The story of Chicago’s white flight after World War II is well known. In 1950, almost all neighborhoods outside of the South Side Black Belt were over 90% white. Within twenty years, neighborhoods like East Garfield Park and Greater Grand Crossing were 90 percent black.
Since the 1990s, however, many Chicago neighborhoods have experienced reverse white flight. The 1990s was a decade in which the middle and upper classes began to take an interest in city life again. The neighborhoods that the whites reoccupied are not, however, the same ones that they abandoned. And the white people who moved in are not the same people who moved out.
Let’s start by looking at community areas where the percentage of white residents increased significantly between 1990 and 2020.
|Piece||1990 (%)||2020 (%)|
|Near the west side||18||43.6|
|lower west side||10.5||22.2|
|Near the south side||0.5||51.3|
The post-war White Flight neighborhoods were far from the loop and off the “L” system transportation network. Avalon Park, for example, was 99.9% white in 1950 and has less than 1% white today. Whites who were forced to stay in Chicago, to meet city residency requirements, isolated themselves in suburban-style neighborhoods on the outskirts of town: Beverly, Mount Greenwood, Norwood Park, and Edison Park always white populations between 56 and 82%.
Neighborhoods with reverse white flight have the opposite profile: they are close to the city center and have easy access to public transport. Incoming blanks are also different from outgoing blanks. Those who left were blue collar workers and ethnicities. North Lawndale was once a Jewish neighborhood, as evidenced by synagogues converted to COGIC churches. Archer Heights was Polish and Lithuanian. It still has the Polish Highlanders Banquet Hall. The reverse white flight population is college-educated and is either from the suburbs or from other states entirely. The neighborhoods listed above have some of the highest education levels and lowest percentages of city-born Illinoisans. Stosh and Stella have moved. Brian and Jen have moved in.
(Lincoln Park is not on the list because it began losing its Latin American population a few decades earlier, in the 1970s. Lincoln Park pioneered reverse white flight. According to Daniel Kay Hertz, author of The Battle of Lincoln Park, the neighborhood was “the first place where gentrification really happened in Chicago, the way we think about it now…it’s the whole story of these middle-class rehabilitators coming in and changing the neighborhood. “)
When whites leave a neighborhood, it’s called white flight. When white people occupy a neighborhood, it’s called gentrification. According to an analysis of American Community Survey data by WBEZ, the “five ZIP codes where median household income increased by 30% or more” in the 2010s were primarily in reverse white flight neighborhoods: “Pilsen , Logan Square, the Lower West Side, Noble Square, Irving Park and the Near South Side. All five ZIP codes gained white residents while losing Latino population.
“It’s just a continuation of gentrification in the same direction as before, since 1990, but it’s accelerating now,” John Betancur, a professor of urban planning and politics at the University of London, told the radio. ‘Illinois to Chicago. “People who live in these central neighborhoods [near downtown] are displaced either because they cannot afford rent increases or because they are landlords and cannot afford property tax increases.
Economic changes have been accompanied by political changes. The Near South Side went from 0.5 to 51.5 percent white during the South Loop redevelopment. Even Mayor Richard M. Daley made his home there, in a townhouse at Central Station. (Our last three mayors have lived in reverse white flight neighborhoods.) The 2n/a Ward had been represented by a black alderman since 1915, when he elected Oscar De Priest. In 2007, however, Italian-American Bob Fioretti defeated incumbent Madeline Haithcock. On the northwest side, Logan Square and West Town (which includes Wicker Park) both doubled in white population, at the expense of Latinos. It helped Will Guzzardi, a champion among young white progressives, who emigrated to Chicago from North Carolina via Brown University, defeat state Rep. Toni Berrios, daughter of local Puerto Rican machine boss Joe Berrios. Next year, the Near West Side, another neighborhood that doubled its white population, gets 34e Depopulated West Pullman neighborhood. The favorite to win the seat is Bill Conway, son of a billionaire investor.
Where will the Whites move next? I’m sure real estate investors try to predict this. The reverse white flight neighborhoods are near the edge of the lake and east of Kedzie Avenue. Given these parameters, I would bet on Douglas, Humboldt Park and McKinley Park. Douglas and Humboldt Park have seen small increases in their white populations, and both are adjacent to neighborhoods that have seen much larger increases. The same goes for McKinley Park, which has a busy “L” stop and which a Southwest Side community organizer says is seeing an influx of “white millennials.” Ethnic succession will always be part of Chicago history. It goes in many directions.