Chicago is America’s Most Segregated City

January 21, 2009

About Chicago

Map of Segregation In Chicago (Chicago Tribune)

Map of Segregation In Chicago (Source: Chicago Tribune-Click to Enlarge)

Chicago, the city that gave the country its first African American president, has been crowned the most segregated city in the United States. On Dec. 26th, 2008, using data from The Center for Governmental Studies at Northern Illinois University, The Chicago Tribune wrote an in-depth report on segregation in Chicago. The report appears to have drawn little attention. It details how Chicagoans live in a city sharply divided along racial lines.

Segregation Is in Chicago’s History

Chicago is an old city; its long history is at the root of the problem. Institutional segregation was at first enforced by law and by force. One hundred years ago, these systems and laws created parts of the city for not only particular races, but also for ethnic groups as well.

When institutional segregation came under greater and greater legal pressure, it gave away to subtler, but very effective techniques for maintaining segregation such as red lining and steering.

What Are Redlining and Steering?

Pears Apples and Oranges All in Their Place


Redlining is the now-illegal practice of lending institutions refusing to lend to borrowers, or increasing the costs of loans, for homes in certain, often racially determined areas. Redlining goes beyond home loans however; other services important to people that were denied based on location include insurance, access to jobs, health care, and stores.

Steering is the illegal practice of real estate agents directing buyers to. and away from, particular neighborhoods based on the buyer or renter’s race and/or ethnicity. Red lining was justified over and over with statements like, “You will be happier here among your own kind,” and “You don’t want to live there?you wouldn’t be comfortable.”

Another not-so subtle strategy that is particular to Chicago was physically dividing the city racially by using the Eisenhower Expressway as a fence: African Americans to the south and Caucasians to the north. For years it has stood as a marker for all of where you should live based on your skin color. “The wrong side of the tracks” became, “The wrong side of the highway” in Chicago.

Segregation Is Hard to Uproot

For well over 100 years, segregation has been the rule in Chicago. This history is now extremely difficult to overcome. The families and the institutions that they love and rely on are now a driving force in keeping the city segregated. Institutions like houses of worship, stores, restaurants, and schools that cater to one ethnicity or race tend to ensure that the people who are in the area, stay in the area. And, when a family member or a friend moves to the city, they are also more likely to live in the same area and the trend not only continues, it deepens. This is the same with all ethnicities and races?it’s a major reason Chicago became a city of over 200 neighborhoods.

Chicago’s Racial Breakdown

This study also pointed out an interesting statistic. There are more African Americans in Chicago than Hispanics or Whites. Of Chicago’s nearly 3 million people, 35% are African American, Hispanics are 30%, and Caucasians are 28%.

EDIT: 2010 Sept 21 – This post continues to draw a large amount of traffic and interest, so I felt I should add a link to a newer, more refined map of Chicago’s ethnic areas by Bill Rankin. If it doesn’t load, you can find a backup copy here.

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About Rod Holmes

Rod has been a broker working in Chicago since 2004. He has worked with developers, buyers, sellers, and as well as managing offices. He is currently a partner in Chicago Style SEO working primarily with real estate firms to improve their Internet marketing. Rod lived for nearly ten years in Japan where he owned a corporate training and executive coaching firm with clients including Hitachi and 3M Japan. He lives in Lakeview with his wife and two children. He enjoys coaching and watching his kids participate in sports, cycling, camping, and traveling in general. You can find Rod online on Twitter at @roddesu, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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18 Responses to “Chicago is America’s Most Segregated City”

  1. Aaron M. Renn Says:

    Here is a related piece I posted today:

    The guy who wrote it relates a story of steering from the mid-90’s. It’s tough to believe this is still going on in Chicago, but I guess it is.

  2. Shorty Says:

    This is great information. Recently, I have been wondering how Chicago celebrates a great level of diversity yet ranks as one of the most segregated cities.

    What do you think can be done about this?

  3. Tony Says:

    The link to the Tribune comes up with an obituary. I believe I recall the article. Newspapers are in the business of selling newspapers, and “most segregated city” is far more likely to get attention than “one of the most segregated”

    The link to NIU’s page is just a generic front page. A google search of the site for “segregation” does not yield the report.

    This report using 2000 census data indicates that Chicago’s PSMA (not the city itself) is not the most segregated city in the US.
    For black people:

    depending on the measure Chicago is between the 3rd and 38th most segregated city. Detroit is worse than Chicago on all measures, and New York is worse on some.

    for hispanics:

    On one measure Chicago is the most segregated PSMA for hispanics, but on four others is not.

    Any fair discussion must note that Chicago’s segregation level for blacks is falling faster than most every other slow growing northern city, and many fast growing sunbelt cities.

    I do not understand the contention that the Eisenhower is a dividing line between blacks and whites
    see this:

    It will be interesting to see the census results from this year.

  4. Mo Says:

    @tony, are you even from Chicago? If so, it seems that you are obviously not intimately familiar with the South side and it’s apparent racial/ethnic segregation by way of Interstate, Rail Road, and Large Public Parks…

    I can take you on a tour sometime.

  5. Tony Says:

    Yes I am from Chicago, but that’s irrelevant.

    Now, did you read what I wrote?

    I did not say Chicago wasn’t segregated. I took issue with the contention that it’s the most segregated city in the nation.

  6. Jazmin Says:

    I’ve certainly noticed this from living on the south side of Chicago and going to school up north. I’m glad someone else recognized this issue and made others aware of it. Though Chicago is a great city and very diverse, it is segregated. Blacks take up most of the south and west side while whites mostly take up the north side. This is an economic issue as the south side is a lot poorer than the north side. Just something to think about:) I love this topic.

  7. JOHN Says:

    I am so sick and tired of the racial division of Chicago . It is so sickening , so depressing and yet we still cant get along. The white man cant let their with a black girl? Wow back in the day, there was hatred and there is still hatred now. We are getting a little better, but we need to talk about this illness. It destroying our values in America

  8. Tigerswill Says:

    I will not continue to state the obvious about the racial division in Chicago. However, I would like to comment on possible solutions that are being taken advantage of as I write this. The first being gentrification is taking place between Hyde Park (55th st) to 79th and Stoney Island, as far west as Martin Luther King. The new development and improvement in this area is a prime opportunity for buyers of any race the chance to live closer to downtown and create more mixed neighborhoods. The second solution is for existing residents to get over fear. From generation to generation it has been instilled that moving to this or that part of town is “unsavory”, “weird”, “violent’, etc. So although they have the means to move to better or mixed neighborhood, people will not because of fear. I am from Chicago and lived on the South Side a majority of my life. At 23 I moved to Lincoln Park and it is like living in an entirely different city.

  9. KarmaPolice Says:

    Chicago is going through what most European cities did in the 60’s.

    It’s an extreme form of gentrification that prefers high density, transit friendly urban cores.


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