Trying to craft a singular business message in a multicultural Chicago neighborhood

The Argyle section of Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood has residents from many different countries but wants to craft a coherent message to attract businesses:

Now, the two men and their neighbors have embraced a city-sponsored plan to promote the area with a broader name: Asia on Argyle.

“It really gives us a chance to showcase Argyle Street … and bring people to a very unique cultural destination within the city,” said Ald. Harry Osterman, whose 48th Ward represents the neighborhood.

The campaign is the city’s latest effort to brand neighborhoods beyond the downtown business district as commercial destinations for tourists and Chicagoans. The effort includes sprucing up Argyle’s appearance and opening a night farmers market that eventually would include Asian businesses.

Such branding strategies have worked for some neighborhoods like Greektown, Andersonville and Boystown. But others have spawned clashes as people of different cultural backgrounds disagree about how the neighborhood should be promoted. What’s more, if a neighborhood becomes too popular, gentrification can dislodge immigrant settlers…

Argyle’s greatest asset, its diversity, has also presented some of its biggest challenges. Chinese immigrants were among the first newcomers to try to brand the neighborhood.

There are several things going on here:

1. The neighborhood may look to outsiders to have Asian residents but this is a broad category that comprises a number of different cultures and backgrounds. For example, immigrants from certain countries have different levels of education and income as well as unique social and religious practices.

2. Creating a singular pro-business approach is not just about internal coherence within a neighborhood but also appealing to a wider audience in Chicago and the region. It would be fascinating to get down to some numbers and see how many people might visit such a neighborhood and how it stacks up to other ethnically and socially known neighborhoods profiled in this article like Pilsen, Chinatown, and Boystown. Do you need a slogan? A logo? How unique does the neighborhood have to be?

3. One academic quoted in this story notes that we should ask who will benefit from new economic development and business in Argyle. The city of Chicago? Local residents? Real estate moguls? There are development and businesses choices to be made that move more towards the people of the neighborhood. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a zero-sum game where only one party can come out ahead but it is easy in such situations for people with power and investments to come out even better.

Why Asian immigrants moved to the American suburbs

There has been a flurry of research in the last few decades on the movement of Asian immigrants to the American suburbs, notably looking at the suburbs of Los Angeles and working with the concepts of “ethnoburbs.” Here is a fresh take on the topic from a researcher looking at what has happened in some of these Los Angeles suburbs:

The homeowners I spoke to who settled in the now-Asian ethnoburbs of Diamond Bar, Hacienda Heights, Rowland Heights, or Walnut, said that they were drawn to the country lifestyle. As one white interviewee says, “our house was backed into the wilderness… Diamond Bar looked like a ranch… a nice place to live, to raise children, (and) a clean healthy environment.” Asian American interviewees – many of whom originate from dense metropolitan areas in East and Southeast Asia, and settled in the east Valley in the mid-1980s and beyond – also sought the east Valley’s country lifestyle since the term implied wholesomeness, the setting suggested order and harmony, and the image accompanied with a single-family home connoted the actualization of the American Dream.

While scholars and researchers rightfully problematize political economies, migration patterns, and social dynamics between different racial and class groups in the contemporary ethnoburb, oftentimes post-1965 Asian immigrants moved to these neighborhoods for tangible and banal reasons. Interviewees provided various mundane and frank motives as to why the east Valley sold them twenty or thirty years ago: inexpensive new housing, reputable school districts, easy access to work, distance from urban crime and racial “others,” and by the late 1980s and 1990s, conveniences to ethnic commodities. Though classism, neatly planned neighborhoods, and country living were pivotal aspects in residents’ decisions to settle, “everyday” matters and concerns also informed how a community grew, struggled, and changed. The Asianization of the greater San Gabriel Valley is not slowing down anytime soon as Merlin Chowkwanyun and Jordan Segall demonstrate.

The contemporary emergence of California’s majority-Asian suburb, then, is not solely about Pacific Rim capital, immigrant family reunification, or Asian Americans’ “Model Minority” status allowing them to enter these formerly elite white neighborhoods. It is deeply linked to how immigrants and non-immigrants imagine, absorb, construct, and reinforce popular discourse and imagery of the American Dream, rosy suburbia, and the U.S. West. The salience of these themes influences how individuals or groups envision and build community throughout the U.S. and across generations.

It sounds like the argument here is about adding the lure of suburban culture to the structural arguments. Like others who moved to the suburbs, the cultural values and ideals attached to the American suburbs proved attractive to Asian immigrants even as some of the larger structural forces, like class, made it more possible.

A comparative element might be helpful here: were Asian immigrants more drawn to the American suburbs than immigrants from other places? If so, why?

How the wealthy LA suburb of San Marino became majority Asian

Following up on an earlier post on majority-Asian suburbs, a number of which are located outside Los Angeles, The Atlantic profiles the LA suburb of San Marino which has remained exclusive even as it has a growing Asian population:

In the early Cold War years, San Marino became renowned for its conservative institutions. The far-right John Birch Society established its western headquarters there in 1959. In the 1966 California gubernatorial election, San Marinans cast only 778 votes for Democratic candidate Pat Brown, compared to 6,783 for Republican Ronald Reagan.
During the 1960s, San Marino residents expressed deep concerns about threats to the racial homogeneity of their community. At a 1966 gathering of the San Marino Republican Women’s Club, Republican California State Senate candidate Howard J. Thelin spent the bulk of his speech responding to the “vicious charges” that he “favored and supported the Rumford Act,” a 1963 law prohibiting racial discrimination in sales or rentals of housing…

It wasn’t until the 1980s, however, that San Marino’s Asian population truly exploded. By 1986, the student body at San Marino High School was 36 percent Asian, up from 13.5 percent just five years earlier. The transformation sparked sometimes-violent confrontations between white and Asian students…

In the end, San Marino’s transformation resulted from the felicitous interplay of economics and assimilationist paternalism. Whites hoped that San Marino’s Asians would work to assimilate rapidly into their adopted community by learning to speak English, participating in civic activity, donating to local institutions, and raising behaved, academically elite children. Shared bourgeois values produced a functional relationship between residents and newcomers and relative racial harmony.

A very interesting story of how a suburb changed tremendously demographically but stayed wealthy. According to the Census Bureau, the median household income is nearly $155,000. It sounds like there is now ethnic diversity but little class diversity: the poverty rate in the community is 3.5%. As long as the newcomers were willing to pay good money for houses and act middle/upper-class, there wasn’t enough trouble between old-timers and newcomers to stop the process.

A growing number of “majority-Asian suburbs”

Here is a look at “majority-Asian suburbs“:

In 2000, researchers discovered that 52 percent of immigrants in metropolitan areas were living in suburbs. One facet of this transformation has attracted less scrutiny: over the last quarter century, hundreds of thousands of Asian migrants have arrived in the suburbs.

The best place to witness this rapid transformation is in the suburbs east of central Los Angeles, an area known as the San Gabriel Valley. In 1980, few would have imagined that the region would today be a cluster of majority and near-majority Asian suburbs…

The rapid Asianization of suburbanization occurred alongside steady Latino migration. In some San Gabriel Valley suburbs, the new Asian arrivals lived alongside Latinos (both multi-generational and immigrants) and whites. In these “tri-ethnic” suburbs, demographic transitions were often marked by some tension. In other suburbs, the neighbors of the new Asian arrivals were mostly white. (More disturbingly, with a few major exceptions like Pasadena, black households typically made up less than 5 percent of households in these suburbs.)…

The uniqueness of this pattern of suburbanization cannot be overemphasized. In 2010, of the 29,514 geographic areas across the country defined as “places” by the United States Census Bureau – which typically correspond to recognized cities, towns, suburbs, and other, mostly unincorporated, areas – only 37, or 0.1 percent, were majority-Asian. If one considers places where the percentage of Asian households is 25 percent or higher, still only 183 places—0.6 percent of the total—meet the cutoffAll 183 places are in about a dozen states, most of which contain only a handful of them, and the vast majority are small places with fewer than 10,000 households. California is the enormous exception: the state alone has almost forty places with more than 10,000 households and an Asian household percentage of at least 25 percent. Hawaii, the only other state with multiple places meeting these criteria, has just five.

This is a good introduction to the topic but if you want more detail, check out the academic literature on ethnoburbs as people have been tracking this phenomenon since at least the late 1990s. Wei Lei has a book titled Ethnoburb: The New American Community that is quite interesting and takes a closer look at a number of these majority-Asian suburbs outside Los Angeles.

A reminder: the suburbs have become increasingly non-white in recent decades.

Study: American “multiethnic neighborhoods are populated mainly by Latino and Asian families,” not by Whites and Blacks

A new study in American Sociological Review shows that residential segregation still endures as “multiethnic neighborhoods are populated mainly by Latino and Asian families”:

Researchers who analyzed the mobility trends of more than 100,000 families in metropolitan areas over nearly three decades found that the majority of blacks and whites continue to live in neighborhoods with high concentrations of residents of their own race…

Sixty percent of families leaving black neighborhoods moved to a similar community and nearly 75 percent of whites transitioned from a mostly white neighborhood to another white area.

Only about 19 percent of blacks and 2.4 percent of whites moved to a multiethnic neighborhood.

Both whites and blacks were more likely to move to diverse areas with new housing, while there was more of the churning effect in older neighborhoods.

While recent figures might suggest that residential segregation has decreased in recent years, there are still some stark differences. The three most interesting findings to me:

1. The long-standing black-white differences continue to matter but the positions of Latinos and Asians within American society are more fluid (partially due to more immigration in the last half-century).

2. The summary also suggested the study found that there is more diversity in neighborhoods with newer housing as compared to neighborhoods with older housing stock. A couple of things could be happening here: this could be referring to more suburban neighborhoods and it could also be the result of class differences (newer housing often being more expensive to purchase).

3. I like the emphasis in this study on tracking where people move from and move to. In other words, do people move to similar kinds of neighborhoods over time or do they move up some sort of socioeconomic ladder? It sounds like there isn’t as much movement as people might think.

Chicago named 3rd most segregated city in the country

A piece in the Chicago Reader discusses the results of a new University of Michigan study that showed Chicago is the third most segregated city in the country, trailing only New York City and Milwaukee. A few notes about this study:

1. Like many other studies of its ilk, this is based on dissimiliarity index scores. Here is how this is calculated:

The dissimilarity index is a system used by sociologists to measure segregation, with the highest score – meaning total segregation – being 100. The lowest – complete integration – is 0. The numbers reflect the percentage of people from one race (black and white are measured here) that would have to move in order to create complete integration.

There are some other measures like this with different calculations but the dissimilarity index seems to be used most often. There are a number of easily-found sites online that provide instructions on how to calculate the dissimilarity index (here is eHow’s explanation).

2. The Chicago Reader article and another piece at Salon (with some nice maps and explanations for each city) focus on white-black segregation. The original study also calculated the dissimilarity index for other pairs of races, such as whites and Latinos. These figures are generally lower than those for whites and blacks as the Great Migration of blacks from the south prompted increasing levels of segregation in Midwest and Northeastern cities during the early decades of the 1900s.

In terms of the white-Hispanic findings from the original study, the top 5 segregated cities are Springfield, MA, Los Angeles, New York, Providence, and Boston. On this list, Chicago is tenth.

The original study also look at white-Asian segregation: the top 5 cities here were Buffalo, Pittsburgh, New York, Syracuse, and Baton Rouge.

3. A little more on interpreting the figures regarding Chicago:

-Along with the other 52 most white-black segregated cities, Chicago had a drop (4.8) in its dissimilarity index between 2000 and 2010.  The 53rd city, Greensboro, NC, was the first on the list to have an increase (0.9).

-In the Salon piece, there is a little bit of history about how this segregation came to be in Chicago and black migration, public housing, interstates, and Mayor Daley are mentioned. The conclusion is this:

Oak Park was one of a handful of places around the country where progressive whites made common cause with blacks. But in the Chicago area, it’s the exception, not the rule. Today, middle-income blacks are increasingly moving into Chicago’s suburbs. And though Quillian says that there isn’t white flight like there was in the past, many communities appear to be resegregating. The problem now is white avoidance.

It would be interesting to hear more about this idea of “white avoidance.”

-The Chicago Reader piece also suggests that Pekin, Illinois (a town whose high school has had some issues regarding race and its mascot – link from Wikipedia) is the most segregated city (white-black) in Illinois. However, the story doesn’t add the caution regarding Pekin: there are 857 blacks in the community. The CensusScope page of Illinois cities by dissimilarity index adds this disclaimer:

When a group’s population is small, its dissimilarity index may be high even if the group’s members are evenly distributed throughout the area. Thus, when a group’s population is less than 1,000, exercise caution in interpreting its dissimilarity indices.

It would be helpful if this were added to the story regarding Pekin.

Not so fast on integrated American neighborhoods

Taking another angle on residential integration (based on data from the American Community Survey – also reported on here) suggests it is a very slow process. Two sociologists suggest some has changed – metropolitan whites now on average live in neighborhoods that are 74% white (the figure was 88% in 1980). But minorities still have similar segregation figures to 2000:

•Black-white segregation averaged 65.2 in 2000 and 62.7 now.

•Hispanic-white segregation was 51.6 in 2000 vs. 50 today.

•Asian-white segregation has grown from 42.1 to 45.9.

This index score (and I think this is a dissimilarity index) ranges from 0 to 100 with a score of 0 meaning that two groups are completely integrated while a score of 100 means that two groups live completely separately or in different neighborhoods.

Based on this analysis, it looks like the issue of residential segregation is one that will be with us for a long time yet. While there was improvement for some groups, there were  negative or very limited changes for other groups. All that said, residential segregation looks like it is still an entrenched feature of American life.