Sunday, October 19th, 2014

Lafayette, Indiana Is Having a Black Population Boom, Powered In Part By Migrants From Chicago

The Lafayette (Indiana) Journal and Courier just ran a major article from a four month investigation called “The Great Chicago Migration Myth” which attempts to debunk the idea that poor Chicago blacks, especially former CHA residents, are moving to Lafayette/Tippecanoe County.

The J&C seems to do a good job of pouring cold water on the CHA idea. But they use that to make a claim they didn’t actually prove, namely that low income blacks aren’t moving to Lafayette from Chicago. What’s more, the data shows that there is material black migration from Chicago to Lafayette, contradicting the clear implication of the article. Additionally, the J&C fails to note the critical context that regardless of origin, Lafayette has been experiencing a black population boom that exceeds even Hispanic growth on a percentage basis.

In sum, this article provides an incomplete and badly misleading view of black demographic change in Lafayette.


Chicago demolished most of its high rise public housing complexes, prompting the obvious question of where the former residents ended up. I’ve been noticing news stories for several years suggesting that former CHA residents have been moving to places ranging from downtown Illinois to small town Iowa. I myself have heard credible reports from generally reliable people I know in public service who say they personally have seen an uptick in Chicagoans in their work.

It has long made me, and I know others, wonder: did Chicago attempt to effectively run its former black public housing residents out of town? I’ve tried to get many journalists who have written on Chicago’s demographics to investigate and get to the bottom of what’s really going on. Ed Zotti did a great series in the Chicago Reader covering some aspects of the issue (see part one, part two, and part three). But there are certainly a lot of open questions in my view and I’m surprised how little investigation I’ve seen of it.

The J&C story is the first part of at least two installments that attempts to do just this sort of comprehensive analysis from the standpoint of Lafayette, Indiana. Greater Lafayette is not the community I would have chosen as my test case. As home to Purdue University, there’s a lot of migration that’s driven by the inflow and outflow of students that can obscure the non-university trend. But obviously from the J&C standpoint it’s their community and so of course they pick it for their work.

Their own words speak for themselves:

Call it the Great Chicago Myth. For decades, the belief has been ubiquitous in Greater Lafayette that thousands of low-income African-American families packed up their belongings and headed down Interstate 65 straight to Lafayette, bringing with them rising crime and worsening drug problems and higher burdens on local social services….The Chicago Myth turns out to be completely untrue. A comprehensive four-month Journal & Courier analysis of data culled from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Chicago and Lafayette housing authorities and other sources shows that, while there has been some migration, relatively few people leaving Chicago end up in Tippecanoe County.

How accurate a portrayal does this provide?

Where Did Chicago’s Blacks Go?

I haven’t personally looked into former CHA resident migration, but Ed Zotti and the J&C convince me that this is not a material contributor to Chicago’s black population decline or to migration elsewhere. I’m sold on that point. However, Chicago has in fact lost a lot of black residents.

It’s well known that the city of Chicago lost 177,401 black residents during the 2000s. But as with out-migrants generally, the default assumption for most of them would be that they moved to the the suburbs and didn’t leave the region. However, the Chicago metro area as a whole saw a decline in black population of 45,689. Considering that there was surely natural increase (more births than deaths) in the regional black population, this implies a huge net out-migration. They had to go somewhere.

As it happens, the Census tells us where they went. I’m leaving metro area analysis for another day. But let’s take a look at the map of net migration of blacks in Cook County, Illinois. Red indicates net outflow, blue net inflow.

Net migration of black residents from and to Cook County, Illinois. Net in-migration in blue (positive), net out-migration in red (negative). Source: 2006-2010 ACS via Telestrian

Unsurprisingly, when you lose a lot of people, they move to lots of places. There are a number of net recipient counties for former black residents of Cook County. Many of them are in Illinois though not all. As you can see, Tippecanoe County is one of the recipient counties.

Are There More Blacks in Lafayette?

When people make statements like “There are a lot of poor black former CHA residents moving in here” there’s an embedded chain of reasoning that goes something like this:

There are more black people in Lafayette.
Those black people are coming from Chicago.
Those Chicagoans are poor.
Those poor people are former CHA residents.

The last statement may well be false without invalidating the others. I’m buying what the J&C is selling on that one. But let’s look at the other ones, starting with the first. Has the black population of Greater Lafayette been increasing? Yes, and by a lot too.

There were 3,752 black residents in Tippecanoe County in 2000. By 2010 that had nearly doubled to 6,913. This was a bigger increase on a total and percentage basis than any other small industrial county in Indiana. By 2013 it had added another 1,638 black residents (23.7% growth). This was the fifth highest total increase in black residents of any county in the state – this in a county that in 2000 had the 14th largest black population. Again, that growth outpaced all peer counties. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that a 128% population growth in black population since 2000 qualifies as a veritable boom, especially by the standards of slow-growth Indiana.

It’s worth comparing the trajectory of Tippecanoe County to Bloomington’s Monroe County, home of Indiana University, so I pulled some statistics into the following chart:*

Tippecanoe County (Lafayette) Monroe County (Bloomington)
Total Population
April 1, 2000 148,955 120,563
April 1, 2010 172,780 137,974
July 1, 2013 180,174 141,888
Total Growth (2000-2013) 31,219 21,325
Percentage Growth (2000-2013) 21.0% 17.7%
Black Population
April 1, 2000 3,752 3,615
April 1, 2010 6,913 4,491
July 1, 2013 8,551 4,898
Total Growth (2000-2013) 4,799 1,283
Percentage Growth (2000-2013) 127.9% 35.5%
Black Population Share 2000 2.5% 3.0%
Black Population Share 2013 4.0% 3.3%
Total Growth (2000-2013) 1,420 2,057
Percentage Growth (2000-2013) 1.8% 3.5%

As you can see, these communities started off with roughly similar black populations. In fact, Bloomington had a higher black population share. But while Bloomington’s black population has grown only moderately more than overall population growth, Lafayette’s has grown at a substantially faster rate.

I should note that both of these towns have very small black populations compared to bigger cities. But that makes growth more easily visible as well, similar to how many small towns have noticed (and reacted) in the case of even limited Hispanic migration.

I put the jobs number in to see if there might be a pull there. Bloomington has actually done better on jobs. But this shows right away one potential root cause of anxiety over out of town migrants: job competition. Lafayette had added over 31,000 people since 2000 but only 1,420 jobs. Not all of those new residents are in the theoretical labor force pool, but I’ve got to believe more than 1,420 of them are. When you’re only adding 1,400 jobs, it doesn’t take a lot of migrants to make a competitive difference for job seekers. I think this is a big factor nationally in the public souring on immigration reform and it wouldn’t surprise me if something similar were at work here.

Whatever the case, it’s true that Lafayette has seen a significant increase in black population. So the reverse of the Chicago question applies here: where did they come from?

How Many of Lafayette’s Black Residents Are Coming From Chicago?

The J&C uses the Census migration data figures to argue that few Chicagoans of any type move to Lafayette. However, the Census Bureau publishes place to place migration by race from the five year ACS survey, so let’s consult that source.

Migration by race is provided in the 2006-2010 ACS through a special county to county migration data release. You can easily browse it through an interactive online map.

According to this data, 127 net black residents moved from Cook County to Tippecanoe County. That doesn’t sound like a lot. However:

  • This is the third highest destination in Indiana for net black migrants from Cook County. Only Lake County (a Chicago suburban area) and Elkhart County ranked higher.
  • No other county in the United States sent as many net black residents to Tippecanoe County as Cook County did. The second highest county is Lake County, Indiana, which again is also part of Chicagoland.

Other than third place Marion County (Indianapolis), nobody else even comes close to sending as many net black residents to Lafayette as Chicago does.

I should note that Tippecanoe is far down the list of net recipient counties from Cook. So from a Chicago-centric perspective, Lafayette is not a major destination for departing Chicago blacks, who are dispersing across many different destinations. Yet the Chicago region has nearly 10 million people and is losing a lot of black residents. Certainly no small city like Lafayette could ever be the destination for more than a small percentage of those leaving a near megacity region like Chicago.

The university is a major wildcard. You would expect Chicago to be both a big source and destination for Purdue University’s student body, and certainly some of them must be black. Looking at our comparator, there were a net of 38 black Chicago migrants to Monroe County (Indiana University). So Lafayette is seeing a higher migration, but is also geographically closer keep in mind. I took a quick look at other Big Ten school counties and there’s huge variability so I’m not sure what we can say with regards to those schools without data from the universities themselves. The homes of Wisconsin and Iowa are the top net exporters of black residents to Chicago, for example.

To be sure, there’s statistical noise in this ACS survey data. And we only have one survey with race based migration available. The data is definitely limited here. So keep that in mind. But this does show a flow from Chicago.

The J&C did not use this data set for some reason, but relied on the overall migration levels (not broken down by race) between the cities. Regardless, we have a fundamentally different understanding of how to interpret the meaning of the survey data. I generally don’t work with the 5yr ACS, but that’s the only survey in which place to place migration is provided. (The IRS data is not broken down by race).

The J&C treats the migration values as the total migration over the five years of the survey. I actually called the Census Bureau and spoke to someone in their Journey to Work and Migration Statistics Branch that compiles this data. I asked them specifically if the migration values should be treated as a five year total or as a proxy for average annual migration. They told me the latter.

This person could have misspoken but if that’s correct, then the 127 figure would translate into 127 people per year – nearly 1,300 people over the course of a decade. That’s a material percentage of the total black population in town. That’s especially true if we are looking only vs. the increase in black population attributable to net in-migration.

So there does appear to be some data to indicate that part of the increase in the black population of Lafayette is due to migration from Chicago. Also, if the J&C wants to say that Chicago migration is not a material contributor to the robust black population growth in Lafayette, their claim would be a lot stronger if they documented where this increase actually is coming from.

Are Black Chicago Migrants to Lafayette Low Income?

Obviously if any sizable group of people move from one place to another, you’d expect some income diversity and some lower income residents. The J&C actually highlights specific people who made the move from Chicago and who have incomes low enough to qualify for public assistance (e.g., Section 8) though it doesn’t identify their race.

The Census also publishes net migration by household income level, which you can view in the same flow tool I linked to before. I didn’t look at all tiers, but I checked out the bottom few. Keep in mind these aren’t sliced by race. This is overall migration. Unlike in the race data, which appears exhaustive, this data has some suppression for privacy reasons.

According to that data, at the lowest level only a tiny net migration to Lafayette is reported – two people, which I suspect is within the margin of error of the survey. A couple of the higher tiers up actually show migration towards Chicago (87 in the $25K-35K range, for example).

Additionally, the J&C reports that they identified every single Section 8 permit that was transferred between Chicagoland and Lafayette, and found that there was actually a net flow towards Chicago. This data is also not classified by race, but is consistent with what I found in income migration.

So there does not appear to a flow of low income residents into Lafayette when race is not considered based on this survey data (which has similar limitations to the race data I gave above).

I would say based on the data sources I have that there’s no evidence that the black migrants from Chicago to Lafayette are disproportionately low income, though I don’t have a direct stat that speaks to the matter. As I said earlier, it seems pretty clear that there aren’t many former public housing residents (if any).


The J&C article takes what appears to be a fairly strong claim – that former Chicago public housing residents are not moving to Lafayette – and uses that to try to bolster the far weaker, though not implausible, claim that there aren’t low income blacks moving from Chicago to Lafayette. And to imply that basically no blacks at all are really moving from Chicago to Lafayette – something the available evidence contradicts. What’s more, it completely buries the lede on the strong growth in the local black population there.

I think this piece shows how black Americans are, as Ellison observed, simultaneously the most visible and invisible population in the country. The black population in Greater Lafayette has grown by 128% since 2000. That’s faster growth than even the Hispanic population (up 82%). Though the black population grew on a smaller base, the total adds weren’t that far off (4,799 black vs. 6,451 Hispanic).

In a community the size of Lafayette in a slow growth part of the country, that’s Big Deal growth, but it isn’t mentioned in the piece and I wasn’t able to find anything else written on it with a quick google. You can believe if a few thousand of a more exotic minority showed up, it would have been noticed. (In Indianapolis, for example, it’s news article stuff when a few thousand Burmese refugees or Sikhs arrive on the scene).

Statistics about black growth and migration from Chicago almost seem to be treated as embarrassing when in fact it could be something worth celebrating. See my headline for a potentially different way the J&C could have told the story. (Also look at how Amos Brown covers the census estimates release in Indianapolis).

I’ve observed before that black Chicago is not really part of the future success strategy of the city. Its black residents seem to be increasingly agreeing as they are heading for the exits. This creates a significant addressable talent market for savvy cities to target. Everybody and their brother is going after the same narrow demographics of 20-something app coders, artists, etc. So there are opportunities for people who spot an underserved market. As I noted less than a month after starting this blog all those years ago:

For the city that starts taking its black community seriously, and engages with it not just around modest goals but no less than in making that community a major force pushing the city forward, I believe there are huge competitive advantages to be reaped.

I’d still say that today.

A lot of small Midwest cities have an opportunity here to lure Chicago’s departing black middle class before it moves somewhere else. The industries so many of these places are targeting like transportation and logistics are always complaining about labor supply challenges. Why not, for example, go show black truck drivers from Chicago the quality of life your town has on offer? IIRC, that’s exactly what brought of those Sikhs to Indianapolis. I seem to remember reading that many of them were truck drivers in California who took one look at what kind of house their salary would buy in Greenwood and took the plunge.

But in order to do that, you first have to perceive your black community as an asset. That’s something I hope Lafayette and its newspaper can achieve.

* The decennial census uses a different racial classification scheme for race than the population estimates. I pulled “Black Only” population from each but I want to caveat that these are not strictly apples to apples.

Comments Off
Topics: Demographic Analysis, Public Policy
Cities: Chicago

Friday, October 17th, 2014

Visiting Southern Indiana

First, an administrative note. I am suspending all commenting on this site until further notice.

I have always allowed free rein to the comments on my site. I allowed anonymous comments and have continued to allow them while most major sites have switched to systems that require identity. I don’t pre-moderate unless my software flags something as potential spam, and only delete bona fide spam. I’ve allowed and even encouraged people to disagree with me and even allowed people to insult me on my own site.

Unfortunately, my hospitality has been repeatedly and increasingly abused. As a result, the quality of discussion in the comments has been severely degraded. I used to get emails from people telling me that the conversations in the comments were often as or more stimulating than the original posts. But in the last few months I’ve just been getting emails complaining about the commenting.

As the owner of the site, I’ll take responsibility for that. I should have taken stronger action to evolve the commenting platform all along. I’ve been putting off action here because of major forthcoming changes to the site. But I’ve decided I’m not going to wait until then. So as of today, commenting is suspended.

Next, Branden Klayko has rebooted his Louisville blog Broken Sidewalk. He asked me to contribute a piece, and as I was doing a tour of the Southern Indiana area as part of a project there, I put together a short overview post of some developments there. Here’s an excerpt:

The commercial development, particularly restaurants, in New Albany was impressive. Several Louisville establishments have set up shop there, joining locally-based businesses that offer a wide range of high quality goods. I’m talking about places like New Albanian, Quills Coffee, Toast, The Exchange, Bread and Breakfast, and more. There have also been a lot of infrastructure upgrades since I last lived there. For example, a recent streetscape project on New Albany’s Main Street was underway while I was visiting….There are some similar developments in downtown Jeffersonville, where the impact of the full opening of the Big Four Bridge as a pedestrian and bike crossing has been huge. I’ve walked across it several times now and am always amazed by the crowds.

Comments Off
Topics: Economic Development
Cities: Louisville

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Creating a Culture of Honest Critique

City Lab ran an interesting piece about Mark Lamster, architecture critic of the Dallas Morning News, called “Dallas Finds Its Voice.” Lamster was brought to the city from New York by a joint hire between the newspaper and the University of Texas at Arlington. The goal was apparently to bring in a top notch out of town critic who wasn’t afraid to apply the same lens to Dallas that he did to the Big Apple. He appears to have succeeded:

Mark Lamster’s very first assignment for The Dallas Morning News was a bombshell. His review of the George W. Bush Presidential Center appeared on the front page of the paper in April of last year, days before the library opened to the public. It didn’t pull any punches. “Everywhere competent, it nowhere rises to a level of inspiration,” Lamster wrote. The newspaper’s newly minted architecture critic called out the project’s host, Southern Methodist University President R. Gerald Turner, for a directive that “precluded a work of more adventurous design.”

“It was very embarrassing to a lot of what I’d call boosters in town,” says Bob Mong, the editor-in-chief of The Dallas Morning News, who brought Lamster down from New York. Mong nevertheless put it smack dab on A1. “It got everyone’s attention, let me tell you. When you stand back from it and look at what he wrote, it holds up very well today.”

Readers greeted Lamster cautiously. “Must be a Democrat,” said one commenter. “The review was written before the yankee [sic] got there,” chimed another.

But while Johnny Football would’ve ruined one of Dallas’s greatest institutions, Lamster is elevating the city through his reporting and criticism. “Welcome to Dallas: Paradox City,” a September report on the conflicting interests driving development there, could double as a mission statement for his work as a critic. Earlier this month, he explained the function and history of a complex of jails that he describes as the “unholy gateway to our city.” That report segues neatly into “Building the Just City,” the title for the third annual David Dillon Symposium, a conference he is helping to host today and Saturday for the University of Texas at Arlington School of Architecture.

It’s worth reading the whole thing.

Lamster’s hiring seems to have filled a key gap in Dallas, namely finding a knowledgeable critic who is willing to call them like he sees them. Finding this sort of realistic self-assessment is very hard for cities that aren’t in the first cultural tier. In my experience, grade inflation and softball reviews are rampant.

I’ve thought about the dynamics of this with regards to smaller cities for a while. One is that the audience is primarily made up of locals who aren’t plugged into cultural capitals. The comparison is generally versus what existed in the local market previously – which often results in seeing marked improvement – rather than a comparison against an outside standard or a comparative benchmark. One reason I started my blog as a regional blog is that so few people were aware of what was going on in places even just a short drive down the interstate that they believed things like downtown condo construction meant something special was happening in their town – as opposed to the reality that it was simply a trend that was hitting everyone else also washing over their city. Critics, maybe because in smaller cities newspapers and such sometimes simply assign a local reporter to that beat, seem to judge by the same standards.

A second problem is social. And it’s a two-fold problem. The first part is that strong critique has likely never been a part of the local culture, thus it’s simply not how things are done in the town. It’s hard to argue with this in a sense as a community is certainly free to adopt those values. But such a value set comes with consequences.

The other part is that even in regions as big as two million or more, the cultural class isn’t that large and is very interconnected. It’s inevitable that you are going to have to interact with the people you write about socially at some point. So if you write a critical review, that’s going to make for some awkward moments. In a place with no culture of it, people might not react well to being critiqued, and the reviewer himself probably doesn’t have a lot of experience at dealing with blowback, and so is emotionally sensitized to it.

Thirdly, there’s generally a desire in these places to want to support local businesses, cultural groups, etc. A lot of the folks engaging on the field of battle culturally are those who could have left town, but elected to stay. And there’s a desire to support them in their choice. In fact, the people who did make that choice can even feel entitled to that support. This isn’t just in small places either as “buy local” reigns almost unquestioned as preferred among the intelligentsia.

Again, that’s a valid cultural decision to make. I myself prefer to patronize local establishments where I can, and I’m even willing to pay a bit of a penalty in terms of price and quality to do it. But too often I think local purveyors of various products and services and cultural activities are basically given a free pass on quality. And often the people doing the truly best work aren’t appreciated, particularly if it’s innovative. By definition innovative work is contrary to the conventional wisdom, and to the extent that smaller local markets seek to boost their status by glomming on to trends, innovators can seem genuinely uncool. Additionally, people locally may not recognize or be willing to pay for true quality. For example, their definition of a luxury watches might include Rolex, but they’ve never even heard of say FP Journe.

Now Dallas is bigger than the regions I had in mind. I speculate based on the article that they had a similar relationship to criticism, however. It would take a local to say for sure what cultural factors are at work. But it’s interesting to see them stepping out a bit. I haven’t done enough analysis of Lamster’s work to judge, but if the comments even on City Lab are any judge, he’s already stirring up trouble.

Whatever the case, this shows that the Dallas Morning News at least wanted to try to elevate the game of Dallas. As I wrote in a previous post, some in Dallas are no longer satisfied with purely commercial success and are seeking, like other boomtowns before it, for Dallas to get classy too. This would appear to be in line with those efforts. That requires a community that’s willing to take a hard look in the mirror and be honest with themselves about where they don’t measure up versus their aspirations (and boosterism rhetoric). When it comes to architecture, they’ve apparently gone in search of someone who will hold up that mirror. The question is what they are willing to do with the images they see.

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

Video Roundup

Time for another round of videos that I’ve had in my to-post list for a while.

The first is a short documentary piece on two skyscrapers in New York that were built specifically a telco switching points: the AT&T Long Lines Building and the Western Union Building. They are still in use today. If the video doesn’t display for you click over to Vimeo. h/t BLDGBLOG

The next is another installment in the “Time-LAX” series of LA timelapses. If the video doesn’t display for you, click over to Vimeo.

Lastly a TV news segment in Indianapolis from 1978. It’s a look back at a 25-year futuristic vision of the city from 1953 that was featured in the Indianapolis Star. Lets just say the vision didn’t quite come true. If the video doesn’t display for you, click over to YouTube. h/t We Are City

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Teardowns Are Transforming the American Post-War Suburban Landscape by Suzanne Lanyi Charles

[ The London School of Economics has an American themed blog called USA Policy and Politics. This piece on teardowns originally appeared there and I’m grateful for their permission to repost it – Aaron.

Suzanne Charles 80x108In many older American suburbs single-family housing is being demolished and replaced with new, larger single-family housing. “Teardowns” are dramatically transforming suburban neighborhoods. Using the inner-ring suburbs as a case study, Suzanne Lanyi Charles finds that teardowns occur in a variety of places ranging from modest middle-income neighborhoods to very highly affluent neighborhoods that often share a common proximity to well regarded schools. Teardowns began in areas with high property values, and as house prices rose rapidly through the first half of the 2000s, they expanded into adjacent, less affluent neighborhoods, contracting again at the end of the decade.

As older suburbs have aged, some have begun to experience declining populations, investment, and incomes, increasing crime, and shrinking tax bases. However, at the same time, others are receiving a significant amount of reinvestment. In some inner-ring suburbs the single family housing stock is being transformed through “teardowns”—the process when an older single-family housing is demolished and larger single-family housing is built in its place. An oft-cited teardown scenario is one in which an older, often architecturally significant house in a leafy, very affluent suburb is demolished and replaced. However, a more nuanced redevelopment process has been occurring in inner-ring suburbs. Teardowns occur in a variety of neighborhoods and manifest differently in different places, presenting varying implications for inner-ring suburban neighborhoods.

Though not ubiquitous, teardowns have had a substantial impact on many suburban neighborhoods. Rates of teardowns in the inner-ring suburbs of Chicago range up to 17 percent per census block group and are primarily confined to areas north, northwest, and southwest of the city of Chicago. (See Figure 1) In 99 census block groups, over 4 percent of single-family housing was redeveloped, and twenty census block groups experienced redevelopment of over 8 percent of single-family housing. However, over 60 percent of the census block groups (which include 56 percent of the housing stock) did not have any single-family residential redevelopment whatsoever between 2000 and 2010.

Figure 1 – Housing redevelopment rates in suburban Chicago

Charles Fig 1

Suburban teardowns are often discussed as primarily occurring in historically wealthy neighborhoods. In neighborhoods with high property values, a prime teardown candidate is often the smallest, oldest, and least expensive house on the block. The house is demolished and replaced with a house in keeping with the rest of the neighborhood in terms of size and quality. But during the past decade, high rates of teardowns have occurred in a group of inner-ring neighborhoods that are more diverse in terms of property values, household incomes, and housing type. Figure 2 illustrates a teardown in a modest, middle-income suburb in which the rebuilt house is substantially larger and more expensive than its neighbors.

Figure 2 – Results of a teardown in middle income suburb in Chicago

Charles Fig 2

Teardowns often occur in the wealthiest suburban municipalities, but they also occur at equally high rates in more modest neighborhoods in terms of household incomes and house prices. One thing that these neighborhoods have in common is that they are primarily located in very highly regarded school districts. Teardowns occur in neighborhoods spanning a wide range of middle-class neighborhoods; however they are not racially and ethnically diverse. These neighborhoods include residents employed in high-income, white-collar occupations as well as in middle-income, blue-collar occupations, but they are predominately white and non-Hispanic.

In many areas, a contagion-like effect takes hold, leading to the clustering of teardowns. Several identifiable clusters of teardowns occurred throughout the inner-ring suburbs of Chicago. (See Figure 3) (See here for methodological details as to how these clusters were identified). In general, these clusters of teardowns first appeared in places with the highest incomes and house values and the most highly ranked school districts. As house prices rose rapidly during the first half of the 2000-10 decade, teardowns continued apace and even accelerated in many affluent neighborhoods, while simultaneously expanding into less affluent neighborhoods.

Figure 3 – Clusters of teardowns in inner ring suburbs of Chicago

Charles Fig 3

Teardowns were not observed in neighborhoods where previous disinvestment had occurred, unlike examples of redevelopment and gentrification in central cities. In fact, according to local real estate developers and municipal planners, teardowns occurred in neighborhoods in which original property values were stable or increased prior to the appearance of teardown clusters. Thus, suburban teardowns reveal a redevelopment process that is quite different from that which has been observed in early examples of central city redevelopment and gentrification.

According to local real estate developers and municipal planners, several of the first properties to be redeveloped in moderate-income neighborhoods were not speculative, developer-driven ventures—demolished, rebuilt, and later offered for sale—but were built for particular clients. Having accumulated wealth or perhaps gained easier access to financing, but not wanting to move to another area, these homeowners chose to rebuild a larger house for themselves in the neighborhood where they already lived. These teardowns set a precedent for developers to build much larger, new speculative housing in several of the more modest neighborhoods.

Developers also revealed that they preferred to undertake teardowns in areas where ones had already taken place, leading to the spatial clustering or contagion effect. They cite the increased profitability of these latter projects, as well as the decreased financial risk once the local real estate market demonstrated that it would accept the more expensive redeveloped properties as motivating factors. In some cases, developers created their own clusters of redevelopment by undertaking several teardowns in one neighborhood. Many undertook these projects in the neighborhoods in which they lived, bolstering their reputations as real estate developers by demonstrating their own investment in the neighborhood.

Teardowns have had very different physical impacts in different types of neighborhoods. Teardowns with the lowest ratio of new to original house floor area are located primarily in very affluent suburbs. The highest ratios—where the redeveloped house is over 3.5 times larger than the original house—occur in many places with moderate property values and household incomes. (See Figure 4) In neighborhoods of originally homogeneous postwar housing, the new housing was priced significantly higher than the original houses, and higher than the original residents of the neighborhood could likely afford. The price of a redeveloped house is typically at least three times that of the original house. In originally middle-income neighborhoods with moderately priced housing, teardown clusters have resulted in significant overall changes in the physical form of the built environment.

Figure 4 –Floor ratios for new vs. original houses in suburban Chicago

Charles Fig 4

Teardowns occur in a range of suburban neighborhoods and manifest differently in different places, presenting varying implications for inner-ring suburban neighborhoods. They are often controversial, resulting in the replacement of older housing with that which is more in keeping with currently popular trends in house size, features, and style, attracting new higher income households, raising property values, and creating additional municipal revenue through increased property tax assessments. And they change in the physical character of neighborhoods and reduce the stock of smaller, affordable (or mid-priced) housing. Local policy makers and residents have an interest in better understanding teardowns occurring in older inner-ring suburbs in order to equip themselves to address it proactively.

This article is based on the paper, “The spatio-temporal pattern of housing redevelopment in suburban Chicago, 2000-2010” in Urban Studies.

Featured image credit: Bill Rosenfeld (Flickr, CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0)

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of USApp– American Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics.

Shortened URL for this post:


About the author

Suzanne Lanyi Charles is an Assistant Professor in the School of Architecture at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Charles’s scholarly interests include residential redevelopment and neighborhood change with a particular interest in the changing suburban landscape. Her current research examines physical, social, and economic changes in postwar suburban neighborhoods. Her research has received research grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Real Estate Academic Initiative at Harvard University.

This post originally appeared on October 7, 2014 in the London School of Economics USAPP blog.

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

Replay: The Magic of Microclusters

This post originally appeared on October 27, 2013.

If you look at the list of target industries for any given city or state, you usually find several from the same list of five common items: high technology, life sciences (under various names), green tech, advanced manufacturing, logistics. Take a few from this list, and add a legacy industry if there’s one or two where you are already particularly strong, and there you have it.

The problem is that everybody and their brother is now claiming to be a tech or startup “hub”, etc. And there’s probably some fairness in that. Starting companies is much easier than it used to be, and despite the so-called “20 minute rule”, venture capitalists seem very willing to travel to find deals where they can make good money. For example, payments startup Dwolla didn’t have trouble attracting top name backers even though it was in Des Moines.

So in a sense everybody can play right now. At some point though, there will inevitably be another shakeout of sorts. If you want to be a long term survivor, have a claim to fame that will make you stand out from the crowd, generate above average returns, etc., you need to have something that makes you distinct.

One way to do that is to be sub-specialized. “High tech” is an extremely broad category. A city could have a large number of nominally high tech companies that are totally unalike, and which do not form any type of real ecosystem, integrated supply chain, etc. This is a cluster in name only.

One way to stand out is a concept I’ve called “microclusters”. That is, rather than simply saying “We’re high tech”, you have some specialty within the broader tech industry where you can be a real national leader.

A couple of news stories make me revisit this with regards to the internet marketing microcluster in Indianapolis. Like most cities, Indy is targeting, you guessed it, high tech, life sciences, green tech, advanced manufacturing, and logistics. The main promotional organization for high tech is called Techpoint. (I should note this organization does double duty as a statewide group as well).

But somehow, organically, within tech generally Indianapolis had a lot of startups in the internet marketing space. There were something like 70 or so last time I saw someone who had made a list. One of them, Exact Target, was recently acquired by for $2.5 billion. That’s a legitimate exit by any standards. Also recently, a content marketing cloud provider called Compendium was bought by Oracle for its own marketing cloud suite. (Terms not disclosed but surely much, much smaller).

When two tech bluechip names decide to go fishing in the same pond for companies in the same field, you start to think there’s something to it. (Salesforce and Oracle weren’t the first either. Terradata bought out a company called Aprimo for $525 million a couple years ago). Wanting to build on the momentum, Techpoint just held a big shindig called M-Tech to launch a campaign they are launching in an effort to boost the city’s marketing technology cluster.

What will this turn into? I don’t know. A news report about M-Tech noted potential challenges from competitors. What’s more, if there’s no pipeline of new companies, this sort of thing will fizzle out. But if money and talent continues to develop new solutions and companies in a place where there’s real domain expertise and a bona fide ecosystem, it will potentially give the city a niche where it can be a truly top tier player and not just another me-too startup hub.

On a more mature level, I wrote some years back about the motorsports industry cluster in Indianapolis. Everybody knows the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the 500-mile Race, but Indianapolis Raceway Park (now Lucas Oil Raceway) in Brownsburg also happens to be home to arguably the top drag racing event in the US. It’s near Brownsburg predominantly where a collection of (as of 2008 when I got the last report) 400 motorsports companies, employing 8,800 people at average wages of around $50,000/year is centered. Thus this cluster is both a sub-industry (a type of advanced manufacturing) microcluster and a geographic one. (I might note it’s certainly not the only global location in this industry as places like London and Charlotte also have such clusters). People have actually moved to Indianapolis from as far away as Australia and England to start companies in this space, a pretty good indicator it’s a real opportunity zone.

Again, both of these grew organically, so I don’t want to suggest that you can conjure one up with an economic development program. But I suspect most cities have a few of these out there or in the process of developing. It just so happens I know Indianapolis well and so can name what’s there. Identifying these and providing institutional or infrastructural support (e.g., specialized community college training programs) is probably a worthwhile endeavor.

Today’s economy doesn’t have one plant employing 10,000 people. But a good microcluster can be as impactful if not more so. Obviously the smaller your metro, the bigger a splash something like this will make. What’s more, specialization and a true integrated ecosystem can produce what Warren Buffett calls a “wide moat” business that can be defended against upstarts. Also recall that Jack Welch at GE famously didn’t want to be in a business if he couldn’t be #1 or #2 at it. It’s not realistic for smaller cities to ever think they’ll be #1 or #2 in tech generally, nor even have the large tech scene of a New York or Chicago. But they can find particular areas where they can punch above their weight. And as the recent Indy acquisitions show, generate legitimate big dollar exits.

Update: Richard Layman posted some additional thoughts on his blog.

Friday, October 10th, 2014

More On the Midwest vs. the South

My post on Sunday about SEC vs. Big 10 football produced quite a stir. There are 165 comments and counting, and it even prompted posts by Richard Longworth and Crain’s Cleveland Business.

Not everyone was critical but the ones that were basically say that it’s ludicrous to say that football proves anything. I don’t think that it does. But I will make three points:

1. The differing fortunes of the two conference is yet another in an extremely long series of data points and episodes that demonstrate a shift in demographic, economic, and cultural vitality to the South.
2. Sports is one of the many areas in which Midwestern states have clung to traditional approaches, even though those approaches haven’t been producing results.
3. Demographic and economic changes have consequences. It’s not realistic to expect that the Midwest’s excellent institutions will necessarily be able to retain excellence when supported by hollowed out economies.

I’d like to throw up a couple of charts to illustrate the longer term trends at work. The first is a comparison of per capita personal income as a percent of the US average for Illinois vs. Georgia since 1950:


Here’s the same chart of Ohio vs. North Carolina:


If I put up the population or job numbers, the same charts would show the South mutilating the Midwest. (Indiana, Georgia, and North Carolina were all about the same population in 1980, but the latter two have skyrocketed ahead since then for example). What’s more, the South’s major metros score better on diversity and attracting immigrants than the Midwest’s major metros as a general rule.

These charts show the convergence in incomes over time. The decline in relative income of the Midwest is possibly in part to increases elsewhere, not internal dynamics. But think about what the Midwest looked like in 1950, 60, or 70 vs the South, then think about it today and it’s night and day. The Midwest may still be endowed with better educational and cultural institutions than the South, but we can see where the trends are going. Keep in mind that those things are lagging indicators. Chicago didn’t get classy until after it got rich, for example.

Now we see that Southern income performance hasn’t been great since the mid to late 90s. This is a problem for them. As is their dependence on growth itself in their communities. I won’t claim that the South is trouble free or will necessarily thrive over the long haul. But they seem to have a clearer sense of identity, where they want to go, and what their deficiencies are than most Midwestern places.

Longworth seems to buy the decline theory but has a different explanation of the source, namely that Chicago has sucked the life out of other Midwestern states:

In the global economy, sheer size is a great big magnet, drawing in the resources and people from the surrounding region. We see this in the exploding cities of China, India and South America. We see it in Europe, where London booms while the rest of England slowly rots.

And we see it in the Midwest where, as the urbanologist Richard Florida has written, Chicago has simply sucked the life – the finance, the business services, the investment, especially the best young people – out of the rest of the Midwest.

To any young person in Nashville or Charlotte, the home town offers plenty of opportunities for work and a good life. To any young person stuck in post-industrial Cleveland or Detroit, it’s only logical to decamp to Chicago, rather than to stay home and try to build something in the wreckage of a vanished economy.

This seems to be a common view (see another example), even in the places that would be on the victim side of the equation. But I’ve never seen strong data that suggests this is actually the case. Are college grads and young people getting sucked out of the rest of the Midwest into Chicago?

Thanks to the Census Bureau, we now have a view, albeit limited, into this. The American Community Survey releases county to county migration patterns off of their five year surveys sliced by attribute. There seems to be some statistical noise in these, and for various reasons I can’t track state to metro migrations, but thanks to my Telestrian tool, I was able to aggregate this to at least get metro to metro migration. So here is a map of migration of adults with college degrees for the Chicago metro area from the 2007-2011 ACS:

Net migration of adults 25+ with a bachelors degree or higher with the Chicago metropolitan area. Source: 2007-2011 ACS county to county migration data with aggregation and mapping by Telestrian

This looks like a mixed bag to me, not a hoover operation. What about the “young and restless”? Here’s a similar map of people aged 18-34:

Net migration of 18-34yos with the Chicago metropolitan area. Source: 2006-2010 ACS county to county migration data with aggregation and mapping by Telestrian

This is an absolute blowout, with a massive amount of red on the map showing areas to which Chicago is actually losing young adults. Honestly, this only makes sense given the well known headline negative domestic migration numbers for Chicago.

I do find it interesting that there’s a strong draw from Michigan. Clearly Michigan has taken a decade plus long beating. There’s been strong net out-migration from Michigan to many other Midwestern cities during that time frame, and its the same in Cleveland, which also took an economic beating in the last decade. This is just an impression so I don’t want to overstate, but it seems to me that a disproportionate number of the stories about brain drain to Chicago give examples from Michigan. Longworth uses the examples of Detroit and Cleveland. These would appear to be the places where the argument has been truly legitimate, but that doesn’t mean you can extrapolate generally from there.

What’s more, even if a young person with a college degree does move to Chicago from somewhere else, will they stay there long term? They may circulate out back to where they came from or somewhere else after absorbing skills and experience. It’s the same with New York, DC, SF, etc. I’ve said these places should be viewed as human capital refineries, much like universities. That’s not a bad thing at all. In fact, it’s a big plus for everybody all around. Chicago is doing fine there. But it’s a more complex talent dynamic than is generally presented, a presentation that does not seem to be backed up by the data in any case.

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

More Praise For Boring

As a follow-on to my Guardian piece last week “In Praise of Boring Cities” I want to highlight a companion piece by Victoria and Albert Museum curator Rory Hyde called “Bollards, Bricks and Black Cabs: Why the Best Urban Objects Are Mundane.” His arguments in it are in line with my old adage that the mark of a great city is it how it treats its ordinary things, not its special ones. Every city does their main street, their war memorials, etc. up right. There’s no distinctiveness there. But what about the average street, space, or object? That’s when the real values of a place are often revealed. As Hyde puts it:

Mundane city objects also offer a glimpse into the operational logic of a city. Pedestrian buttons, building materials or the Johnston typeface are the visible moments when vast urban systems reveal themselves. They are the hooks that invite our participation in the system. Despite or because of their mundanity, they are the city – as close as we can get to this big machine we inhabit.

Whatever you think of these projects (does it matter that the traffic light MoMu celebrates was actually designed in 1965, not 1868 as the label claims? Kind of, yes), noticing city objects “in the wild” can jolt you out of the moment to reflect on the millions of design decisions that bring the city into being. Boring objects can teach us that the city is an intentionally constructed project – and therefore a project that can be changed for the better.

Again, I’d add that by inspecting these elements, something important about the city and its people is revealed.

As I wrote previously, it’s London, a city chock full of iconic buildings and such, that perhaps best embodies the notion of treating the ordinary as special. This is easily seen in its black cabs, retro telephone boxes, and police uniforms. True, there’s an element of kitsch at work. But that too is a part of the city. It’s just another small entry showing the why London has remained arguably the premier city in the world for so long.

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

Moscow Timelapse

Here’s a timelapse of Moscow by the same guy who did the Portugal one I posted recently. This video won various awards, and it’s definitely cool. For sure watch it in full screen high definition. If the video doesn’t display, click over to Vimeo.

Comments Off
Topics: Architecture and Design
Cities: Moscow

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

Houston: Opportunity Urbanism and Walkability

I wanted to highlight a couple of recent pieces about Houston. The first is a short Houston Matters podcast with Joel Kotkin, who highlights again his theme of “Opportunity Urbanism” in Houston. It’s a pretty succinct statement of the Houston value proposition. If the audio doesn’t display for you, click over to Soundcloud.

One observation I’d have is that I don’t see it as necessarily inevitable that Houston became the energy capital of the US. After all, in 1978 Hollywood thought Dallas, not Houston, was the city in which to stage a TV show about an oil family.

The other is a long Architect Magazine piece called “Planning the Boom” which looks at Houston’s infill development, its first ever comprehensive plan, and whether it will ever be able to create a compelling pedestrian environment. Here’s an excerpt:

Growth, of course, is Houston’s raison d’etre. According to a recent TheWall Street Journal article, “Success and the City,” Houston has added jobs at a prodigious rate: 263,000 since 2008 (the New York metro area, by contrast, has added 100,000 during the same period). The article preaches the gospel of Houston: lack of formal zoning makes it easy to obtain building permits there and enables the city to be responsive to changing land-use demands.

A lot of things, many of them good, can happen in the absence of zoning. The laissez-faire philosophy enables a certain dynamism. Things can develop here—like the uncanny proliferation of tin-clad modernist houses in one Inner Loop neighborhood—that would never be permitted in a more precious city. Houston has tremendous energy and a copious amount of intellect. Industries like oil and aerospace have long attracted smart, ambitious people. The population is immensely diverse. Houston (though Dallas might argue otherwise) can be thought of as Los Angeles to Austin’s San Francisco. But is an interesting city the same as a good city?

The questions that I kept asking on my visit, and in a series of conversations I’ve had since, are: How much can Houston grow without cultivating more of a walkable, urban ethic? How long can a city that is clearly becoming denser continue to be almost completely car-dependent? Can a city that doesn’t believe in zoning find a way to create streetscapes that are not lined with multilevel parking garages?

Thanks to Derek Kastner for sending this my way.

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

Telestrian Data Terminal


A production of the Urbanophile, Telestrian is the fastest, easiest, and best way to access public data about cities and regions, with totally unique features like the ability to create thematic maps with no technical knowledge and easy to use place to place migration data. It's a great way to support the Urbanophile, but more importantly it can save you tons of time and deliver huge value and capabilities to you and your organization.

Try It For 30 Days Free!

About the Urbanophile


Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker, and writer on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century.

Full Bio


Please email before connecting with me on LinkedIn if we don't already know each other.


Copyright © 2006-2014 Urbanophile, LLC, All Rights Reserved - Copyright Information