Here’s an interesting statistic from the 2010 Census: the zip code which experienced the third largest change in white population in the 2000s was 60604, which is located in the South Loop, just north of the Harold Washington Library. The area went from 37.7 percent white to 75.4 percent white. (I found this figure on a list of “The fastest-gentrifying neighborhoods in the United States.” Gentrification, of course, is a well-known racial code word for “incoming white people.”)
The South Loop saw a lot of changes in the last decade. The Pacific Garden Mission moved out, because there were no longer enough homeless people to serve. Every other IT professional and web designer in town bought a condo on Canal Street. The neighborhood’s critical mass of whiteness was validated in 2008, when Chicago magazine published a South Loop issue.
From a political standpoint, the most significant change was the South Loop’s election of a white alderman. In 2003, Bob Fioretti was elected in the historic 2nd Ward, which had been represented by a black alderman since 1915. Fioretti’s reward? He was drawn out of a seat in the recent ward re-map. The new map put the 2nd Ward on the Near North Side, and moved the 3rd and 4th Wards, both safely black seats, up to the South Loop. The city’s black population declined by 181,000 -- enough to empty more than three wards -- but the number of black-majority wards only dropped from 19 to 18.
However, that map can’t hold up forever. Last week, Red Eye ran an article about rents in the neighborhoods where young people who care about nightly drink specials live. It didn’t just include Logan Square, Wicker Park, Lakeview and Lincoln Park. It included Bronzeville. The heart of the old Black Belt. The neighborhood where Bigger Thomas lived in Native Son. The subject of Gwendolyn Brooks’s first poetry collection, A Street In Bronzeville. Former location of the Robert Taylor Homes, whose demolition in the 2000s made the neighborhood’s gentrification possible.
It’s inevitable that Douglas and Oakland, the remaining all-black neighborhoods between Bronzeville and Hyde Park, will be gentrified next. The historic Black Belt will cease to exist, as middle-class homeowners populate the entire lakefront. That may be bad for black representation on the City Council, but it means our historic segregation -- still the starkest in America -- is finally breaking up.
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