a balance was usually struck.

That process generally eroded with the acceleration of the suburban development pattern after World War II.  For the first time, outward movement within a metro area was outpacing inward settlement, creating a vacuum within cities.  This was often complicated by the Great Migration in many Northern cities, the migration of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North to escape virulent Jim Crow practices and seek better economic opportunities and social conditions.  Sadly, the immigration conveyor belt that renewed urban neighborhoods with each passing generation ground to a halt when blacks moved in, depriving them of the infusion necessary to maintain the dynamism that makes cities unique.  Cities lost much of their vitality as the churn, or flow of people, that made them strong began to evaporate.

What our metro areas gained through suburban expansion was lots more land to craft communities in a new image.  What was lost during those years after World War II were the tools of neighborhood negotiation.  Our nation’s metro areas entered a half-century period of creating new suburban communities from scratch and, whether by neglect or design, allowed city neighborhoods to slowly wither away.

Source: oprfhistory.org
Not all places chose to accept the inevitability of their decline, and it’s here that we can find the seeds of a gentrification management strategy.  Some six months ago I detailed the efforts of Oak Park, IL, an inner ring suburb adjacent to Chicago’s West Side, as it was faced with racial transition and resegregation during the 1950s and ‘60s.  Unlike the vast majority of communities that warily accepted its fate in the face of changing conditions, Oak Park sought to directly confront the issue: 
Rather than fall prey to the destabilizing pattern that was devastating communities to the east, Oak Park elected to devise a program to manage transition, instead of letting it overwhelm them.  Via the Encyclopedia of Chicago (an excellent resource on Chicago history, I might add), here's what Oak Park did:
"The village board created a Community Relations Commission charged with preventing discrimination, forestalling violent neighborhood defense mechanisms, and setting a high standard of behavior as the community prepared for imminent racial change. Village officials, often joined by clergymen, visited blocks to which families of color might move and carefully sought to control the fears and rumors generally associated with neighborhood succession. They identified white families who would welcome the newcomers. They encouraged African American families to disperse throughout the village to counter concerns of clustering and ghetto formation. In 1968, after lengthy and angry debate, and the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act, the village board passed an open-housing ordinance allowing officials to control many aspects of racial integration that otherwise were likely to lead to resegregation. Real-estate agents were banned from panic-peddling, blockbusting, and the use of “for sale” signs. A community relations department would address rumors, monitor the quality of services and amenities throughout the village, and establish block clubs to promote resident cohesion and local problem-solving. The police force expanded by one-third, with a residency requirement whose impact was magnified because police generally lived in areas most likely to be threatened by resegregation. An equity assurance program for homeowners would reassure residents that they were financially protected against a downward spiral of property values. Leaders acted on a vision of Oak Park as a community strong enough to achieve integration, and able to challenge the Chicago pattern of block-by-block resegregation with a policy of managed integration through dispersal."
Let's reiterate here.  Oak Park:
  • Set up a Community Relations Commission to forestall violent residential protests.
  • Engaged in a rumor control campaign.
  • Identified white families that would welcome newcomers.
  • Encouraged African American dispersion in the community to counter clustering.
  • Passed its own open housing ordinance to prevent panic-peddling and blockbusting.
  • Established a Community Relations Department.
  • Expanded its police force.
  • Developed an equity assurance program that reassured residents against declining property values.
  • Established an aggressive marketing campaign that let people know that Oak Park was a model of integration.
 Oak Park did all this when the perception was that the community was facing the loss of wealth and property value.  However, what if the same process was established to address inverted priorities?  What if communities undertook similar strategies when faced with the loss of affordable housing, the potential displacement of low-income residents and the influx of wealthier residents and new community amenities?

Perhaps Oak Park’s experience can be a template for a gentrification management program.

Let’s further break down the Oak Park experience to understand how it worked.  As I see it, there were four principle phases that the Village of Oak Park adopted to address its impending transition.  You can see how I organize them in the table below:
  
Relationship Building

Visioning



Addressing Inequality


Implementation


Clearly, Oak Park’s establishment of a Community Relations Commission and Department and engaging in a rumor control campaign fall into the Relationship Building category.  Passing an Open Housing ordinance and developing an equity assurance program were visionary actions.  The Village addressed inequality issues as it looked for white residents who would welcome newcomers and discouraged the clustering of African Americans in certain parts of the community, and the Open Housing ordinance and Community Relations Department demonstrated that the Village was willing to make a long-term commitment to balanced and equitable transition within its boundaries.

So let me propose a gentrification management program loosely based on an inversion of the Oak Park experience.  Instead of defending a community against rapid loss of property values, this program would defend against the loss of low and moderate income housing units and displacement.  The essential ingredient, however, is engagement.  Residents in potentially gentrifying communities can no longer afford to simply pass each other by.  If newcomers seek to retain the authentic character of the community that attracted them, and longtime residents are to obtain the amenities they desire to become a complete community once again, dialogue is a necessity.

Source: hillsandheights.org
I’d recommend the following points:

Establish open dialogue between “longtimers” and “newcomers”.
·         Create a Community Task Force.
·         Develop relationship-building programs and activities.
·         Consider – and report on – the interactions between residents and representatives of key institutions (police, schools, churches, parks, etc.)
·         Identify community strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats; develop a consensus.

Strengthen existing social/cultural institutions, and create new ones.
·         Identify critical community institutions.
·         Identify needed community institutions.
·         Begin search for non-traditional sources of institutional support.

Build cohesiveness and neighborhood pride in a shared community vision.
·         Resolve differences in perception.
·         Craft an achievable vision.
·         Build the skill set of longtimers; build the awareness of newcomers.
·         Focus on asset building initiatives for all residents.
·         Specifically identify the tasks to complete and the actors necessary for implementation.
·         Prioritize your opportunities strategically.

Address economic inequality concerns and needs.
·         Institute workforce development programs.
·         Establish neighborhood apprenticeship programs.
·         Develop entrepreneurship training programs.

Address affordable housing concerns and needs.
·         Quantify number of affordable housing units, households in need.
·         Consider inclusionary zoning/housing set-aside policies in the community.

Codify new community expectations and direction in a “community charter”.

Convene a regular gathering (annual, biannual) of community residents to evaluate progress toward community vision and recommend “course corrections”.

And if you’re interested in how those points relate to the proposed program phases, see the table below:

Relationship Building
Establish open dialogue between “longtimers” and “newcomers”.
·         Create a Community Task Force.
·         Develop relationship-building programs and activities.
·         Consider – and report on – the interactions between residents and representatives of key institutions (police, schools, churches, parks, etc.)
·         Identify community strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats; develop a consensus.

Strengthen existing social/cultural institutions, and create new ones.
·         Identify critical community institutions.
·         Identify needed community institutions.
·         Begin search for non-traditional sources of institutional support.

Visioning
Build cohesiveness and neighborhood pride in a shared community vision.
·         Resolve differences in perception.
·         Craft an achievable vision.
·         Build the skill set of longtimers; build the awareness of newcomers.
·         Focus on asset building initiatives for all residents.
·         Specifically identify the tasks to complete and the actors necessary for implementation.
·         Prioritize your opportunities strategically.

Addressing Inequality
Address economic inequality concerns and needs.
·         Institute workforce development programs.
·         Establish neighborhood apprenticeship programs.
·         Develop entrepreneurship training programs.

Address affordable housing concerns and needs.
·         Quantify number of affordable housing units, households in need.
·         Consider inclusionary zoning/housing set-aside policies in the community.

Implementation
Codify new community expectations and direction in a “community charter”.

Convene a regular gathering (annual, biannual) of community residents to evaluate progress toward community vision and recommend “course corrections”.


This is not an all-inclusive program.  There are clearly some issues that are community-specific that would have to be addressed as a community initiates the process.  And there might also be issues raised here that some communities may choose to defer.  But that’s the point; people get a chance to negotiate the new terms for a new community, in a way that current practices and policies don’t allow.

In addition, it’s also true that the proposed program raises new questions as it attempts to answer others.  For example, resources for such an effort, and who would lead it, are uncertain (although local government and philanthropic organizations seem an obvious start).  Other questions might revolve around the duration of the proposed process, whether or not this might stall development, or whether or not there are actual incentives for newcomers and longtimers to participate.  And there are still others who may view the entire process as quixotic and entirely unachievable given its lofty goals.  Valid questions indeed.


Now I’d like to pose the question to readers: do you think management of gentrification activity is feasible, or even possible?  If so, does this outline of a program seem like a workable endeavor?  Your feedback is important.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Postscript

After I posted the above piece a little more than a year ago, there were many comments and thoughts forwarded to me from a variety of interested parties.  If I could summarize, most reasoned that gentrification management 1) interrupted normal and rational market forces; 2) lacked a constituency that could effectively support such a program; and 3) lacked local government will to implement it.  Daniel Kay Hertz, who's gone on to write for City Observatory, penned a thoughtful dissent a few days after my piece, and I responded with a "you know, maybe he's right" piece shortly thereafter.  There were four points Hertz made that rattled me:
"The white middle-class and affluent residents of Oak Park had much more power over their situation than the lower- and working-class, generally non-white residents of gentrifying neighborhoods do today. More to the point, Oak Parkers had more power than the people who wanted to move into Oak Park, which is the opposite of the dynamic in gentrifying areas. To start with the obvious, Oak Parkers had more money, which is useful if you’re going to launch a campaign that will require many, many person-hours of work. The fact that Oak Parkers had money also meant they weren’t in danger of being priced out of their neighborhood; the challenge, rather, was to keep their neighborhoods the kind of places they would choose to live, so as to avoid voluntary mass exodus.
Second, Oak Parkers had the kind of social capital that allowed them to do things like set up equity insurance programs to protect homeowners from potentially falling real estate prices during integration. The social power that came with their racial background also allowed them to get away with “encouraging African American dispersion” throughout Oak Park to avoid ghettoization. Imagine the response of middle-class whites being told by some Pilsen neighborhood council that they would be instructed as to which apartments they were allowed to rent so as to avoid too much white..
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The cast of the film St. Elmo's Fire. Source: biography.com
A while back I got caught up in a couple of Twitter threads that reacted to articles about the Boomer and Millennial impact on politics and culture. In both cases Generation X, the smaller generation of people born between 1961-1981, were left completely out of the discussion. I had to react about the omission.

I'm a Gen Xer, having been born in late 1964. And while I realize we're a true sandwich generation squeezed between two generational behemoths (we were initially called the Baby Busters in the late '70s, after all, in reference to our far smaller numbers compared to the Baby Boomers), we are often overlooked when it comes to our impact on American society.

Case in point: if you're looking for the generational roots of today's back-to-the-city revival, don't look to the hipster Millennials who settled in over the last 15 years or so, or the NIMBY empty-nester Boomers who did the same. Generation X blazed that trail, and there's ample popular media examples to prove it.

Back in the '80s Boomers' place in society could be characterized by how they were portrayed on television and film. That place? Firmly in suburbia. Family Ties showed how former '60s hippies settled down in the suburbs to raise a family in the context of rising '80s conservatism. A more absurd take would be Married... With Children, which explored underlying dysfunction in the suburban household. Another take on Boomers might be L.A. Law, which in some ways echoed the "greed is good" mantra that was apparent in the film Wall Street. And if it wasn't clear that the principals in both shows lived in suburbia, it's because it didn't matter.

But at the same time the '80s saw a genre emerge that showed young adults finding their way in the big city -- mirroring a trend that was underway in reality. Here are four popular examples:

St. Elmo's Fire (1985). The Wikipedia entry says it best: "The movie...centers on a clique of recent graduates of Washington, D.C.'s Georgetown University, and their adjustment to post-university life and the responsibilities of adulthood." I never watched Lena Dunham's Girls, but somehow I feel there's a lot of similarity.

About Last Night... (1986). One might consider this the Chicago version of St. Elmo's Fire, but not exactly. First, it's based on a 1974 David Mamet play called Sexual Perversity in Chicago. Second, the film definitely features Chicago prominently in the background, with all the cool things that attract young adults to cities, but it's a film about shifting gender roles and relationships.

Living Single (1993). This show was about six single young adults living and loving life in a Brooklyn brownstone. Two young men lived in one apartment, and three of the four young women lived across the hall. They were professional, upwardly-mobile Gen Xers, both resisting and later succumbing to the sexual tensions between characters. Sound familiar? Maybe because within a year Living Single was ripped off to create...

Friends (1994). This show was about six single young adults living and loving life in a Manhattan apartment building. Three young men lived in one apartment, and three young women lived across the hall. They were professional, upwardly-mobile Gen Xers,... you know the rest.

My point here is that that the back-to-the-city revival didn't start in 2000 because recent college grads had student loans up to their eyeballs and sought a new place to live. Hollywood recognized the trend going back to the '80s. If anything, it goes back even further. In 1967 the film Barefoot in the Park was released, starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda as young newlyweds adjusting to married life and adulthood in their Greenwich Village brownstone. And that film was based on a 1963 Neil Simon play of the same name.

Look, Millennials have definitely brought more attention to cities in ways that Gen Xers did not. But maybe Xers like me should be recognized as the trailblazers we are.
Just sayin'.
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A view of downtown San Jose, CA. Is it the nation's tenth largest city, or the largest "suburb" of the Bay Area? Source: theregistrysf.com
Ever since cities began their resurgence some 25-30 years ago, there's been increasing debate over what facet of the metro area is actually doing the growing. For most of the post-World War II years population growth was undeniably the purview of the suburbs. As older suburbs matured, new suburbs emerged and soon they were the focus of growth. Which brings us to where we are now, with cities that are showing strong growth after decades of population loss.

So, which is growing? Is it cities? Is it traditional suburbia just beyond the city limits? Is it the suburban periphery? The answer is yes - all of the above. It depends on your metro.

I took a look at the thirty largest U.S. metros (those with more than two million) and looked at growth rates within them between 2010 and 2016. But in doing so, I looked at growth within metro components that are often considered, or analyzed as such. Doing so begins to get to a resolution of the issue.

Most people are familiar with two components of metro areas: core or principal cities that serve as the hub of the metro, and the collection of counties surrounding it that form the balance of the metro area. The balance beyond the core city typically includes all suburban and peripheral areas of the metro area. Most people, however, are far less aware of an intermediate component that, if utilized, can help us gleans some facts. The U.S. Census also designates urbanized areas - the contiguous land area that includes all census tracts with population greater than 1,000 persons per square mile. This includes virtually all core cities and most, but not all, of suburbia.

With that in mind, I split the 30 largest U.S. metros into three buckets for which data could be acquired: core cities, an intermediate suburban area that is the balance of the urbanized area without the core city, and then the balance of the metro area beyond the core city and urbanized area boundary. That third slice, at the edge of metro areas, is what I call the exurban area or the suburban periphery.

Take a look below at the following tables, which show the percentages of core city (red), suburban (yellow) and exurban (green) populations by metro, first in 2010:

Largest U.S. Metros by core city concentration, 2010


And then again in 2016:
Largest U.S. Metros by core city concentration, 2016

The top of the list includes expansive Sun Belt cities with plenty of land available within the city limits (San Antonio, San Diego), and traditional big cities that are much more dense than their surroundings (New York, Chicago). The bottom of the list includes core cities that have become hemmed in by suburban incorporation and as a result have been limited in their ability to grow relative to the rest of their respective regions. Atlanta, Miami, St. Louis and Washington, D.C. each exhibit those traits.

To compare population change by metro area component, I developed this table:

City, Suburban and Exurban Growth Rates, 2010-2016

Nationally for the largest metros, population growth was pretty evenly distributed among the metro components. Core cities grew by 5.8% between 2010-16, intermediate suburbs by 6.1%, and exurbs by 5.6%. There's no real pattern here, but there's enough going on in all corners that if you want to highlight a particular metro area component as the American preference, you can find it. In all, eleven of the thirty largest metros show their growth being led by their core cities, with several of today's superstar cities (New York, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Boston) leading the way. Another nine metros show their strongest growth in the intermediate suburbs. This diverse group includes Portland, Baltimore, Charlotte and Sacramento. The remaining ten metros show their strongest growth occurring at the suburban periphery. Most are Sun Belt metros like Dallas and Phoenix, or Rust Belt metros like St. Louis and Cleveland, but the Bay Area stands out as an exurban outlier among the nation's superstar metros.

To try to make some sense of the data, I grouped the metros by their overall rates of growth. Those that grew at nine percent or more were characterized as high growth metros; those that grew between three and nine percent were deemed moderate growth metros; and those that grew at less than three percent were called low growth metros. Grouping them in this manner, and identifying the single component leading population growth for each metro, led to this table:

Largest U.S. Metro Growth by area type, 2010-2016

Put it all together, and what does it mean? It means that if anyone tells you that Americans express a clear preference for any kind of lifestyle, whether city or suburban or exurban, there are dozens of counterexamples to be found. Each has their strengths and weaknesses, their advocates and critics. Each will have to find their own path to realize their potential.
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South elevation of the proposed Armour Field, looking north from 35th Street. The elevation and design proposal for Armour Field was done by Chicago architect Philip Bess. Source: http://afterburnham.com/armour-field/

(In the mid-1980's the Chicago White Sox were struggling on many levels -- to win on the field, to excite a fan base, and to upgrade their old home ballpark. That spurred them to push for a stadium deal either in the Chicago area or elsewhere.  The Sox nearly moved to suburban Addison until the promise of a new stadium was narrowly defeated in a referendum, and nearly moved to Tampa Bay until the Illinois State Assembly intervened. That deal brought us the Guaranteed Rate Field the Sox have today, which opened in 1991. But another lofty proposal was available that could've transformed not only the Sox but the entire South Side -- and indeed, the entire city, potentially setting it on a completely different trajectory. Let's imagine what could have been. -Pete)

It's the start of the 2019 MLB season, and the Chicago White Sox are celebrating their 25th anniversary in Armour Field, the retro baseball palace that completely reinvigorated the team, the community and the sport. Since moving into the ballpark in 1994, the Sox recaptured the hearts of Chicagoans and ushered in the transformation of much of the South Side. It's worth noting how the Sox went from second-tier status in the Second City, behind the despised Cubs, to one of the most popular franchises today.

Back in the '80s the Sox were facing an uphill battle, on the field and in the hearts of Chicagoans. The success of the Cubs, who nearly went to the World Series in 1984 and again in 1989, coupled with the revitalization of the Wrigleyville area, set them apart from their South Side bretheren. Wrigley Field came to be viewed as a monument to baseball history in a wonderful urban environment, while Comiskey Park was increasingly seen as an eroding structure in an uninviting part of town. The Sox indeed wanted to replace an aging ballpark, but more than anything the organization wanted to find a place that would allow it prosper beyond the shadow of the Cubs.

The failed referendum to bring the Sox to suburban Addison in 1986 sent the team into new home overdrive. The team started a serious flirtation with Tampa Bay elected officials that perhaps came even closer to fruition than the move to the suburbs. But the State of Illinois intervened and committed state funding to building a new stadium for the team in 1988. But with no new plan or site available, the Sox initially sought to replicate the suburban-style stadium proposed for Addison on parking lots just south of the existing Comiskey Park.

Many Sox fans were relieved the team would not leave its South Side base and abandon its identity, but were frustrated by the bland, out-of-character design. Baseball enthusiasts nationwide joined in. Soon, baseball fans began to rally behind an obscure proposal developed by Chicago architect Philip Bess. It put pressure on the team to think bigger.

Armour Field was an audacious design that flew in the face of the cookie-cutter, multi-use stadium designs that dominated since the 1960's. It harkened back to baseball's heyday when ballparks were built into the fabric of surrounding community and accepted the constraints the built environment placed on it. Its overall height was kept reasonably low so as not to overwhelm the surrounding community. It occupied the small park known as Armour Square just north of Comiskey. Because of the site dimensions Bess designed a stadium reminiscent of the old New York Giants' Polo Grounds -- a U-shaped facility that brought fans close to the field action. The ballpark would have field dimensions that would go against the standardized scale that most MLB teams used then, with very short distances to the foul lines (just 283 feet), and exceptionally deep power alleys (421 feet to left-center and right-center fields). See the site plan below:

Armour Field site plan by Philip Bess. Source: http://afterburnham.com/armour-field/

Bess did a few other notable things as well. He replaced the lost parkland with new green space on the site of the old Comiskey including an outline of the old field. He included commercial areas near the ballpark to house restaurants, bars and other uses for fans. He placed a gateway at 35th Street and Wentworth Avenue, at the point that fans attending the game via the Red Line public transit would enter, to identify the location as a point of significance. And he added hundreds of residential uses, townhouses and multifamily structures, near the ballpark because he understood people would want to be close to the hubbub.

In 1989 the Sox and the State of Illinois sealed the deal for the new ballpark. It was great news for Sox fans and for the city, despite the huge public investment in the project. For the Sox organization, not so much. It meant starting from scratch again on the design, engineering and construction on the one site they were least wedded to, and it significantly pushed back the opening of any new facility. The Sox were hopeful, but not content.

Opening Day 1994 was a great day for the Sox and their new home; Armour Field was a hit from the start. The nostalgic look of the stadium gained admirers from across the country. The Sox set a new team attendance record of more than 3.2 million visitors. Armour Field's unique and historically pleasing design gathered tons of national attention. For the Sox it was a marketing success. Sadly, though, the labor dispute between the players and owners that culminated in the player's strike cut short a strong season by the Sox.

But the transformation of the Sox and the surrounding community began in earnest. The new ballpark and the revenues it generated meant the Sox began a transition from second-tier status to top dog in MLB. The Sox began to have a game day environment that rivaled the Cubs' Wrigleyville scene. The new residences were a catalyst for more development and renovation in the Bridgeport neighborhood. Amenities flocked to the area.

By the early 2000's Bridgeport became a neighborhood hotspot in Chicago. The area west of the ballpark between 31st and 35th streets received a huge influx of residents drawn by the Sox and the increasing recognition of the neighborhood's easy transit to the Loop. Revitalization soon spread to the northwest closer to Archer Avenue. Before long the entire area between Archer Avenue on the north, 35th Street on the south, the Dan Ryan Expressway on the east and Ashland Avenue on the west was transformed.

By 2005, Bridgeport was competing with Wicker Park as the hottest neighborhood in the Chicago -- at the same time the Sox ended their 88-year championship drought and won the World Series.

Transformation, however, came with a cost. Immense development pressure was placed on the small Armour Square neighborhood, also known as Chicago's Chinatown. Commercially Chinatown was as strong as it had ever been. But Chinatown leaders were deeply concerned about maintaining the integrity of their historic community.

East of Armour Field the story was quite different. At about the same time that the ballpark opened, demolition of the vast State Street Corridor public housing developments began. In 1999 the Chicago Housing Authority acknowledged the failure of its public housing developments and pushed to develop new, mixed-income developments. Before long, the Ickes, Dearborn, Stateway, and Robert Taylor developments were gone, with a promise of new development in the future. Many of the 20,000-plus public housing residents believed that the transformation of Bridgeport and the loss of their homes was no coincidence. There was considerable concern that the neighborhood investment they desired was all happening to the west of them. But there was fear that the terrible "G" word -- gentrification -- was about to rear its ugly head on former public housing land.

In 2014, after stinging criticism from South and West side community leaders following the closure of more than 50 public schools the year before, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he would support a decking of the Dan Ryan Expressway between 31st and 35th streets with a 32-acre greenway that would connect Bridgeport on the west to Bronzeville to the east. The effort grew out of a partnership between the City, developers active in the Bridgeport area, Bronzeville leaders and activists and key institutions like Mercy Hospital and the Illinois Institute of Technology. Certainly the greenway would be viewed as a symbolic connection between adjacent communities often seen as being a world apart. But it was also viewed as an economic development catalyst that could ease development pressure on one side and stimulate investment on the other. The greenway began construction in 2016 and will open coinciding with this year's Sox Opening Day on April 4.

What started as a singular effort to help a moribund franchise gain a new home became something much, much larger. The effort leveraged the historical legacy of America's Pastime with the strength of committed local institutions and stakeholders, and promises to bring prosperity and opportunity to a long-neglected part of Chicago.
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The iconic photo "A Great Day in Harlem", taken by Esquire photographer Art Kane in 1958.  The photo is of 57 prominent jazz musicians, including legends such as Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie and Thelonious Monk, and several neighborhood children.  

(Note: For Black History Month, I wanted to revisit my series on black urbanism, which I completed last year. You can certainly click on the links below to see the black urbanist nominees from yesterday and today, and it will give you a sense of how I developed the thoughts of what defines black urbanism, explored below. I hope you find it worth your time. -Pete)

Links in the series:

Recognizing Black Urbanists
Black Urbanists, Part 1: Academia
Black Urbanists, Part 2: Community Activists
Black Urbanists, Part 3: Local Government Management
Black Urbanists, Part 4: Media
Black Urbanists, Part 5: Nonprofits
Black Urbanists, Part 6: Politicians and Private Practice

Here we are.  Five months, seven posts, and nearly 10,000 words into an exploration of black urbanism and the uncovering of black people working in the urbanist sphere, nominated by Corner Side Yard readers and followers, and we reach the conclusion.  The exploration is complete; now is the time to put it all together and determine what it means.

In a nutshell, the profiles of nominated persons here reveal that there is a distinct practice, or discipline, of black urbanism.

Before we get to defining that practice, let's start at the beginning of the exploration.  The stereotype of urbanists is usually some sort of subset of the group most associated with gentrification in American cities -- white, young, well-educated, generally liberal in political and social orientation.  They're noted for bringing a fresh perspective on the possibilities and potential of cities.  They're also known for bringing a skill set in a particular specialty (architecture or urban design, economics, transportation, public policy or academia) into broader discussions about cities.  From my perspective, this has been the prevailing view of urbanists since the rise of two different but often overlapping groups, the New Urbanists and the Creative Class adherents, during the 1990's (I'll discuss their relevance to black urbanism later).

But the fact remains that, despite that urbanist stereotype, the African-American population is one of the most urban of any racial or ethnic group in the country.  Nationally blacks make up about 12 percent of the total population.  However, when looking at the largest metro areas, those with more than one million people, that figure surges higher.  And when we consider specific metros, we see even larger percentages: Chicago, at 17 percent; New York, at 18 percent; Philadelphia, at 21 percent; Detroit, at 23 percent; Washington, D.C., at 26 percent; Atlanta, at 32 percent.  Blacks have a significant presence in American metropolitan areas, and that's been the case for more than a century.

The numbers, however, haven't necessarily translated into a universal understanding of the particular impact of black culture, black life and black thought on cities.  It's true that most people recognize jazz, rock and roll, modern R&B and hip hop as art forms that have their roots in the African-American urban experience.  Another truth, however, is that blacks haven't typically been represented in large numbers among the groups that have tended to develop urbanists and promote urbanism over the last 25-30 years or so -- the architects, designers, economists, transportation experts, policy analysts and academics referred to earlier.  That even includes trained urban planners like myself.

But this series has made it clear that there are blacks who are making their presence felt in cities, in ways that deviate from the mainstream.  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.

Pragmatic vs. Idealistic.  What is the immediate threat to American cities?  Is it the continued expansion of conventional low-density suburban development -- sprawl -- pulling people out of cities?  Is it a dire lack of housing, driving up prices and rents in the most desirable cities, threatening low-income residents?  Is it the primacy of the automobile, threatening pedestrians and a walkable environment?  Is it spreading inequality, with concentrated wealth and poverty at both ends of the economic spectrum, and a disappearing middle class?  In most cases, mainstream urbanists seem to take an idealistic approach and address problems in the abstract, while black urbanists, most concerned about spreading inequality and perhaps secondarily about affordability, seem to focus on immediate concerns and push for pragmatic solutions.

Direct vs. Indirect.  Many mainstream urbanists seem to view cities almost exclusively through the prism of their profession.  Architects and urban designers see design as having a transformative impact that can improve the urban quality of life; transportation and infrastructure experts contend that transit and infrastructure improvements can foster stronger links to job opportunities.  However, many black urbanists choose to take a more direct route to community revitalization, through addressing the needs of current residents.

Community Focused vs. Individually Focused.  Mainstream urbanism seems to concern itself with removing barriers that can allow revitalization, creativity and innovation to flourish.  That's all well and good, for individuals who have the ability to maximize their personal opportunity.  But a critical distinction that many black urbanists make is that a community's identity is collective, not an assemblage of individuals, and they tailor their revitalization approaches with that in mind.

Egalitarian vs. (vaguely) Autocratic.  Perhaps because a Le Corbusier, Daniel Burnham, or Robert Moses was able to accomplish much through their direct or indirect power to impact the physical appearance of cities, many mainstream urbanists have tried to utilize similar positions to obtain similar results.  Many black urbanists, however, have rarely had the ability to ascend to such heights and have had to use other means to have a similar impact (one huge caveat: Jane Jacobs adopted an egalitarian approach in her defense of her beloved Greenwich Village.  But while she's been applauded since for her advocacy, earning her the highest rank from one publication listing influential urbanists, I'd challenge people today to think of a mainstream urbanist operating in a similar fashion).

The growth of New Urbanism and creative class theory underscore the differences between black urbanism and what's become mainstream urbanism.  New Urbanism came about as an urban design movement in the mid-1980's, promoting pedestrian-oriented development with mixed uses.   Early on I applauded the movement, because I saw it as celebrating the kinds of communities I most familiar with in cities.  But it became apparent that New Urbanism advocates had a complicated relationship with existing urban environments.  Yes, New Urbanists took their inspiration from the pre-World War II urban environment that permeated many cities, but were challenged today.  But it became clear that their goal was less about improving existing communities, and more about paving the way for the creation of new ones.  New Urbanists have done an excellent job of charting the way for suburbs to move away from the sprawl paradigm that's ruled for the last 70+ years.  But the movement has had difficulty translating that success into inclusive revitalization of the existing communities that provided the inspiration.

Richard Florida's identification of the creative class has been a driving force in the economic development of post-industrial cities since he introduced the idea in the book The Rise of the Creative Class in 2002.  Florida identified knowledge workers -- technology, research, education, finance, health care, arts, and professional services, among others -- as the leading edge in the transition from the twentieth century industrial economy to today's post-industrial global economy.  Florida also said that successful places would be the ones that appealed to what creative class types preferred:  complex, diverse and stimulating environments that emphasize serendipitous contacts, or exactly the kinds of places New Urbanists were promoting.  City leaders and business elites took Florida to heart.  They worked hard to create the type of urban environment to support creative endeavors.

But today, even Florida is able to note that the laser focus on appealing to the creative class has created new challenges in our cities, without ever fully addressing the ones that existed all along.  In his book The New Urban Crisis, published last year, Florida laments the distortion of the creative class theory and its ultimate impact on cities:
"I have lived in and around cities and observed them closely my entire life, and I have been an academic urbanist for more than three decades. I have seen cities decline and die, and I have seen them come back to life. But none of that prepared me for what we face today. Just when it seemed that our cities were really turning a corner, when people and jobs were moving back to them, a host of new urban challenges—from rising inequality to increasingly unaffordable housing and more—started to come to the fore. Seemingly overnight, the much-hoped-for urban revival has turned into a new kind of urban crisis...
Gentrification and inequality are the direct outgrowths of the re-colonization of the city by the affluent and the advantaged."
From my perspective, New Urbanism and creative class theory came into being through the prism of mainstream urbanism -- idealistic, indirect in its problem resolution, individually focused, and autocratic in its implementation -- without utilizing any of the pragmatic, direct, socially focused and democratic strategies employed by those working within the black urbanism paradigm.

The distinctions I'm noting now are something I've felt for decades as part of my personal experience, but haven't been able to articulate until recently.  Early on in my career, I had the chance to work for a university engaged in a community/university partnership program funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  The program brought together faculty and staff from a wide range of disciplines within the university, and community leaders and activists from the community we chose to focus our work in.  Ostensibly the goal of the program was to bring the institutional resources of a university to the grassroots community revitalization work taking place.  But it didn't work out that way.

It didn't take long to discover that some of the academics were less concerned with community revitalization, and more concerned with proving or disproving various theories.  Could youth violence be reduced through early intervention?  Does local school control improve student performance?  Could entrepreneurship thrive if community residents are allowed to flesh out business ideas with academic assistance, and given more exposure to business plan development?  All valid questions, but it sometimes appeared that the goal was finding answers to the questions, and not the revitalization of the community.

Added to this was the service learning approach the university wanted to adopt for all work it did in the community.  The university wanted to identify as many volunteering opportunities for its students as it could.  It sought out ways to use the tough environment of the inner-city community as a "teachable moment' for students.  The university wanted student exposure to inner-city community challenges, followed by student reflection and introspection on those challenges, as a way to enrich the student learning experience.

At best, community revitalization became a tangential goal.

So what could each urbanist perspective learn from the other?  Black urbanism suffers mostly from a lack of recognition, in part due to the fact that few blacks doing the work come from the traditional fields that birthed urbanists.  Part of that is addressed in this series, by highlighting the work of dedicated servants to cities.  That can also be changed with more black people entering those same fields and gaining the credentials that signify "urbanist" to mainstream types.

But mainstream urbanists would do well to learn from the examples of those who chose the black urbanist path.  Choosing to solve problems instead of striving for a lofty ideal.  Being direct in addressing matters of inequality, rather than looking at indirect means for challenges that are the result of direct actions.  Shifting practices from those that emphasize individual gain for those at the highest levels to one that develops broad-based communities for people across the economic spectrum.  And seeking to gather the input of all in a given community, over the exclusive input of leaders, experts and moneyed interests.

The path to stronger, vibrant, and more inclusive cities is right before us, if we only listen to those who've been moving in that direction.
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Quintessential suburban development. Source: marketurbanism.com
(Note: This was originally posted at my Forbes blog last December. One thing I want to clarify is that I don't believe conventional suburbia is "doomed", per se. I think it's going to remain the predominant development type in America for at least the rest of my lifetime. However, suburbia is getting some unforeseen challenges to its hegemony, and the response from those who support it hasn't always been a good one. I liken the suburban response to city revitalization to the response of the Big Three automakers to foreign automaker competition starting in the '70s: "It's a phase; people will come back to our product; our cars are clearly superior in quality." American automakers are still here, but they're nothing like they were when they went unchallenged. The same will happen with cities and suburbs. Check this out. -Pete

For as long as there have been cities, particularly in America, people have been measuring their attractiveness and effectiveness largely by one measure – population growth. But as our nation has matured and moved past the rapid growth phase of its development, that’s increasingly ineffective. Is there a better way to evaluate cities? Yes – by measuring their ability to attract wealth. By that measure, many cities are pulling away from their suburban hinterlands, and larger metro areas are pulling away from medium-sized and smaller ones.

Recently I pulled some U.S. Census American Community Survey data on aggregate income for the 51 largest U.S. metros (those with more than one million residents), for 2010 and 2015. I factored out aggregate income numbers for the core cities for each metro area, and found some revealing patterns:
  • Between 2010 and 2015, population in the core cities of the 51 largest U.S. metros grew 5.8%, yet aggregate income (all in real dollars) grew by 23.9%. Core city population grew from 45 million to 47.5 million, and aggregate income grew from $1.13 trillion to $1.4 trillion.
  • Over the same period, population in the suburbs of the 51 largest U.S. metro areas grew 5.9%, yet aggregate income grew by 19.8%. Suburban population grew from 123 million in 2010 to 130 million in 2015, while aggregate income grew from $3.6 trillion to $4.3 trillion.
  • On a per capita basis, cities are closing the income gap between themselves and their surrounding suburbs. Per capita income rose in cities from $25,170 in 2010 to $29,490 in 2015 a gain of 17.2%, and from $28,919 to $32,715 in the suburbs over the same period, a gain of 13.1%.
But as always, the devil is in the details, and when you look at individual metros you can find some very surprising results. For instance, Providence, RI and Salt Lake City, UT lead the way in terms of city income growth. City income growth in Providence grew by 17.6% between 2010 and 2015, while income growth actually fell in its suburbs by 1.7%. City income growth in Salt Lake City grew by 42.1%; its suburban income growth grew by only 4.6%.

Despite the presence of Providence and Salt Lake City at the top of the list, the nation’s largest metros and their core cities lead the way. City aggregate income is growing at least fifty percent faster than the rate of surrounding suburbs in New York, Chicago, Washington, Miami, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Seattle, among others. Charlotte, Indianapolis and Virginia Beach are the metros with the biggest suburban income gains, where suburban aggregate and per capita income grew by nearly five times the rate in their respective core cities. In all, the core cities in 28 of the 51 largest metros are outpacing their suburbs in aggregate and per capita income, with 17 of the 51 having their strongest aggregate and per capita income growth in the suburbs.

How are cities able to dramatically increase their income profile, while only modestly adding new residents – or even declining? Chicago’s example provides one clue. There, DePaul University’s Institute for Housing Studies recently reported that Chicago counted almost 3,600 fewer homes in 2016 compared to 2010, driven by its loss of 2-4 unit buildings. Geoff Smith, director for the Institute of Housing Studies, noted that “It’s clear that that two- to four-unit stock is facing a lot of pressure from both ends of the market, as they’re getting demolished in lower-cost neighborhoods and converted to single-family homes in higher-cost neighborhoods.”

This shift – a transfer of wealth from suburb to city – is just as profound as the city-to-suburb shift that preceded it in the middle of the twentieth century, and presents a new challenge to both. It’s certainly fueled concerns around inequality and potential displacement in our big cities. That’s gotten a lot of our attention. But it’s also challenging long-held assumptions about suburbs and their sustainability. What happens when suburbs that were built for the middle class are no longer attractive to them? What happens when suburban municipalities are forced to consider sizable fiscal challenges with a shrinking pool of resources?

For better or worse, cities largely had the fiscal support, social infrastructure and media attention to weather the storm prior to their rebirth over the last 25 years or so. New York City was famously denied federal assistance by President Gerald Ford in 1975, and narrowly avoided bankruptcy. Fiscal rule of Washington, D.C. by the Congress-appointed Financial Control Board between 1995-2001 is largely forgotten. But who will speak up for the fragmented, and increasingly politically disenfranchised, suburbs as the wealth transfer continues?

Our metro areas may be finding ourselves at the start of a new conversation about cities and suburbs. It may be time for cities to develop a magnanimous approach to their suburban brethren.   Instead of ignoring the suburban challenges, perhaps cities should offer their expertise, developed over decades of overcoming serious urban crises.
Where the money goes is more important than where the people go.
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Homes in Chicago's Auburn-Gresham neighborhood on the South Side. It's a community that was once strongly middle class but has become considerably poorer since 2000. I lived there until 1995. Source: wttw.org
Last week I was fortunate to be a part of a fantastic symposium, called Policies to Promote Inclusive Urban Growth. It was held in Dallas at the George W. Bush Presidential Center on the campus of Southern Methodist University, and the event also served as the public release of a report which I worked on, Beyond Gentrification: Towards More Equitable Urban Growth, published by the Center for Opportunity Urbanism (If you get a chance I encourage you to check out the video of the event, found at the first link above). The report took a look a recent development activity and their impacts in three very different cities: Chicago, Los Angeles and Dallas.

As you might expect, I worked on the Chicago portion of the project. My work followed what's become a familiar theme to regular readers here -- Chicago is a study in contrasts. I found that it's becoming wealthier while simultaneously increasing its impoverished areas. It's becoming exceedingly expensive and astonishingly vacant, more educated and less educated, all at the same time. How so? The city has drawn in and concentrated affluent new residents along the city's beautiful lakefront, but there's been continual decline in many of the city's neighborhoods, particularly on the South and West sides. It's become the prime example of a bifurcated city, gaining high-income and retaining low-income residents, while squeezing out those in the middle. This has most directly impacted Chicago's black middle class living on the South and West sides, leading to a decline of the city's black population by 25% since 2000, the leading edge of Chicago's 7% population decline since 2000. Chicago's concentration of revitalization is a concern.

But there's some analysis I conducted that didn't make the final report.

We used data from the U.S. Census and American Community Survey to evaluate conditions within the respective cities. I used that, and data aggregated by Chicago Community Area (CCAs) by Rob Paral (robparal.com) from 1990, 2000 and 2008-2012 (the five-year ACS estimate that can broadly be used as 2010 data) to look at population, households and income by CCAs.

First, I took a median household income measure for all 77 CCAs in 1990, 2000 and 2008-12 and grouped them in three categories -- high income, meaning a CCA had a median household income above the Chicago metro area's median household income; middle income, meaning a CCA's median household income was between the city's median and the metro's median; and low income, meaning a CCA's median was below the city's median. Here are those thresholds, all in 2017 dollars:

 
 
 
I know, I know, those numbers aren't really grounded in any real measure of socio-economic status, but they're real enough to use as points on a spectrum.

So we've established the thresholds. Here's how the CCAs look on a map at the 1990, 2000 and 2008-12 intervals, with green representing the high income areas, yellow indicating middle income areas, and blue used to show low income areas:

 
 
 
 
What do these maps illustrate, over time? I say four key points:
 
1) The gradual spread of high income CCAs (green) along the lakefront, and moving inland;
 
2) The erosion of some suburban-style high income CCAs in the far northwest and far southwest sides;
 
3) The dramatic loss of the number of middle income CCAs (yellow); and
 
4) The dramatic increase in the number of low income CCAs (blue) throughout the city.
 
Incomes did not change dramatically for those in the different income categories. High income CCAs had an average median household income between $79,000 and $83,000 from 1990 to 2008-12. Middle income CCAs were at $58,000 in 1990 peaked at nearly $64,000 in 2000, and fell to $59,000 in 2008-12. Low income CCAs were between $33,000 and $37,000 over the period. I'm guessing incomes were pretty static because this came on the heels of the 2008-09 Great Recession.
 
Incomes in Chicago didn't change much, but the composition of incomes at the neighborhood level did.  There are 77 CCAs in Chicago. In 1990, 12 could be considered high income, 32 were middle income and 33 were low income. By 2000 that profile shifted to 15-20-42, and by 2008-12 it was 14-14-49. Slightly more high income CCAs, far fewer middle income CCAs, and far more low income CCAs.
 
But the population and household figures within the CCAs tell the story, and it challenges the way we think about space and income inequality. The number of people living within high income CCAs increased by a staggering 81%, from 337,000 to 610,000. Those living in middle income CCAs fell be a just as staggering 50%, from 1.05 million to 527,000. And those living in low income CCAs rose by 12%, from 1.4 million to just under 1.6 million.
 
In other words, while not everyone who lives in a neighborhood of a certain income category may fit that profile, the lines drawn between them are hardening and those in the middle are getting squeezed hardest.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Note: I'm pleased to share a piece I wrote for the Chicago Reader, published January 24. You can link to the original Reader article right here. -Pete

The Loop and lakefront show all the signs of a city that's booming. Yet Chicago, and more broadly the midwest, is the epicenter of a little-understood reverse Great Migration.

Chicago lost population for the third year in a row, according to the U.S. Census's annual American Community Survey, released last spring. Among the nation's ten largest cities, only four (Los Angeles, Chicago, San Diego, and San Jose) are shedding black residents. Between 2010 and 2017, Chicago did so at four to ten times the rate of the other three. This is unprecedented for any major American city over the last hundred years.

Following the social unrest and suburban growth of the 1960s and '70s, nearly all major American cities witnessed huge population losses. Chicago topped out at 3.6 million residents in 1950, and then went on a slide over the next 40 years to just under 2.8 million in 1990. It ticked upward slightly in 2000 for the first show of growth in half a century but has remained pretty flat ever since.

A policy paper released last year by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) noted some of the usual suspects behind the trend—an aging population, declining birth rates, delayed marriages, and stagnant immigration. Chicago's not gaining large numbers of domestic immigrants like the Sunbelt cities of the south and southwest, or continuing to gain international immigrants like the major coastal cities. That's partly true.

Economists and policy wonks also say Chicago's economy isn't as strong or dynamic as New York's or those of the Bay Area or metropolitan D.C. They also cite Chicago's high taxes as a factor in pushing some residents out. And they'd be partly right. But the fact remains that big coastal cities have taxes that are every bit as high, even higher, than those we have here in Chicago.

Neither narrative tells the whole story. The answers may be in the data at the race and ethnicity level. After a big drop in the first half of the last decade, the number of white residents in Chicago has grown 9 percent since 2005. Latino growth has slowed significantly, but it's still up about 5 percent since 2000. Chicago's Asian population has boomed, growing by 44 percent since 2000.

But Chicago's black population, the city's largest demographic in 2000, has dropped by 24 percent through 2017, going from more than one million in 2000 to just under 800,000 in 2017. The number of whites in Chicago surpassed blacks in 2017, and Latinos will almost certainly pass blacks by the time of the 2020 census.

Chicago's population would be increasing if not for the black exodus. How can it be explained?

Well, there's the lack-of-a-dynamic­-economy theory and the slowed­-immigration theory, already noted. And there's the rust-belt-restructuring theory, which suggests that Chicago's transition from a manufacturing­-dominant economy to a ser­vice- or tech-based one creates new winners and losers—and that we're shedding those who are unable to contribute in the new economic environment. Also partly true, but pretty Darwinistic.

There's also the "crime and schools" theory. Chicago's violent crime rate has been a national story for some years now, and while crime is down significantly from the "crack era" 90s, it hasn't fallen as much as it has in other major cities. The closure of more than 50 schools in 2013, mostly in black communities on the south and west sides, meant the loss of key local anchor institutions. Without a doubt there are many blacks who feel they are being pushed out of Chicago by its crime challenges, and that the school closures were an indication of a lack of investment in critical local institutions.

Chicago demographer and public policy consultant Rob Paral said as much in an interview with real estate news website bisnow.com last spring. Discussing the city's population loss, he said, "Blacks are concerned about policy issues like school closures, crime, and policing. What we're seeing is a reverse migration to southern areas of the country."

That's right—black Chicagoans aren't flocking to the suburbs so much as leaving the region altogether. The number of blacks in the metro area but outside of Chicago has been relatively stagnant since 2000, an indication that people are leaving. The cities gaining at Chicago's expense? Sunbelt hot spots like Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston. The draw is the perception of greater opportunity, and perhaps the chance to restore old southern networks with family and friends who stuck around.

That's why I come down to Chicago's legacy of segregation as the biggest driver of this pattern.

Segregation has created a lack of economic mobility. I'd argue that Chicago is economically stratified to the extent that upward mobility for blacks here is particularly difficult. The CMAP report noted that the unemployment rate for blacks in Chicagoland stubbornly stays at more than twice the region's rate, and that more than 60 percent of blacks who left the region were without a local job when they did so. Networks are hard to penetrate. The power structure is rigid. There's also a lack of residential mobility. Chicago and its suburbs are more open to people of color than ever before, but blacks here are acutely aware that people still attach stigmas to places we move to. This has the impact of stagnating or lowering property values and rents where blacks move in large numbers, often wiping whole chunks of the region from the minds of many. The south side and south and southwest burbs don't even occur to many whites seeking affordable options.

The "crime and schools" theory is related to an even broader concept—displacement by decline. A lack of investment in parts of the city leads to institutional destabilization, and ultimately abandonment. When the time is right—values are at their lowest, or the social stigma is lost—revitalization can take place under a new regime. Some black Chicagoans point to the transformation of the South Loop and near south side, which lost nearly half of their (mostly black) residents between 1950 and 1990, but have since tripled in population via a high-rise condo-tower boom. The South Loop and near south side are more diverse than ever, as whites, Latinos, Asians, and others inhabit areas previously unexplored. This is why the discussion of black population loss in Chicago ends with bafflement and befuddlement—and makes "displacement by decline" the de facto policy.

The hallmark of Chicago (and rust-belt) segregation has been black avoidance. Since the Great Migration the practice has been to explicitly or implicitly contain blacks within certain areas. But as metro areas got bigger, transportation more of a challenge, and city living more desirable, new attention was given to long-forgotten places. Here in Chicago that started with former white ethnic areas (Lincoln Park, Wicker Park, etc). Within the last ten to 20 years that expanded to include largely Latino areas (Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Pilsen). But for the most part the pattern of black avoidance remains.

In places with stronger economies, like New York and Washington, D.C., there's been more direct engagement—even conflict—between white newcomers and longtime black residents in many communities. Spike Lee famously ranted about gentrification arriving in black neighborhoods in Brooklyn five years ago, and the area surrounding D.C.'s historically black Howard University has witnessed significant change in the last decade. But the rust-belt pattern is one of indirect conflict. Places collapse, then new groups come in.

Strangely, Detroit might be one of the best examples of "displacement by decline" in action. The Motor City has been at the absolute forefront of urban stigmatization. But Detroit is now in the midst of a major transformation precisely in the areas that were once abandoned and left for ruin. Downtown Detroit has been transformed; surrounding neighborhoods are undergoing a renaissance. What was once the disgraced Cass Corridor is now upscale and hip Midtown.

For both Detroit and Chicago it appears the near future will bring the continued loss of black residents and continued gains in whites, Latinos, and Asians. Both cities, and others like them in the rust belt, will become more diverse and, at the same time, less black. Population loss will become population gain again.

By the middle of this century we could be talking about the incredible transformation of former rust-belt cities. But the blacks who contributed mightily to their growth in the 20th century might not be able to share in the new prosperity. Which leads to the question: Are blacks moving to new spaces with greater opportunity, or moving away from their next best shot at it?
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A map showing percent change in residential property assessed values in Detroit, from 2018 to 2019. Source: City of Detroit via crainsdetroit.com

 
Detroit may have turned a pretty significant corner. It may mean little to other cities around the nation, but this is big news for the Motor City.
 
According to the City of Detroit, and reported on by various sources, assessed values of property are rapidly increasing and reversing decades of falling property value. The city's assessor's office showed that residential property value increased by 12 percent in 2018, and commercial property value increased by an astounding 35 percent as well. Residential property values had been in decline for the last 17 years before showing this upsurge. Commercial property, on the strength of the city's downtown revitalization, showed an increase last year.
 
Perhaps most importantly (as seen in the above map), property value increases were widely distributed throughout the city. The Detroit News says that 90 percent of the city's 194 neighborhoods showed an increase in value, an indicator that the downtown revitalization is beginning to have some impact on the city overall.
 
To understand why this is important, one must understand where Detroit is coming from. Last summer, the Detroit Free Press noted rising home prices in the city, providing some evidence that this change would come. But Detroit was rebounding from an extremely low base. From the Free Press article:
 
"In the city of Detroit, the median sales price hit $38,500 (last) June, up 41 percent from a year earlier, according to a report released Monday by Realcomp.
 
Detroit's median home sales price is now about 275 percent higher than it was five years ago ($10,325), back when many houses in city limits still sold for less than the cost of used cars."
 
Emphasis added. Anyone with any inkling of knowledge about housing value can tell you that a median sales price of $38,500 in today's America is incredibly low. Relatedly, a blog piece I wrote last summer showed that the house I grew up in in Detroit has appreciated at less than the rate of inflation for the last fifty years.
 
As I've noted before, prices that low aren't indicators of an affordable real estate market, but a broken one. The traditional home mortgage market largely left Detroit some time ago, meaning most real estate purchases were cash purchases. Renovations and additions ground to a halt. Vacancies increased. And the downward spiral extended until prices hit bottom.
 
This isn't, however, a recent phenomenon related to the city's 2014 bankruptcy. This is something related to the city's decades-long economic decline and population loss, and government mismanagement, going back to the 1950's. During the midst of Detroit's bankruptcy the Detroit Free Press reported that Detroit hemorrhaged property value losses starting in the late 1950's. In 1958 the total value of residential property in Detroit peaked at $45.2 billion in 2013 dollars. By 1980, residential property values plummeted to just $15 billion in 2013 dollars, an incredible 67 percent decline over two decades. Residential values bottomed out at about $8.8 billion around 1998, and then jumped upward to about $16 billion prior to the housing crash -- evidence that Detroit, too, was subject to the nationwide housing bubble. Property values began another slide in the aftermath of the Great Recession that didn't rebound until the last couple of years.
 
How did a local real estate market crash? In Detroit's case, I argue the following played a role:
 
An oversupply of housing.  The same suburban housing boom that fueled the growth of metros across the nation was apparent in the Rust Belt, too.  The problem, however, is that the boom took place at the same time that Rust Belt metro growth ground to a halt in the '60s and '70s.  They rarely gained the population to substantiate the development.  That led to...
 
Weakened demand.  Metros like Detroit and Cleveland continued to push outward even as their metro populations stagnated.  Very quickly a preference is established for new housing over old housing, dropping the value in older neighborhoods.
 
Obsolescence.  Akron planning director and blogger Jason Segedy recently wrote that "a scrapyard technically has a large supply of cars, but none of them are drivable. A similar situation exists in the urban housing market.  All of the high-quality older homes, in the desirable neighborhoods, are already occupied and cared-for, leaving behind a large stock of defunct and obsolete vacant housing which no one wants, that is slowly rotting away."  That's true in the case of many Rust Belt metros; Rochester, Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh are among many Rust Belt metros with some of the oldest housing stock in the nation.  And few have any of the contemporary amenities that today's astute homebuyers demand.
 
Vacancy.  Property owners who believe that they'll never get a return on their investment are liable to walk away.  Back in May the Center for Community Progress and the Lincoln Institute for Land Policy published a report outlining the extent of vacant properties in a select group of U.S. metros.  It's no coincidence that cities with the highest levels of hypervacancy, or the numbers of census tracts that have in excess of a quarter of its properties vacant, reads like a list of the lowest value cities as well.
 
Segregation.  Most Northern cities pioneered a new segregation tactic as the Great Migration brought hundreds of thousands of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North -- neighborhood avoidance.  Residents engaging in "white flight" ceded ground to incoming minorities within urban neighborhoods and never looked back.  This further weakened demand (substantially decreasing the number of potential homebuyers viewing homes within some neighborhoods) and deepening patterns of segregation already established by redlining practices.
 
Economic and social forces converged to break Detroit's real estate market.
 
So what's happening now? The economic boom in Detroit's downtown, which began in earnest at the start of this century, is beginning to have sweeping impact on the rest of the city. For sure, longtime homeowners aren't exactly getting rich, or even getting new, well-paying jobs, for that matter. However, more stories like this one  are likely to emerge. Economic conditions are improving, and rather than concentrating all the benefits downtown, we may see some outward expansion of revitalization.
 
I prefer to think of this rebound not as the first step toward the displacement of low and middle income people in Detroit. I view it as an opportunity to fix what had long been broken, and as a necessary first step in the redemption of a city.
 

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New Year's fireworks celebration in Chicago. Source: usatoday.com
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 Forbes.com. 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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