It’ll take more than a good party to reverse Chicago’s exodus of Black residents
Lightfoot’s proposal to hold a “reunion weekend” to lure back Black people who have left town feels surprisingly naive.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot rightly wants to turn back Chicago’s troubling exodus of Black residents.
But her recent proposal to hold a “reunion weekend” to invite Black folks who have left to just “come back home,” strikes us as a surprisingly naive way for a mayor to recoup a lost population of at least 100,000 people.
Lightfoot made the comment, perhaps off the cuff, while moderating a virtual panel that discussed rebuilding wealth on Chicago’s chronically disinvested — and predominantly Black and Brown — South and West sides.
It was a thoughtful discussion but then the mayor came out of left field with this:
“One of the things that we have planned going into the future is a reunion weekend. We’ve lost a lot of population over the last 10-plus years. People leaving Chicago, particularly Black Chicago, going to other places in the country — Atlanta, Dallas and even just moving to the suburbs because they didn’t feel like Chicago was welcoming and their home.”
“We’ve got to change that around, and when we open back up we’re gonna be heavily marketing to all areas of the country that we know the Chicago diaspora has gone to and say, ‘Come back home. Give us another look. We are a different city. We want you to come back home.’ I’m excited about that and other opportunities as we open up.”
Chicago’s Black population has dropped from 872,000 in 2010 to 797,000 in 2017, according to the UIC Great Cities Institute, and this was a continuation of a longer trend. Almost 1.1 million Black people lived in Chicago in 2000. The population loss has hollowed out neighborhoods, emptied schools and left too many homes vacant.
But no amount of marketing — no feel-good weekend or folksy pitch to come on home — will turn those numbers around. Chicago will first have to make substantially more progress in fixing the problems that led to the exodus in the first place.
That means reducing crime, and improving schools and policing. That means rebuilding the South and West sides with the same political zeal and public subsidies now being used to turn former scrapyards and railroad yards into big, pricey mega-neighborhoods, such as The 78 north of Chinatown and Lincoln Yards on the edge of Lincoln Park.
No doubt, that’s a tough job. It could take years, a generation, to accomplish something truly meaningful.
Lightfoot knows this. We don’t mean to suggest she does not. The evidence is to be found in her administration’s signature Invest South/West program, which seeks to pump $750 million into rebuilding commercial districts in 10 South and West side communities.
We’re just pointing out the obvious: Reversing a river’s flow is tough work, even if Chicago has done it before.
Let's get to work. And save the party for later.
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