Chicago and Its Suburbs

[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #9 in November 2009]

Compiled by Ashley Weger with Chuck Lee


1868Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux begin planning on Riverside, a model for middle class suburb building.


George Pullman begins building his company-owned town on the city’s South Side1889Joseph Sears begins building Kenilworth, Chicago’s most wealthy suburb, established with a simple mantra: “Large lots, high standards of construction, no alleys, and sales to Caucasians only.”


1896Plessy v. Ferguson decision upholds a state’s right to enact laws racially segregating social life, including housing.


1909Burnham’s Plan for the City published; On November 8, 1909, a mob of angry white citizens in Anna, Illinois, drive out the town’s 40 black families, becoming all-white overnight. Residents of Anna still joke that the town’s name is an acronym: Ain’t No Niggers Allowed.


1910: the Urban League formed; 1917: the NAACP wins its first Supreme Court ruling, that states could not racially segregate housing districts of a city; the Chicago Real Estate Board adopts block-by-block racial segregation policies; 1919: famous citywide race riot starts at 29th St. Beach.


1921: the Chicago Real Estate Board votes unanimously to expel any member who rents or sells property on a “white” block to Black residents; 1925Burgess model published, including zones designated as ghettos, slums, and “the Black Belt.” 1927: The city of Chicago adopts racially restrictive housing covenants, which will, at their height, cover 80% of the city.


1934: the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) begins to subsidize mortgages and insure private mortgages, often requiring new owners to add racially restrictive covenants to their deeds. The policy promotes the single family detached dwelling as the prevailing mode of housing—setting the stage for suburban sprawl.


From 1945 to 1947, 167 black households in white neighborhoods in Chicago are bombed, killing four people, permanently disabling eight, and injuring dozens more; the GI Bill provides loans for veterans, encouraging home ownership outside of urban settings; 1947Taft-Hartley Act is approved, further disempowering the urban working class; Blighted Areas Redevelopment Actgives South Loop businesses Eminent Domain powers and funding for “urban renewal,” which comes to be known colloquially as “Negro Removal“; 1948U.S. Supreme Court strikes down racially restrictive covenants (Shelley v. Kramer); income tax law is changed to favor a single wage earner per family as women are pushed to leave jobs to make room for returning veterans; 1949: the Public Housing Administration decides racial segregation in public housing projects will be left up to local authorities; antiblack riots in Park Manor and Englewood Park. With the end of WWII, wartime manufacturing and propaganda (marketing) industries are redirected to mobilize mass middle-class consumer spending.


By the 1950s, federal money insures half of the mortgages in the country, but only in segregated white neighborhoods. More Americans live in the suburbs than not. The elements of homogeneous suburban culture and sprawl (television, automobiles, tract houses) are in place. In urban neighborhoods, realtors’ tactics such as “blockbusting” promote white flight. 1951City Councilapproves Duffy-Lancaster proposal to build public housing only in already overpopulated black neighborhoods. Race riots occur across the city, as far west as Cicero and south to Englewood1952: Ground broken on Lake Meadows homes, product of South Loop urban renewal; 1953Urban Community Conservation Act, backed by the University of Chicago, is passed, extending eminent domain rights to neighborhoods that are merely threatened with economic decline; 1958: City Council approves Hyde Park urban renewal plan.


1962: the Robert Taylor Homes open. Planned for 11,000 residents, they would come to house 27,000; 1963Betty Friedan (born in Peoria, IL) publishes The Feminine Mystique, identifying “the problem that has no name,” middle-class suburban women’s discontent with oppressive gender norms; 1965Lawndale Housing Riots1966Housing Summit between Martin Luther Kingand segregationist Mayor Richard J. Daley results in few concrete changes; 1968Federal Fair Housing ActOak Park begins reversing past discrimination and issues the first fair housing ordinance in the state of Illinois; 1969Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority, initiated in 1966, is decided in favor of the plaintiffs, determining that the CHA selected housing sites on a racial basis (in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment); 99.5% of public housing units in Chicago are situated in black neighborhoods.


In 1970, nearly 7% of towns in Illinois are sundown towns, meaning Blacks are formally or informally excluded. 1973: Chicago 21 plan initiates attempts at luring affluent whites back to the center city. 1976: 100 Black and white demonstrators march for open housing in a Chicago neighborhood. A crowd of 1000 white counterprotesters lined the streets jeering, “go home, niggers” while assaulting the demonstrators with rocks, bricks, and bottles. 1979Wicker Park receives national historic designation, beginning gentrification there.


In the 1980s, 8 of 10 Cook County municipalities with the most Section 8 tenants were in the south suburbs. During the 1980s City of Chicago loses 91,000 jobs; the region as a whole gains 424,000. 86 percent of all Black households and 77 percent of all Hispanic households lived in municipalities that had either lost jobs or gained no jobs over the decade. 1987: Frustrated with lack of action on Gautreaux, U.S. District Court judge puts CHA into receivership to force construction of scattered-site public housing. 1989Tent City is founded along the Fox River in Aurora, outside a homeless shelter.


By the 1990s, the U.S. has 747 cars per 1000 people. In 1990-6, legal Mexican immigrants are the largest single group in 13 of 30 suburban Chicago regions, while legal arrivals from India are the largest group in 11 of 30. Nearly 150,000 whites leave inner ring Cook County suburbs. 1990U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division files housing discrimination lawsuit against Cicero, claiming the city sought to prevent Latinos from moving into the suburb; 1996: 80% of suburbs with reported hate crimes have higher rates than Chicago. Ricardo Arroyo, a 15-year-old Waukeganboy, suffers repeated blows to the back and stomach, as well as an onslaught of ethnic slurs, as he lies dying following a car accident. South suburban Matteson launches “affirmative marketing” campaign in apparent pursuit of white families at the expense of minorities; 1998Federal Housing Authority seizes control of the CHA, beginning demolition of housing projects.


Zoning laws in suburbs like Oak Brook prohibit developers from building multifamily housing; 2007: Northwest suburb of Carpentersville (40% Latino/a population) passes English-only law; 2008Rev. James Meeks leads 1000 CPS students to boycott the first day of class, instead attempting to register in affluent North Shore schools New Trier and Sunset Ridge. More than $6000 more is spent per pupil on North Shore students than in Chicago Public Schools.

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