Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Chicago’s self-segregation hurts city’s chances of gaining future success?

I’m never sure what to think of people who want to point out the fact that Chicago is a racially- and ethnically-segregated city.
In this Chicago map, black people are blue, the whites are orange, and Latinos are the greens interspersed throughout. Map provided by Metropolitan Planning Council 

Oftentimes, the people who bring this argument up come from places that are so overwhelmingly white (compared to Chicago’s roughly one-third equal split between white, black and Latino) that the only reason they don’t have separate black enclaves is because they don’t have black people living there at all.

BUT I’M NOT going to deny the reality our city exists in a way in which people can avoid contact with individuals who aren’t exactly like themselves – unless they happen to wander into a nearby neighborhood to try out an ethnic restaurant.

Dinnertime may be the only time we integrate, before rushing back home to our fortress-like neighborhoods meant to keep out those not like ourselves.

This issue was the focus of a study by the Metropolitan Planning Council and the D.C.-based Urban Institute, which released a study Tuesday saying that Chicago is the fifth-most segregated metropolitan area in the nation.

I suppose we can take some joy in the fact that we’re better than the Milwaukee metro area (number four) and that places like New York or Cleveland are comparable, but it doesn’t really mean much.

THE STUDY, FUNDED in part by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation that we often hear about if we pay attention to public television, tries to make an economic argument for increased integration of the multitude of groups that reside in Chicago.

A better-integrated city would mean more economic opportunity for all residents, implying those segments of our city’s society that now could be perceived as a financial drag on us all would actually provide a boost.
NEIGHBORHOODS: Chicago strength, or impediment?

Chicago-area residents would earn an extra $4.4 billion per year in income, the gross domestic product for the area would boost by $8 billion and we’d have 30 percent fewer homicides – but 83,000 more residents with bachelor’s degrees. Or so the study predicts.

Of course, achieving this theoretical economic growth would require some serious changes in the way things are perceived in Chicago.

FOR ONE THING, the concept of various ethnic groups each having their own unique neighborhood is something that often is thought of as a strength of our city – you can find people with ties to just about every place on Planet Earth in an ethnic community somewhere in the city.

I suspect if extraterrestrial life ever were found elsewhere in the galaxy, it would be just a matter of time before those outer-space lifeforms would immigrate to Earth, and set up residence in their own Chicago neighborhood.

Although would that add to the mixture of diverse Chicagoans? Or to the idea of segregation, since they’d be living off by themselves?

Chicago wouldn’t be Chicago, or at least the city we now know and many of us love, if we truly pushed for increased integration on racial grounds.

PERSONALLY, I ALWAYS thought one of the most interesting parts of “Boss,” the biography of former Mayor Richard J. Daley by newspaper columnist Mike Royko, was where he described the “ethnic state” nature of Chicago’s composition and how it affected the way we perceive things.

“You could always tell, even with your eyes closed, which state you were in by the odors of the food stores and the open kitchen windows, the sound of the foreign or familiar language and by whether a stranger hit you in the head with a rock,” Royko wrote.

That was Chicago of perhaps three-quarters of a century ago, yet in some ways, it hasn’t changed much. Except for the fact that black people used to be penned up into a single neighborhood (Bronzeville), rather than occupying much of the city’s South Side. With white and black neighborhoods often separated by Spanish-speaking enclaves to serve as a racial-tension reduction presence, of sorts.

A status that the study says “we need more deliberate interventions to accelerate our progress.” Although I don’t doubt that some knuckleheads amongst us would perceive those “interventions” as somehow being unnatural and against Chicago’s very character.

TAKE THE MOST recent presidential election results.
TRUMP: Has his Chicago backers

While Donald Trump may only have received 12.41 percent of the city’s vote, consider that some of the most intense white enclaves had precincts that gave him nearly 70 percent of the vote, compared to overwhelmingly black neighborhoods where he was lucky to get just over 1 percent.

Maybe it means the Trump mindset has established its niche in Chicago, and any effort to “desegregate” is going to be a long, drawn-out process that I likely won’t live long enough to see complete.


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