As Chicago sits on the cusp of electing a Black woman as mayor for the first time in its history, the city is losing its Black population in droves. As Chicago’s overall population shrinks, the rate of Chicago’s Black population loss is staggering. A Reader cover story pointed out that among the nation’s ten largest cities, only four are losing Black residents, but Chicago is losing Black residents at a rate of four to ten times higher than the other three (Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose). The Urban Institute predicts that by the year 2030, there will only be 665,000 Black Chicagoans left, down from a peak of 1.2 million. Among those with plans to leave the city or who have already left, contributing factors for their departure include the ever-increasing cost of living, taxes, weather, crime, and disinvestment in certain neighborhoods.
It’s interesting that the Red Line extension to 130th Street, a decades-long pipe dream for the city’s Far South Side residents, is finally gaining steam at the same time as this is happening. A Chicago Reporter story from three years ago noted that one of the original reasons for the Red Line’s abrupt end at 95th Street was to prevent Black Chicagoans from following white flight into the suburbs. But now that many Black residents are leaving for Black suburbs, a way out is set to appear.
The Grand Dilution
A new analysis from the Better Government Association and Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism found that environmental oversight and enforcement plummeted during Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s tenure. Budget cuts and attrition depleted the city’s corps of environmental inspectors. As a result, enforcement actions dropped by over seventy percent, and inspections dropped by over half. Really, this should come as no surprise. In his first city budget, Emanuel canned the city’s Department of Environment and eliminated a hotline dedicated to environmental complaints.
All this comes as Emanuel touts his eco-friendly credentials, like recently signing the Resilient Chicago plan to power all of Chicago’s buildings with one hundred percent renewable energy by 2035. Little Village Environmental Justice Organization executive director Kim Wasserman-Nieto identified a common theme: the Emanuel administration uses “high-level resolutions as a tactic to avoid addressing equity, public health and environmental impacts in Chicago’s neighborhoods.” (See page 14 of the BGA/Medill report for more from Wasserman-Nieto.) It’s the old magician’s trick of misdirection—distract with the grand proposal while gutting the day-to-day bureaucracy.
Both candidates in the mayoral runoff have promised to address environmental injustice and bring back the Department on Environment, another sign that the election was largely a repudiation of Emanuel and his tactics. Whomever we elect on April 2, it’s high time for everyone—from journalists to residents to City Council—to start ignoring the distractions and get down to the work of holding the city accountable for keeping its residents healthy.