|To escape the Black Undertow, new Whitopia's must be built|
Kendall Taylor grew up on this city's tough South Side and is a pastor at Lodebar Church and Ministries in his old neighborhood. But he lives 35 miles away, in Plainfield, Ill.
"I didn't want my children to grow up in the same environment I did," says Taylor, 38, who bought a house in Plainfield with his wife Karen, 38, in 2007. They have one son, Jeremiah, who is 15. Taylor's mom, sisters, nieces and nephews still live in Chicago. The youngsters, he says, "all want to come and live with me" in the quiet, but fast-growing suburb of about 40,000.
Taylor's decision to live outside Chicago makes him part of a shift tracked by the 2010 Census that surprised many demographers and urban planners: He is among hundreds of thousands of blacks who moved away from cities with long histories as centers of African-American life, including Chicago, Oakland, Washington, New Orleans and Detroit.
At the other end of the spectrum, in Maine, is the Lewiston-Auburn area, which saw a 476% increase in its black population from 2000 to 2010. Most of the newcomers are refugees from Somalia, says Phil Nadeau, deputy city administrator in Lewiston.Their arrival "has contributed to reversing the decline of population in the community," he says, and has made it "culturally a much more interesting place to live."
Chicago's population fell by 200,418 from 2000 to 2010, and blacks accounted for almost 89% of that drop. Hispanics surpassed blacks as the city's largest minority group. Meanwhile, Plainfield grew by 204% overall, and its black population soared by more than 2,000%, the fastest rate in the region.
The decline in major cities' black populations is "one of the most important trends out of the 2010 Census, and I do think it's a long-term trend," says Mike Alexander, research division chief for the Atlanta Regional Commission, a planning agency.
From 2000 to 2010, the city of Atlanta's black population fell by 29,746 people. During that period, the black population in the broader Atlanta metro area rose by 40%, an addition of 490,982. Those numbers tell Alexander that blacks are relocating in suburbs, not in other cities. "This black migration to the suburbs" mirrors what whites have been doing for decades, he says.
The trend has broad policy implications: As blacks who can afford to live in the suburbs depart, will cities have enough resources to help the low-income blacks left behind? Will the demand for housing be strong enough to support the revitalization of traditionally black inner-city neighborhoods? How will black churches, businesses and cultural institutions be affected? Will traffic congestion worsen because blacks moving to the suburbs keep their jobs in the city?
Roderick Harrison, a sociologist at Howard University in Washington and a former chief of the racial statistics branch of the Census Bureau, says the changes reflect the improving economic status of some African Americans.
"It hopefully does represent people actually being able to take steps that they see as improvements in their lives," he says.
Harrison worries, however, that cities will be hurt by the departures. "Combined with the mortgage foreclosure crisis, you're creating a lot of vacant units. Abandoned housing is a breeding ground for crime and further deterioration and decay," he says.
The African Americans who are leaving cities often are "stronger citizens" — those most likely to pay property taxes, contribute to social stability in their neighborhoods and hold government accountable for providing adequate services, Harrison says. Without them, he says, "you can trigger a downward spiral where you're losing tax base and the ability to repair infrastructure," making it difficult for neighborhoods to attract newcomers.
A loss of identity?
Marcy Long, 57, has lived on Chicago's West Side her entire life and isn't going anywhere.
"I'll probably be here until I die," she says. Her parents, three children and church keep her rooted in her neighborhood, the retail clerk says.
Even so, Long understands why other black residents of her neighborhood — at least six families during the past few years — have left for the suburbs or other cities. "Taxes are high, rent is high, groceries are expensive, jobs are hard to find," she says.
The National Association of Realtors says the Chicago metro area's median home price is $155,000, lower than the national median price of $158,700 but higher than the Midwest median of $124,400. Chicago's sales tax is 9.75%; Milwaukee's is 5.6% and Indianapolis' is 8%. Chicago's unemployment rate in March was 8.7%, lower than the current 9% national rate.
What does a Black identity mean, actually? That a Black presence in Chicago makes the city more dangerous than Baghdad? Cook County is not safe and it’s not due to the Polish immigrants. It’s due to the so-called Black people who help give Chicago a “Black Identity” that makes the city a more dangerous place to reside than war-torn areas. The USA Today piece continues:The homes Long's former neighbors left, she says, now are occupied by white or Hispanic families. "I do wonder if Chicago is losing some of its black identity," she says.
Chicago's first black community was created by former and fugitive slaves in the 1840s. A steady flow from the South raised the black population to 40,000 by 1910. Although segregation and discrimination were part of life here, black churches flourished and manufacturing jobs created a large black middle class. Jazz, then the blues, became a hallmark of black culture. By 1960, the city had 813,000 black residents — just under a quarter of the population of 3.5 million then.
Joanna Trotter, community development director for Chicago's Metropolitan Planning Council, says most blacks who have left the city probably were seeking better schools and more affordable homes. As more Census data become available, she hopes to answer some key questions about the migration. Most important, she says: "Is this vast exodus from certain neighborhoods, or evenly distributed?"
The answer will affect efforts to attract investments by retailers to the city's south and west sides, areas where "food deserts" — neighborhoods with little availability of fresh and healthy food — already exist, Trotter says. Public transportation, already scarce in some low-income areas, could be cut back further.
Jim Lewis, a demographer and senior program officer at The Chicago Community Trust, says neighborhoods that are adjacent to downtown or have historic or architectural significance have the best chance of being revived by new residents.Those with long histories of poverty and few employers, such as Lawndale and Englewood, will have more difficulty bouncing back, he says. "They're not on the way to anywhere," he says.
Trotter says some Hispanic newcomers are settling in the suburbs instead of moving first to the city, and she believes it would be unfortunate if whites displace blacks and Hispanics in the inner city. "We want to retain diversity within the city core," she says.
On the other hand, Trotter says, the growth of African American populations in the suburbs suggests that those traditionally white communities, "which you wouldn't think would necessarily be welcoming," are seen by minorities as more accepting.
|As formerly unsafe Black cities go white, they instantly become safer|
The exodus in Oakland
Like Chicago, Oakland has a rich African-American history. Like Chicago, it lost thousands of black residents from 2000 to 2010. The San Francisco-Oakland metropolitan area lost 33,003 blacks, a decline of 8%, leaving Oakland with 106,637.Hans Johnson, a demographer at the Public Policy Institute of California, says the state's overall black population also declined.
"That means, of course, that some African Americans are not just moving from the cities to the suburbs but leaving the state," he says. Some appear to be moving to states such as Texas that have better job prospects, he says.
In some ways, Johnson says, the shift is a traditional pattern, but "in other ways, it might mean quite a bit." For example, he says, it's unclear whether Latinos are displacing blacks in California cities. "Would these inner-core areas actually be depopulating if not for the arrival of other groups?" he asks.
Ishmael Reed, 73, an African American writer who is a longtime Oakland resident, attributes the changes in his city to "white flight going the other way" as people who left the majority-black city years ago are returning because of high gas prices and affordable homes.
"Since there has been an exodus of African Americans out of the city, some of the cultural institutions are in trouble," he says. He worries that city budget woes will force closure of the city's African American Museum and Library.
Cedric Brown, 43, moved from San Francisco to Oakland in 2009, when he got married. He loves being surrounded by "other folks who have a similar cultural heritage and experience," says Brown, who is black and the CEO of the Mitchell Kapor Foundation, which works with low-income minority communities.
He believes the city can sustain its black cultural institutions, but he says the African American community's "political strength and base has eroded because of this out-migration." One of the dangers of the departures, he says, is that "the folks who remain behind because they can't move are increasingly isolated and marginalized."
When Brown lived in San Francisco, he was on a task force created in 2007 to study that city's loss of black population. It called for improving the schools and expanding housing opportunities.
Amos Brown, pastor of Third Baptist Church and president of the San Francisco NAACP, served on the task force. He says San Francisco "has become a city of the rich, the immigrant poor, and that's it — no black middle class." He sees the effects in his own church and in other black congregations. "For the past five years, no major church has put down (extra) chairs for Easter, Mother's Day or Christmas," he says.When Judith Davis, 28, and her husband Earnest, 31, who both are black, moved to the Chicago area from Cincinnati five years ago, they were sure they wanted to live in the city. They quickly changed their minds.
"We couldn't believe how segregated the neighborhoods were," she says. "We were shocked at how poorly run the school systems were."
Choosing the suburbs
They rented on the city's outskirts, then bought a home in suburban Bolingbrook, 30 miles from Chicago, in 2009. Their son, Earnest III, was born almost four months ago. "Bolingbrook was the last, last, last place we wanted to go," Davis says, "but when we looked at it, it just made sense."
They bought a big house with reasonable taxes, but her commute to her job in health administration downtown is a two-hour train ride each way. It's worth it, she says. They pay $1,350 a month for day care; a facility in Chicago run by the same company costs $1,900 a month. Their neighborhood is diverse and filled with young couples "who made the same choice we did," she says.
Henry Guice, 46, is black and grew up in a tough Chicago neighborhood, where he returned after graduating from college. When it came time for him and his wife, Patricia, 46, to buy a house five years ago, though, they ended up in Plainfield with their three children.
The family still attends church in Chicago, but Guice loves returning to his four-bedroom home with a backyard overlooking a pond. "It's a beautiful picture, like a postcard," he says.
Guice didn't want to raise his family amid Chicago's crime and wanted his kids to attend better schools. They often visit friends and relatives in the city and still "feel connected" to it.
Chicago has "tremendous benefits," Guice says, and he hopes new Mayor Rahm Emanuel will address its problems "so people will start coming back.""I think Chicago has a bright future," he says, "but I'm happy here."
You can have a city people feel safe in, walk around and ride bikes in and plant roots in, or you can have polar bear attacks, flash mobs and random acts of violence committed, without remorse, by members of the Black Undertow.