Considering the Outer City: Understanding Black Out-Migration from Chicago

Mon, Feb 21, 2022, 12:00 pm
Virtual Only – Zoom Link TBA
Princeton School of Public and International Affairs Education Research Section Seminar

Eve Ewing

Eve L. Ewing
Assistant Professor
The University of Chicago

Demographic changes in Chicago and cities like it demand a re-examination of what we mean when we refer to "urban" issues or "inner city youth," terms that often serve as unspoken racial and socioeconomic shorthand. Since 2000, the number of Black residents in Chicago dropped 22 percent. Existing scholarship explores the changing nature of race in suburbia, but has not addressed what these shifts mean for those left behind in changing cities. In this study, I offer the theoretical construct of the "outer city," an ontological and spatial condition of marginality. I then ask: how do Black Chicagoans make meaning of these demographic shifts? What are their desires regarding residential life and civic participation? I present data from nine focus groups of 36 participants and in-depth semi-structured interviews with 44 participants—all Black Chicago residents who indicated either that they had close loved ones who had moved away from the city or that they themselves were considering a departure. We find that participants expressed a keen sense of being displaced by White residents, but also that education, employment and financial stability, public safety, and a lack of goods and services all contributed to their sense of the city as becoming increasingly unlivable. They also shared their complex feelings about being left behind as other friends and relatives moved away, as well as competing sensibilities about the future of Black Chicago—from optimistic resolve to the sense that the future looks “bleak.” Far from being attributable to a single cause, we argue that the present out-migration is a result of several cumulative and interwoven factors and should thereby be characterized as a kind of slow-motion disaster. This study seeks to document a historically significant moment of demographic change and to critically examine a changing relationship between Blackness and urbanity.