Post-recession, Chicago’s population is flat. The numbers by neighborhood are anything but. -
Post-recession, Chicago’s population is flat. The numbers by neighborhood are anything but.

Many Chicago neighborhoods have never seen better days. Many others have never seen worse. Calling Chicago’s juxtaposition a “mixed bag” wouldn’t do it justice, but overall momentum leans slightly positive.

While the overall city population has barely changed since 2010, neighborhood disparity sees some hitting rock bottom, and others so hot developers can’t keep up.

Firstly, some of the growing neighborhoods were also growing pre-recession and simply never stopped. These areas are all near the city center: the LoopNear North Side (everything between the Chicago River and North Ave), Near West Side (including the West Loop, Little Italy, University Village, and Tri-Taylor) and Near South Side (including the South Loop). The Loop’s population alone increased from 16,000 in 2000 to nearly 36,000 in 2017.

Next, the recession appears to have flipped the outmigration switch for some neighborhoods. While 60 of Chicago’s 77 community areas saw population declines in the 2000s, 44 saw gains between 2010 and 2017. 52 saw positive growth (a larger increase or smaller loss in the 2010s than in the 2000s, or both).

It hasn’t been just the “downtown” neighborhoods growing. South Side communities WoodlawnOakland, and Douglas saw growth for the first time in over 50 years. North Lawndale, which had hosted 125,000 residents in 1960 and declined repeatedly all the way down to 36,000 in 2010, finally stabilized and gained a few residents.

Some of the other biggest gainers can be found all over the city, including Clearing and North Center (12%), Ashburn (7%), Garfield RidgeLake ViewLincoln ParkWest Elsdon, and West Ridge (6%), Bridgeport (5%). The highest percentage gain was the Loop at 23%, while the Near North Side gained a city-high 8,409 residents.

Growth in the 2010s has also followed the lakefront. Of the 16 community areas that border the lake, 12 increased in population. Going along with this theme, Lake View has just taken the title as most populous community area with 100,000 residents, passing Austin which decreased to 95,000.

Interestingly, many of the areas seen as rapidly gentrifying and redeveloping, such as West Town (which includes Wicker Park and Ukrainian Village), Logan Square, and Humboldt Park have shown relatively stagnant growth, even in the 2010s. This is likely a sign that growth is coming primarily via displacement of the previous residents.

Meanwhile, sharp declines continue for some South and West Side communities. Englewood and West Englewood continue to post double-digit percentage losses, resulting in a drop from a combined 152,000 residents in 1970 to only 55,000 in 2017. New City (including Back of the Yards), just north of Englewood, posted an 11% loss.

Aside from greater Englewood and New City, the only main regions continuing to show significant declines are the adjacent South Chicago (-9%) and South Shore (-7%), which were the only major exceptions to the trend of lakefront growth, and the adjacent Lower West Side (-8%) and South Lawndale (-6%). The “Lower West Side” includes Pilsen and Heart of Chicago, while “South Lawndale” includes Little Village.

It’s worth noting that all seven areas mentioned as seeing the biggest percentage declines (Englewood, West Englewood, New City, South Chicago, South Shore, Lower West Side, and South Lawndale) are also still major population centers of over 25,000. New mayor Lori Lightfoot ran on a campaign on fighting to balance the scales for the city’s most disadvantaged and economically depressed areas–these could be the key areas to watch for new city-led incentives.

The citywide flat population growth would have you believe that Chicago is a vehicle stuck in neutral. However, the community-level numbers are telling us the majority of the city is already on its way up.

Now, if Mayor Lightfoot can find ways to empower and bring opportunity to disadvantaged areas, perhaps the entire city can get back on the growth track to better compete with faster-growing peer cities nationwide.