The Windy City Is Getting Draftier

Background Reading


© ThinkStock - Many of Chicago's wealthiest neighborhoods are dramatically below their peak populations.

© ThinkStock – Many of Chicago’s wealthiest neighborhoods are dramatically below their peak populations.

Here’s one way to put Chicago’s demographic problem: Since 1950, the city has lost more people than currently live in all of San Francisco, Boston, or Washington, D.C. After finally increasing its population in the 1990s, the 2010 Census found that Chicago—unique among the large, relatively prosperous cities we consider our peers—had declined by 7 percent, or around 200,000 residents.

Indeed, just a few miles from the heart of the Loop lies a neighborhood that, despite a rich history, beautiful architecture and quick access to the second-largest business district in America, has lost 40 percent of its population since the middle of the last century. An area that once held 102,000 people is now home to barely 64,000.

That area is called Lincoln Park.

For a long time, most accounts of Chicago’s lagging population have focused on the South and West Sides where many residents, largely African-American, have decamped for the suburbs or the South in search of better schools, less crime and more jobs.

But the underappreciated flip side of population loss there is that places that ought to be growing like gangbusters are stagnant, often sitting 25 to 50 percent below their peak populations. Lakeview once was home to 124,000 people; its population now is 94,000. North Center is down to less than 32,000 from nearly 49,000. West Town, which includes Wicker Park and Bucktown, has fallen to 81,000 from 187,000.

Many of Chicago’s wealthiest neighborhoods are dramatically below their peak populations.

Even more startling, these areas aren’t necessarily gaining back those people. Lincoln Park, Lakeview and North Center all lost population in the 2000s. Logan Square, whose rapid ascent as a “hot” neighborhood picked up steam during that decade, was home to 11 percent fewer people in 2010 compared with 10 years earlier.

The problem, obviously, is not that people don’t want to live in these neighborhoods. Home prices and rents have skyrocketed over the last 10 to 20 years; average incomes have climbed with them, as more of the well-to-do decide to live on the North Side.


Here is the bottom line on red light cameras, speeding cameras and bike licensing: they will all continue or be instituted. Chicago is broke enough that it took an on street auto parking deal worth a billion that will in the end prove a boondoggle.

Revenue will have to be generated an any way possible to keep hiring police to patrol the streets. Tourism business is about the only thing booming in Chicago and that is likely to continue unless we fail to get our gun violence house in order.

All of the really stupid ideas of the Far Left Urban Cycling Community will simply fall prey to budgetary issues. You cannot keep closing schools and installing bike lanes that nobody is likely to use, no matter how many folks you trot out to speak to the press.

If you cannot get money from the state or federal government that exceeds the amount lost because of the flight of the wealthier folks in the city then you are gonna have to get your wallet out and open it to a Benjamin and be prepared to pay a tax.

When the money dries up for projects like the totally unnecessary dual track system on the north end of the Chicago Lakefront Trail (unnecessary because all that is needed is for bicyclists to behave in the manner that they want motorist to with respect to themselves and pedestrians) then you begin to wonder what other services will go lacking?

Losing people is not that big of a deal if it is the bottom of the demographic ladder that is going. But when the folks you are losing are wealthier types it means that you are losing the potential to refurnish your transportation landscape.

All that blather about wanting to drive down the number of automobiles on the roads has resulted in less money coming in from the U.S. Highway Fuel Trust Fund. And no matter how many activists take their annual ‘lark’ to the nation’s capitol to drink and schmooze that will never make up for the monies loss because of lowered fuel consumption.

And all of this is important because the city is getting less and less help to attempt to do more and more. Most of the ‘more and more‘ is non-essential. But the reality of what is and what is not will not have to be delineated here. It will be made clear when the budget axe drops during the next mayoral administration.

And even if the red light and speed cameras stay (and I predict they will) it will probably not help much. You need more taxpayers. When famous radio personalities openly ‘diss‘ the Lincoln Park area as being in a city which is no place to raise kids, you know you are looking at a city that has real troubles.

So if you want to continue the ‘group whine and jeez fest‘ that calls itself Urban Cycling Community Activism, fine. Have at it. But there is a reason that those of means are not letting the door hit them on the backside as they scurry out of town. Gun violence is enough to disrupt even our tourism successes.

And trying to dab concealer on the face of the city is not going to help. It makes little difference whether you have 100 or 1 mile of bike lanes if your city is transmuting into a place where the tax base is far too small to match the ambitions of its leaders and citizenry.