By Catherine McKenna
When looking at maps that paint different pictures of Chicago, such as household income, life expectancy, homicides, poverty, air quality and health, and food deserts, trends in shading found within the 77 community areas often look all too similar. West Pullman, North Lawndale, West Garfield Park, Auburn-Gresham, andAustin are oftenemphasized on these maps. Chicago has long been segregated, and these emphasized areas are some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods with majority Black populations. Systemic and discriminatory practices, such as redlining, covenants, and blockbusting, were used to segregate neighborhoods and limit access to quality education, housing, and job opportunities for Blackand minoritycommunities, especially during and after the Great Migration. Civil rights organizations and grassroots efforts have long spearheaded activism and resistance movements, however segregation has left lasting impacts on Chicago’s social, economic, and political landscape.
Alden Laury, Data Projects Editor of WBEZ who has been reporting on Chicago’s demographics for years, told Chicago Magazine that while working for the Chicago Reporter, “the map for a story about fatal police shootings is practically the same map we could use on a story about drug arrests, police traffic stops, concentration of people with criminal records, retail leakage, school expulsions, red light/speed camera tickets, mortgage loan denials, properties with delinquent property taxes, municipal water debt, rates of violent crime, pharmacy closures, COVID-19 cases and deaths, and the list goes on and on.” These issues all have roots in systemic racism, which tie back into the city’s poverty, underemployment, undereducation, and trauma. Cycles continue, and patterns on the maps remain unchanged.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s INVEST South/West program is one way efforts are being made to change such outcomes. The program is the city’s major community development initiative working to reverse decades of disinvestment onChicago’s South and West sides. The map to the right showcases where these programs are focused, mirroring the usual darker shaded maps of Chicago. The over $2 billion initiative is providing support for small businesses, improving public spaces, restoring historic buildings, and fostering equity and resilience in some of the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. With such investments into these communities, a changing map will reveal when on-the-ground efforts are working. More maps on the history of Chicago’s segregation can be explored here.