Thursday, October 11, 2012

Should Emanuel move to Englewood?

Posted By on 10.11.12 at 10:00 AM

Mayor Emanuel at the Sun-Times yesterday
  • Rich Hein/Sun-Times Media
  • Mayor Emanuel at the Sun-Times yesterday
Saying he was fed up with criticism of segregation in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel today announced a "Race to Diversity" contest. The first neighborhood to desegregate itself will receive a $10,000 prize.

Beverly, Hyde Park, Morgan Park, Edgewater, Uptown, and Rogers Park were declared ineligible for having patches of preexisting integration, but the contest was open to the city's 71 other community areas.

Emanuel said reports labeling Chicago the nation's most racially segregated city were greatly exaggerated. "I doubt we're even in the top two," he told reporters at a City Hall news conference. But he allowed that the city "had yet to achieve ideal diversity," and said his desire to achieve that lofty goal had prompted the contest.

Aides to the mayor later said Emanuel really did understand segregation's role in the high rates of poverty, homicide, unemployment, and high school dropouts in many Chicago neighborhoods, and wanted to do something about it because such problems make it harder to attract business and tourism to Chicago.

The aides said the mayor had considered several other approaches for combating segregation. The boldest plan called for Emanuel to challenge segregation personally by moving to a poor black neighborhood.

City housing officials had chosen a vacant, foreclosed, three-bedroom home in Englewood, near the Halsted stop on the Green Line, for the mayor's consideration. Englewood is 99 percent black, 45 percent of its residents are living in poverty, and 26 percent are in extreme poverty—they're living on incomes below half of the poverty line. The neighborhood's per capita income between 2006 and 2010 was about $12,000. Twenty-nine percent of its residents age 25 and older did not have a high school diploma, and 21 percent were unemployed.

The mayor lives in the western edge of Lake View, a predominantly white neighborhood whose per capita income, $58,000, is fifth in the city and almost five times Englewood's. Less than 3 percent of its residents age 25 and older lacked a high school diploma, and less than 5 percent were unemployed.

The annual homicide rate in Englewood, adjusted for age, was 47.5 per 100,000 residents. In Lake View, it was 2.2.

The mayor's aides said he initially liked the Englewood idea because of the publicity potential. They said he voiced his willingness to live there "as long as it takes—a week, ten days." But he balked at the suggestion that he also pull his three children out of the University of Chicago Lab School and send them to the local public school, Bass elementary, at 66th and Racine. Bass's enrollment is 99 percent black and 97 percent low income, and the school is on probation for its poor academic performance. The mayor said he was confident his children would get a "first-rate" education at Bass, now that the school day is longer. But he didn't want to disrupt their Lab School friendships.

The Englewood plan ultimately was dropped because it was too reminiscent of Mayor Jane Byrne's move into the Cabrini-Green housing project in 1981. Mayor Byrne had left her high-rise condo near the Magnificent Mile for Cabrini because she was disturbed by the project's rampant crime. She'd promised to stay in the project "as long as it takes to clean it up.'' Police saturated Cabrini while she was there, and the project turned peaceful. But she returned to her condo a month later, the violence resumed, and her move was derided as a publicity stunt.

Another idea presented to Emanuel called for the creation of charter real estate firms that would compete to expand subsidized housing in the city's more affluent areas. The mayor vetoed this plan when aides pointed out that Lake View would have to be included.

Emanuel also nixed suggestions that he use his influence to push for more fundamental reforms, such as increases in affordable housing throughout the metropolitan area, support for families who wanted to move from blighted neighborhoods to better ones, and the creation of city-suburban magnet schools that would foster school desegregation. The mayor conceded that such initiatives might bring lasting change, but he felt they'd take too long. "I want to put points on the board," Emanuel told his aides. "We're in this for the short haul."

He also liked the contest idea because it put the onus on individuals rather than government. "I believe in personal responsibility," the mayor said at the news conference. "I lifted myself up from affluence to greater affluence, so I think Englewood residents can lift themselves up."

The rules for Race to Diversity haven't been finalized, but the mayor promised goals, benchmarks, mileposts, and efficiency standards.

He also named American Apartheid, Douglas Massey's study of U.S. segregation, as next year's One Book, Two Chicagos selection.

Steve Bogira writes about segregation every Thursday.

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