Race, Real Estate, And Immigration On Chicago`s South Side

Real estate
is a preoccupation of most American
adults in their private lives. Yet it is almost ignored
in our public discourse… at least until it becomes
unavoidable, as during the current subprime mortgage

, which is endangering the entire economy.

Real estate is famously all about
“location, location, location”
, which generally

“neighbors, neighbors, neighbors”.

In our era of cheap electronic playthings, the worst
aspect of being poor is not that you can`t buy enough
stuff—it`s that you have to live
next to other poor people.

In urban America, “location”
is in large part about race. Thus, our elites, when

where to live and where to send their children to
exhibit the same race realism in their
personal affairs that they


a James Watson
displays it in public.

Fortunately, a book by sociologists

William Julius Wilson

Richard P. Taub
There Goes the Neighborhood: Racial, Ethnic, and Class Tensions in Four Chicago Neighborhoods and Their Meaning for America,
bridges the gaping Real Estate Chasm in
American intellectual life by profiling in detail four
unfashionable neighborhoods on the South Side of
Chicago. It`s based on field observations conducted by
nine grad students from 1993 through 1995. (No
explanation is given for why they waited so long before
publishing their results.)

Having lived in Chicago for 18
years, I find There Goes the Neighborhood rings
true to me. But it tends to slide over the underlying
explanations, which I`ll try to supply from my family
history at the end of this article.

Although he   moved
from the University of Chicago to Harvard
in 1996,
William Julius Wilson is the prime representative today
of the most famous tradition of academic sociology in
America: the

Chicago School
. In fact, University of Chicago
sociologists defined the

77 neighborhoods
of Chicago back in the 1920s.

Wilson, who is black, first became
prominent with his 1978 book The Declining Significance of Race.
It argued that

is becoming more important than race in the

Amusingly, that book made Wilson the

bête noire

of Senator Barack Obama`s spiritual advisor,

Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.
. He told the

young community organizer
in the late 1980s:

“These miseducated brothers, like that sociologist at
the University of Chicago, talking about `the declining
significance of race.` Now, what country is he living

(P. 283 of Obama`s autobiography Dreams From My Father).

And, judging from Wilson`s latest
book, Obama`s Rev. Dr. has a point, at least when it
comes to housing. (Indeed, one of the side benefits of
There Goes the Neighborhood is that it offers a
perspective that the

Main Stream Media has been reluctant to share with you

about where the supposedly “postracial”
Democratic Presidential contender from the South Side is

actually coming from

Wilson and Taub conclude:

“Indeed, many citizens still cling to the notion that
the residential desegregation of neighborhoods is
achievable. The research conducted for this book,
however, strongly suggests that

neighborhoods in urban America
, especially in large
metropolitan areas like Chicago, are

likely to remain divided
, racially and culturally.”

In these four neighborhoods, each of
which was virtually all white in 1960, race remains an
obsession. Homeowners who get along OK with people of
other races in the workplace do not want their
colleagues moving onto their street.

Wilson and Taub give pseudonyms to
the four neighborhoods profiled in the book. According
to Google, nobody has previously broken their code. It`s
easy to do, however, just by entering each district`s
reported population from the 2000 Census into a

search engine
. For the benefit of Chicagoans, I`ll
use the real names of the neighborhoods.

  • First, the book`s “Beltway” is actually the

    neighborhood on the far Southwestern
    border of Chicago, out beyond Midway Airport.

As of the 2000 Census,

is 76 percent white and 21 percent Latino,
but less than 1 percent black—and the residents intend
to keep it that way. The authors comment:

“Residents felt that Beltway
[Clearing] was one of
the last places where

white working-class Chicagoans
could live among
people whom they felt shared their backgrounds,
experiences, and values.”

The white Clearingites have built an
impressive collection of institutions to put on events
such as block parties, church festivals, picnics, and
parades. The implicit goal is to make Clearing a
friendly, effective community … for the people who
already live there. Homeowners work hard to foster local
pride and make sure that everybody keeps their property
up, instantly painting over graffiti so that the forces
of disorder and decay cannot undermine property values
and allow in less house-proud people, which could set
off a vicious cycle that might turn Clearing into a

The Wilson-Taub team`s observations
confirm the finding of prominent Harvard political

Robert D. Putnam
, the author of the bestseller Bowling Alone
on the decline of social capital, that

diversity (especially immigration) undermines trust
In 2006, Putnam blurted out (to his

subsequent regret

“In the presence of
diversity, we hunker down. We act like turtles. The
effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined.”

  • Second, “Dover” is

    Brighton Park
    , a closer-in Southwestern
    neighborhood that was once the Bohemian capital of

(That`s Bohemian with a capital
as in

Good King Wenceslas

small “b” bohemians
congregate in Wicker Park
and Bucktown, the hipster havens made notorious by
alternative rocker Liz Phair`s 1993 album Exile in Guyville.)

In contrast to Clearing, where
whites were still holding on as the majority, in
Brighton by 2000 an influx of Hispanics had left the
demographic balance Park almost exactly the reverse of

Latinos were dominant.

Brighton Park is
lacking in the kind of community spirit found in
Clearing. Most non-religious organizations, such as
Kiwanis, are dying because Hispanics don`t volunteer

Wilson and Taub note:

“However, whites and Latinos in Dover

[Brighton Park] did find common ground in their
response to African Americans. Latinos in Dover—even the
recent immigrants—were no more open to living with black
Americans than were the white residents.”

Mexican-Americans and the remaining
whites of Brighton Park did

come together

their kids being bused from Brighton Park`s

over-crowded schools
to schools in Chicago`s black

Of course, the reason Brighton
Park`s public schools are

is because so many Mexicans with large
families have moved in. But many are second generation,
and they have started to assimilate toward American
norms, such as playing the race card to avoid taking
responsibility. A local Latino newspaper framed the
overcrowding as the result of … anti-Hispanic
discrimination. It editorialized:

“We have 40 to 50 kids in a classroom. Next year they`ll
be taking the library and the computer room. This is how
they discriminate against our kids.”

It`s worth noting that the Mexicans
didn`t themselves start crying “discrimination!”
White liberals, such as a local school principal,
introduced the idea to them. Having heard it, Hispanics
hoping to build

ethnic activist careers
for themselves took it from

  • Third, Wilson`s “Archer Park” is actually

    South Lawndale
    , which is perhaps better known as
    Little Village.

Whatever you want to call it, Little
Village shows the likely future of Brighton Park … and
Clearing, too, if Clearing`s residents let down their
guard. This chapter in the book is entitled “A

Taste of Mexico
in Chicago”

Little Village is

virtually all-Hispanic
except for a few elderly
whites too poor to move; and an all-black strip along
its north edge. It suffers from “extreme
and is so depressing that, the authors
remark, “it was not a neighborhood that held even the
Mexican residents”
. If the residents of
Little Village could get

organized enough
to agree on a neighborhood motto,
it would be “Sal Si Puedes“—“Leave
If You Can”

But they can`t get organized. Little
Village has almost nothing in the way of community
associations. In a footnote, Wilson and Taub admit,
“Residents of Archer Park
[Little Village] do not
tend to organize

outside of kinship

Government officials` attempts to
get residents to take some responsibility for their own
community have been a complete bust. Indeed,

“Even when people were giving things away, though,
organized activity came from the top down and did not
necessarily draw a crowd. In a telling example, a city
government-organized neighborhood

festival at a local park
served hamburgers and hot
dogs instead of Mexican food. The few neighborhood
people who attended brought their own tacos, tamales,
and the like with them.”

While Clearing bustles with
get-togethers of local groups, the coordinating meetings
for Little Village`s social services organizations were
held in downtown Chicago on the top floor of the
skyscraper of the First Chicago Bank (which was trying
to win pro-minority Brownie points with

federal bank regulators

“The people who seemed most concerned about the
community were … service providers who did not live
there, but were there in their professional roles rather
than as concerned citizens. Meetings could be held
downtown at the start of the working day because, in
effect, people were being paid to attend them.”

  • Fourth, “Groveland” is

    Avalon Park
    on the Southeast Side, a small,
    pleasant, all-black lower-middle class neighborhood.

Avalon Park is a
photographic negative of Clearing. It features many
community organizations that are also intended to keep
poor blacks out. While Clearing`s clubs are have a
covert racial agenda, Avalon Park`s are overtly so, even
though nobody except other blacks is threatening to move
in. (Judging from the Afrocentrist attitudes expressed
in the book, I would guess that more than a few Avalon
Park residents attend Rev. Dr. Wright`s

on 95th St.)

Both Clearing and Avalon Park
benefit from Chicago`s law requiring municipal employees
to live in the city. These two places are about as
suburban as you can get within Chicago, so government
workers comprise 21 percent of the workforce in white
Clearing and 27 percent in black Avalon Park.

Civil servants tend to make good,
stable neighbors. They

have to pass tests to get their jobs,
so they can`t
be really stupid. They

don`t get fired
, so they can put down roots in one
place. Many don`t work long hours, so they have time to

Ironically, the two decent
neighborhoods in the study, Clearing and Avalon Park,
have been preserved because Chicago`s countless bad
neighborhoods need so many government workers to babysit
their dysfunctions.  For instance, There Goes the
explains that in heavily immigrant
Little Village:

“There was a vast array of paid service providers in the
neighborhood. … There was a school for

at-risk youth
, and clubs … for youth not
particularly at risk.”

The book goes on to list some of the
other taxpayer-supported programs in this neighborhood
full of illegal immigrants: programs for

pregnant women
, for

, for

AIDS patients
, for people who

don`t yet have AIDS,

sick people
, for

the mentally ill
, for

, for seniors, for

high school graduates
, for

high school dropouts
, and for people who never went
to high school and want to

learn English so they can vote

Not many of the Mexican immigrants

do become voters,
though. So it`s easy to see why
white and black politicians want more of them, no matter
how much the general citizenry doesn`t. Illegal
immigrants and their descendents provide countless jobs
for politically well-connected white and black civil
servants, while
only very slowly
grabbing political power

Keep in mind that Chicago is,
compared to, say,

or Cleveland, a

successful city
. Under the

Daley Dynasty
`s crooked but sensible leadership,
Chicago has been able to hang on to many tax-generating
big corporations and tax-consuming but
neighborhood-preserving civil servants.

In the long run, though—which might
prove to be arriving shortly—this tax gold mine is going
to run out. Wilson and Taub warn:

“Moreover, with minorities, notably Latinos, displacing
whites as a growing share of the population, the
implications for urban tax bases are profound.”

Still, as refreshing as There
Goes the Neighborhood
is in an intellectual culture
starved of clear thinking (or any thinking, for that
matter) about real estate, it could be even more
explicit about the underlying logic.

So, let me tell you some personal
real estate stories to illustrate how the world really

To begin: Why, besides alliteration,
does Lakefront and Liberal

always go together
in Chicago?

Home prices are so high near
Chicago`s main asset, Lake Michigan, that only
upper-middle class people can afford to live there.
Thus, race doesn`t much matter. In lower rent districts,
however, race trumps class. As many Chicagoans testify
in There Goes the Neighborhood, among working
class people the traits that make a good neighbor—such
as having children who don`t commit crimes and who

disruptive in school
—are most often found among
whites, followed by Latinos, followed by
African-Americans. (Asians
would probably come in first, but they don`t live in
these four areas.) And whites are distributed higher on
the class spectrum on average.

When my wife and I bought a
condominium in Chicago in 1988, we picked highly diverse

on the northern lakefront by following the
“value investing”
logic devised by Warren Buffett`s

Graham: look for stocks that are
underpriced relative to their intrinsic value. If the
people running the company currently are no good, they
are likely to be replaced.

Similarly, we reasoned that
Chicago`s foremost intrinsic asset is its magnificent
lakefront, with parks running for 18 miles along Lake
Michigan. In Uptown we could buy a condo on the first
block in from the waterfront park, just a ten minute
stroll to two beaches, for a small fraction of what we`d
pay three miles to the south in stylish Lincoln Park.

The downside was that our
neighborhood hadn`t been “discovered” yet. So
we`d have to put up with a lot of dicey neighbors just a
block or two away, until the whole neighborhood was
inevitably gentrified.

That was our thinking. But for ten
long years the price of condos in the neighborhood was
almost dead flat. We kept telling ourselves that the
market was wrong, that the intrinsic appeal of living 90
seconds from Lake Shore Drive, with its 20 minute
commute to the Loop, would eventually overrule faddish
whims that were propelling prices in innately crummy
neighborhoods like Bucktown into the stratosphere.

Finally, in the late 1990s, the
world suddenly came to agree with us, and we sold out in
2000 at a decent profit.

On the other hand, even in 1988, we
still had to pay far more per square foot in Uptown than
in Wilson and Taub`s four neighborhoods. So we were
assured of genteel neighbors, whatever their race. One
of the two black owners of units in our six-flat had an
MBA from the University of Chicago and the other was a
CPA from


Away from the lake, though, there
are fewer intrinsic assets to distinguish one area from
another other than the people who live there and the
strength of their will to stay there.

The architectural quality of the
housing stock only matters in extreme cases. The
now-poorer South Side often has better-designed vintage
buildings than the now-richer North Side.

Yet, there`s one place in the
Chicago area where architecture really did make a
difference. When I moved to Chicago to take a job in
1982, my father wanted to visit his old house in

Oak Park
, the first suburb west of the worst ghettos
of Chicago, which he had lived in until his family moved
to California in 1929. I tried to talk him out of it,
assuming that his neighborhood in

Oak Park
would now be a slum.

Yet when we arrived at

1028 Superior St
., the sidewalk was full of

snapping photographs—not of his house,
although it was beautifully preserved, but of the one
next door at 333 Forest. This

Moore-Dugal House
was originally designed by
America`s most famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, in
1895 as a large

Tudor cottage
. After it burned in a Christmas Day
fire 85 years ago that my father still remembers, Wright
rebuilt it for the Moores as an immense

Anglo-Japanese curiosity
. There are a

other Wright-designed homes, including
Wright`s own house, within two blocks.

Oak Park, where Wright invented his Prairie
, survived the racial changes of the 1960s
and 1970s, when much of adjacent Chicago, including the
Austin neighborhood right across the street, turned into
a giant slum.

Why? Because, with a total of 25 Frank Lloyd Wright
buildings as well as many other superb structures, it
has the most architecturally significant housing stock
in America.

Oak Park homeowners, with so much to lose, successfully
resisted tipping to all black by
instituting "a black a block" program in
which real estate agents were only allowed to sell one
home per block to blacks. It was flagrantly illegal
under the

1968 Fair Housing Act
, but it did save

America`s most aesthetically important neighborhood
[Reconsidering The Oak Park Strategy: The Conundrums
Of Integration,
by Evan McKenzie and Jay Ruby, (PDF)]

In contrast, Chicago`s working class

neighborhood, just to the east of Oak Park,
didn`t have any epochal architecture. So it wasn`t as
lucky. There, my in-laws

suffered the dire consequences
of rapid ethnic

My late father-in-law was a

classical musician
and union leader and my late
mother-in-law, who may have been an even better musician
but who suffered too much stage fright to play concerts,
was a public school special education teacher. As late
as 1966, Austin was all-white, with so little crime that
my future wife walked a mile to first grade with her
third grade sister every day.  After school, the
sidewalks of this neighborhood of three story
condominiums were packed with children out playing while
their mothers made dinner. (These days, when kids are
chauffeured everywhere by their parents, the old Austin
sounds like it was a paradise for both children and

After World War One,

most blacks in Chicago had been restricted
chicanery and violence to living in a small, densely
populated district

on the South Side
. This complete segregation broke
down in the late 1950s. And then the increase in welfare
payments in the progressive Illinois of the 1960s
brought up from the rural South a lower class of blacks.

When Austin started to integrate
around 1966, many of my in-laws` friends told them to
sell out as soon as possible, before the neighborhood
went all black.

But, as good liberals, my in-laws
stood up for integration. And the first blacks moving in
were middle class. So, they joined an anti-tipping
liberal group of neighborhood home-owners started by
fellow musician Father Edward McKenna—a composer who has
written a couple of Irish-themed

with librettos by

Father Andrew Greeley
. Members swore to each other
they wouldn`t sell no matter how black the neighborhood

Well, the crime rate, which had been
non-existent when the neighborhood was all white,
started to soar. Housing prices fell, and soon the
middle class blacks were selling out because underclass
blacks were moving in. The members of the
pro-integration group started to break their promises
and move out. My in-laws stuck with their vows. But,
then in 1968, rioters

all the stores in the

after Martin Luther King was murdered.
(My future wife called her mother to the window:
“Hey, Mom! Look—free TVs! Let`s get some!”
mother sent her to her room). And their small children,
my future wife included, were

mugged three times
on their street.

So, my in-laws finally sold, losing
about half of their life savings. They bought a farm 65
miles out of town, where they didn`t have indoor
plumbing for their first two years of fixing it up.

The last time I visited Austin—in
the 1990s, three decades later—it looked like a

war zone
, with about one third of the houses
abandoned or torn down.

Today, immigration causes

, although perhaps generally not quite as
tumultuous, disruptions in the lives of American

It has been exhaustively demonstrated
that there is

no economic rationale
for the post-1965 influx.

Why do we need the aggravation?

[Steve Sailer (
him) is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and

movie critic


The American Conservative
His website


features his daily blog.]