In my previous post, I noted the low median income in the census tract surrounding the Sedgwick stop on the Brown and Purple Lines. That the median income in that part of the city would be less than $20k went against my own experience of Chicago—as well as my prejudices about the North Side. How could a census tract a (light) stone’s throw (by a strong arm) from Lincoln Park, a few blocks away from the Container Store(s) and sundry other gateways to yuppie distinction in Wicker Park and Bucktown have such a low median income? Was there a mistake?
In the post, I suggested that the culprit was the ghost of Cabrini-Green. After all, as Whet reminds us, the ACS is a rolling survey, meaning that the 2011 version still has data from 2007, when Cabrini-Green still existed. But I bristled a bit at that explanation: Cabrini-Green, at least the Green high-rises, weren’t in that tract. Nor are the original Frances Cabrini Homes. The high-rises are in the tract just to the west, and the row houses are a bit to the south.And even so, look at the coloring in the tracts: where the high rises once were is relatively better off than the Sedgwick tract, and the Cabrini Homes are even better off, in terms of median income, being in the same discussion as the handsome tract just east of Sedgwick, where I’ve had a devil of a time finding parking on the way to Oak St. Beach because of all the fancy cars already gobbling up all the street parking.
So unless I’m making some kind of mistake, this answer is insufficient. Another idea is that the massive depopulation of the Green high-rises has spilled into the Sedgwick tract. There might be something to this. After all, in 2000, what is now the tract that includes the high-rises was three separate tracts, suggesting serious depopulation (NB: the blues are still for the 2010 tracts):
2000 census tracts in pink on background of 2010 tracts.
But that only provides some of the answer: the high-rises area is economically well off now since there are no longer 10,000 people involved in the CHA living there. It still tells us nothing about the Sedgwick tract.
Yet maybe there’s an answer in what I’ve already mentioned above: Oak St. beach, parking, Container Store, Lincoln Park… that is, a certain amount of upper middle-class white privilege. Let’s break down these tracts by median income (with margins of error) and then by estimated median incomes of white and African-American households:
Median income w/ MoE (top), white median income (center), African-American median income (bottom)
Keeping in mind the sometimes outlandish margins of error, this area begins to tell a rather different story depending on who’s telling it. These tracts are all comfortably upper middle-class for their white inhabitants, while the story for the African-American inhabitants is rather more all over the map (further indicated by the margins of error), but decidedly distant from the lofty heights of six-digit annual incomes. So as a non-expert on this neighborhood like me, it’s the white income that tells the story I expect given the retail, entertainment, and housing options nearby.
Is the white story the majority story here, though? Here’s the last picture of the area that puts my assumptions into check:
It’s tempting to say that these numbers speak for themselves and leave it at that, but two quick caveats: the margins of error tip past ±10% for the two tracts just south of the Sedgwick tract. Elsewhere they’re all within 10%.
In geography school, we quickly learn Tobler’s First Law of Geography, where everything influences everything, but near things influence things more than far things. And in that case, we do see the effect of the Cabrini-Green public housing efforts on the racial and income makeup of the tracts surrounding it. So the answer to “what’s the matter with Sedgwick?” is simply “nothing at all.” It’s not an aberration. It and its nearby tracts reflect the brutal racial and economic segregation of Chicago that continues to this day. And my surprise at that is just a function of my own time spent living within that segregation.