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NCP and the 2010 Census

The U.S. Census does not explain why populations go up in some neighborhoods and down in others. Nor do the numbers say what would have happened had Chicago not been smacked mid-decade by the worst economic recession in memory.

Photo: LISC archives

The loss of one-quarter of Humboldt Park's black population helped lead to a 14 percent decline overall as measured by the 2010 Census, which captured the effects of the Great Recession on Chicago's neighborhood populations.

And, needless to say, the government’s decennial digital dump—a snapshot of the way we were on April 1, 2010—does not say what would have happened but for a neighborhood’s participation in LISC/Chicago’s New Communities Program.

What the 2010 numbers do reveal is a mixed pattern of dynamic change, with disappointing declines in some neighborhoods, gratifying gains in others, and most hopeful of all, relative stability where one might have feared more severe erosion.  

Bottom line: During a decade in which the city’s total population declined by nearly 7 percent, to 2.9 million, the count of those living in NCP’s 14 neighborhoods declined by just over 12 percent. As of April 2000—a year before NCP formally launched—there were 709,049 residents in our neighborhoods compared to 621,129 last April. (Click here to see a neighborhood by neighborhood chart.)

A thinning out
Only one NCP community, West Haven (officially called the “Near West Side”,) gained over the decade, by 18.2 percent, as the downtown residential boom continued to push west beyond Halsted Street. Even East Garfield Park, despite losing over 1,600 African-Americans, managed to nearly break even by attracting a like number of whites and Hispanics to revivifying areas along its still-imposing boulevards.

Photo: Eric Young Smith

Heavily African-American Englewood has less than one-third the population of a half-century ago--although that was when families were overcrowded into Black Belt slums.

The largest percentage loss among NCP communities occurred in Englewood—down 24 percent to 30,654, or less than a third of the 97,595 souls who lived there in 1960. Back then, however, African-American families were crowded cheek-by-jowl into some of the city’s most disgraceful Black Belt slums—something to remember lest we too quickly equate declines in population with declines in quality-of-life.

Yet there is little doubt the cycle of foreclosure and abandonment that shifted to overdrive just after mid-decade played a role in population losses reported in predominantly African-American NCP communities such as North Lawndale (down 14%), Washington Park (-17%), Woodlawn (-12%) and Auburn-Gresham (-19%). Though the latter community, with its large and growing number of empty-nest seniors, illustrates that other factors surely are involved besides loss of housing stock.

Hispanic dynamics
Indeed, Pilsen could be “Exhibit A” of the age/population dynamic, having lost almost 19 percent of its population even though it has been relatively unscathed by foreclosure. Some might blame gentrification, what with affluent white singles and childless couples moving south along the Halsted Street corridor.

Photo: Eric Young Smith

Pilsen's population fell nearly 19 percent, perhaps due to greater Hispanic in-migration to the suburbs.

But Census numbers tell a different story. The neighborhood gained fewer than a thousand whites during the decade while its Hispanic population plunged by almost 10,000. It may well be that Chicago’s historic port-of-entry for Mexican-Americans is thinning out gracefully, like a proud-but-graying inner-ring suburb.

Even Little Village (called “South Lawndale” on the city’s official list of neighborhoods) lost population despite its younger median age and larger families. La Villita shrank by nearly 19 percent, what with 10,000 fewer Hispanics counted in 2010 than in 2000.

Doubtless other factors are at play here, beginning with the slacking-off of Hispanic migration to the U.S. after employment opportunities took a dive mid-decade. And even among those Hispanics who made the initial journey north, Census takers found a majority headed for the suburbs.

Chicago’s Hispanic population went up by 3.3 percent, but it soared nearly 50 percent in DuPage County … and theirs was the lowest percentage gain among the region’s five “collar” counties.

Photo: Alex Fledderjohn

An increase of 3,607 Hispanics--and perhaps the aggressive anti-foreclosure effort led by Greater Southwest Development Corp. and Southwest Organizing Project--held Chicago Lawn's population decline to about 9 percent.

Even more factors come into play as one assesses trends in NCP’s two North Side neighborhoods: Humboldt Park and Logan Square. Here the impact of gentrification appears undeniable, especially in the latter community, where the number of non-Hispanic whites surged by 31 percent even as all of Logan Square lost 12 percent.

One further suspects that the ever-present threat of deportation—much in the news in recent years as Washington fumbles with immigration reform—was one reason the Census found 16,545 fewer Hispanics in Logan Square last April than in 2000. The chronic Hispanic under-count, despite “Count me in!” efforts by several NCP groups, is regrettably alive and well.

Black population declines
Humboldt Park saw its overall population decline by 14 percent, but here the biggest factor was the loss of 8,177 African-American residents—fully a quarter of the neighborhood’s black population. The Census Bureau won’t release housing data until later this spring, but foreclosures and housing loss are obvious suspects, as they were citywide in a decade that witnessed a 17 percent shrinkage of Chicago’s total black population.  

Loss of African-American population was especially severe in neighborhoods that saw demolition of public housing under the Chicago Housing Authority’s ongoing Plan for Transformation.

Photo: LISC archives

In Quad Communities, Kenwood and Oakland saw relative stability while Douglas and Grand Boulevard--which saw demolition of CHA high-rises like Stateway Gardens and Robert Taylor Homes--experienced dramatic drops in population from 2000 to 2010.

Among NCP communities, just two of the four neighborhoods composing the Quad Communities—Douglas and Grand Boulevard—experienced a combined loss of 16,113 blacks. This following the demolition of CHA high-rises, such as Stateway Gardens and Robert Taylor Homes, along the South State Street corridor.  

White families, meanwhile, were slow to buy or lease the mixed-income townhouse developments built as partial replacement for public housing lost. The Census found only 5,265 non-Hispanic whites among the 63,926 living in Quad Communities, more than half of them living in the long-integrated Kenwood neighborhood adjacent to Hyde Park. The stall-out of the townhouse market in 2007-08 is one reason overall population in the Quad Communities declined by 19 percent.  

Distant and different 
NCP’s most distant communities—Chicago Lawn and South Chicago—were pushed and pulled by demographic forces as diverse as their populations. Both were hit hard by the foreclosure tsunami. Both saw their non-Hispanic white populations cut roughly in half as older white ethnics continued to be replaced by younger immigrant families.

But Chicago Lawn (aka Marquette Park) limited its overall population loss to 9 percent while South Chicago took a 19 percent hit. Why? Again, Hispanics: Chicago Lawn added 3,607 Latinos and Latinas while South Chicago lost a similar number.

Was it Chicago Southwest’s aggressive anti-foreclosure effort that stemmed the loss? Or boom-times at nearby Midway Airport? Or was it the fact that Ford is still gearing up its big Torrance Avenue plant near South Chicago and the mega-development set for the old USX South Works site has yet to break ground?

Fact is, thousands of factors are involved when it comes to why people move where they do, how many children they have, or even how long they live. Still, we can learn much from dissecting Census data. Surely the trends they contain can uniquely inform how we go about developing our New Communities.

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