By now, anyone who has paid attention to the Trump administration lately knows that the suburbs, however defined, will play a prominent role in the 2020 presidential election. Racially explicit appeals are made by President Trump to prove his “law and order” and protect what he sees as largely white suburban demographics.
However, there is increasing evidence of this American suburbs are in the midst of demographic changeThis causes us to question our assumptions and even change our views on what “suburb” actually is. Their demographic change is likely to lead to changes in the way policymakers should set a new set of public guidelines for a rapidly changing segment of the electorate. Today’s suburbs go beyond the early ideal of being bedroom communities that house office workers in the city center, or later models to serve nearby office or industrial parks. As the theorist and researcher of urbanism Richard Florida says in the above article, “… globalization, the decline of the old manufacturing economy and the re-urbanization of the knowledge economy are redefining the role and function of the suburbs.”
Without question, the suburbs are far more complex, diverse and heterogeneous than ever before in the USA. Florida explicitly points to the rise of the black suburb as the main driver of demographic change in the suburbs:
“”Between 1970 and 2000, the proportion of African Americans living in suburban Atlanta rose from 27 percent to 78 percent. in the Washington DC metropolitan area, it rose from 25 percent in 1970 to 82 percent. These trends have changed according to the Lacy’s research. This African American suburbanization has two parts. On the one hand, it is the result of low-income African Americans being displaced from gentrifying parts of cities. On the other hand, the black middle class is moving to upscale suburbs. Taken together, they result in a significant shift. “
However, Florida is also clear that the suburbs will no longer be as socio-economically homogeneous as in the past. Immigration, urban gentrification-related displacement, and the choice of higher-middle-income colored people to follow the same upward path as earlier groups to the suburbs make the suburbs much more economical overall.
This makes some people satisfied or anxious depending on which side of the complexity / diversity / heterogeneity debate you are on. That’s up to you. What I can do, however, is make some observations that I have made in relation to the Black Suburb in particular, using the greater Chicago area as a case study.
Chicago’s black population is not as suburban as described in Atlanta or Washington, DC, perhaps because downtown Chicago is dramatically larger than Atlanta or DC. If you’ve seen my previous article on defining suburbs and applied the method I used for different demographics in Metro Chicago, you will find this:
According to the US Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey, 51.5% of all black residents of the Chicago metropolitan area live in the inner city, 48.5% in the suburbs or outskirts. Blacks are the only section of the population that doesn’t make up the majority of the suburban population, but there has still been some pretty dramatic change over time. In 1990 about three-quarters of all blacks in the metropolitan area lived in the city.
It may be better to see the differences in the life patterns of cities, suburbs, and suburbs by population group using this table:
I like to put communities in a historical and geographic context and the black suburb is no different. Through my national analysis of the suburban black population, I have identified six types of suburban black communities. As is often the case with blacks and Chicago, segregation plays an important role in the alignment of today’s black suburban population. Here are the black suburban community types:
Long-standing separate enclave: Once on the outer perimeter of the subway area, and often near a large manufacturing facility, these communities were usually small places built exclusively for black residents. They were and remain black majority communities almost from the start and definitely until 1980. They are historically underfunded and often retain an exurban character long after the metro area around them has developed.
Long-term suburb of the black majority: Could be viewed as the communities within the first wave of black suburban movement. These places are mostly suburbs with an inner ring that border or are not far from city districts, which were mostly black before them. They usually became black majority places between 1980 and 2000.
Youngest suburb of the black majority: These secondary parishes, which are beyond the inner ring, became black majority communities after 2000. Accordingly, their housing stock is newer compared to the previous categories and they are often the main location for city dwellers or black suburbs in the inner ring of a new home.
Above-average suburb of the black minority: “Above average” in this context means a community with a higher proportion of black residents than in the entire subway area, but which is not a majority. Some of them may be in the process of restructuring (moving from largely white to largely black), others may have reached a demographic balance that has been sustained – due to the economy or the nature of the residential properties in the community, or because of that of elected officials.
Below average suburb of the black minority: Scattered around the subway area are blacks who are more suburban pioneers than their brothers and who are involved in communities where their percentage is lower than the subway area as a whole. The blacks in this group tend to cluster in the upper-middle class suburbs, and their numbers decrease with distance from the city center.
Former suburb of the black majority: A community that was once a black majority suburb but no longer exists due to recent demographic changes. Possibly better understood as a neighborhood phenomenon, but also occurs in suburban communities. However, there are no such churches in the greater Chicago area.
First, I wanted to do a detailed analysis of suburban blacks by dividing each suburban Chicago community into one of the categories above. But with nearly 300 churches in the Chicago area, I just didn’t have the time. However, I randomly picked a few churches that I identified in each category and collected some household income data to see where they were. This is how it looks:
Blacks can find wealth in suburban Chicago, but their experience in the suburbs is not as consistently successful as it is for white residents. Suburban blacks in Chicago, for the most part, earn a higher median household income than their urban counterparts. In any category, however, blacks often have difficulty keeping up with others in their community in terms of income. Of course, that speaks not only for the economic situation of blacks in Chicago, but also in America.
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