May 12, 2004


Many Northwest Siders dream of a home in the suburbs, but that dream is not of a home in Cook County's southern suburbs.

When those born and raised on the Northwest Side or transplanted there from a foreign county choose to move to the suburbs, they usually migrate to Cook County's north or northwest suburbs or to far west or northwest areas like DuPage or McHenry counties, and rarely relocate to the south suburbs.

Of course, those few Northwest Siders who do opt to move southward do not end up in the south Cook County suburbs, south of 119th Street, which are now majority black. Instead, they gravitate toward the overwhelmingly white southwest suburbs that begin south of 79th Street and west of Cicero Avenue. How many people from the Northwest Side dream of living there?

Nevertheless, the population in those white suburbs is exploding, with whites from Chicago's Southwest Side and close-in suburbs like Oak Lawn and Burbank migrating to areas such as Tinley Park and Orland Park (which closely resemble Schaumburg), or into Will County, or to towns such as Frankfort, Mokena, Plainfield and New Lenox. The population in those suburbs, which tripled during the 1990s, will triple again by 2010.

This phenomenon can be referred to as the "Near-to-Nest Syndrome." In New York City, for example, over the past half-century, those whites migrating from the eastern part of the city, from Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, generally moved eastward out to Long Island, while those in the west, in Manhattan and the Bronx, generally migrated to the northern suburbs, into Westchester County.

In Chicago, for all except the Hispanics, the same pattern prevails.

West Side blacks, from the Austin and Garfield Park neighborhoods, have been migrating for decades to the close-in western suburbs. At present, according to 2000 census data and updated projections, the suburbs of Maywood, Broadview and Bellwood are more than 90 percent black. The nearby suburbs of Hillside, Forest Park and Berkeley soon will have black majorities.

South Side blacks, from the middle class neighborhoods of Roseland, Chatham and Morgan Park, have been migrating for decades to the close-in southern suburbs. In fact, there seems to be a clear geographic line or demarcation, with blacks buying homes in the bell-shaped area between I-57 and I-94 (the Calumet Expressway), south of 127th Street to the Will County line, as well as the area east of the Tri-State Tollway around Robbins, Dixmoor and Blue Island.

According to recent census figures, the suburbs of Robbins, Phoenix, Riverdale, Harvey, East Hazel Crest, Dolton, Calumet Park, Markham and Country Club Hills are all more than 90 percent black. As recently as the early 1970s, all were overwhelmingly white.

In addition, the suburbs of Dixmoor, Matteson, Richton Park, Calumet City, South Holland and Olympia Fields now have sizeable black majorities which are projected to rise to more than 90 percent by the end of the decade.

Also, the suburbs of Blue Island, Hazel Crest, Flossmoor, Chicago Heights, Lynwood, Glenwood, Sauk Village and Park Forest, now with sizeable black minorities, will be black-majority by 2010.

Southwest Side whites from the 19th, 23rd and 13th wards, and especially their offspring, have long been migrating to the older, established, white-majority suburbs west of Cicero and south of 79th Street. According to the census, suburbs such as Oak Lawn, Burbank, Hickory Hills, Crestwood, Merrionette Park, Hometown, Oak Forest, Worth, Thornton, Lemont and Palos Heights were more than 90 percent white in 2000, and they are projected to stay that way.

There are two hot areas for southwest suburban white migration. The first is the corridor between Route 45 (Mannheim/LaGrange Road) and Route 43 (Harlem Avenue), from 135th Street south to I-80, which contains Tinley Park and Orland Park. The region much resembles the Schaumburg-Streamwood-Hanover Park area in northwest Cook County, with 1970s-vintage subdivisions and mega-shopping centers. The area is more than 90 percent white.

The second is the I-80 corridor, in Will County, extending from Harlem Avenue westward to Joliet, which includes Frankfort, New Lenox and Mokena. Each of those suburbs has a white population in excess of 95 percent.

There also are a number of west-of-Cicero white suburbs with black populations pushing into the 15 to 25 percent range, such as Alsip, Evergreen Park, Midlothian, Bridgeview and Chicago Ridge, as well as Lansing, which is east of I-94.

Those undergoing major racial transition are all east of Cicero. Blacks now number close to one-third in Posen, South Chicago Heights and Homewood. The 2000 census white majority is now a minority in Flossmoor, Park Forest, East Hazel Crest and Blue Island. And the 40 to 45 percent white minority is shrinking to insignificance in Chicago Heights, Lynwood, Glenwood, Sauk Village, South Holland, Olympia Fields and Calumet City.

Northwest Side whites, when they migrate to the suburbs, grapple with two choices: Do they buy a big home at a reasonable price or a smaller home in a good school district? For the former, it's off to Palatine or Schaumburg, or to McHenry County (McHenry, Crystal Lake, Wauconda, Lake Zurich, Carpentersville), or to Kane County (Batavia, Saint Charles, Geneva), or to western Lake County (Mundelein, Libertyville, Vernon Hills, Prairie View). For the latter, it's usually Park Ridge or DuPage County (Downers Grove, Wheaton, Naperville).

Even the influx of Poles and other Eastern European immigrants to Chicago during the 1980s and 1990s has validated the "Near-to-Nest" theory. Many settled in the Belmont-Central area. Most have long since departed, but not too far away. There has been a huge influx of immigrant and first-generation Poles into nearby suburbs Such as Norridge, Elmwood Park, Schiller Park, Niles and Mount Prospect.

West suburban whites, having grown up in towns such as Cicero, Berwyn, Westchester and Western Springs, have long since migrated westward to DuPage County.

And whites from Chicago's North Side and Lakefront, when they migrate, generally head north, into Evanston or Wilmette, or farther north into eastern Lake County, to Deerfield, Highland Park or Lake Forest.

All these "Near-to-Nest" migratory patterns resemble spokes on a wheel, with some spokes being fueled by simple upward mobility, others by population growth, and others by increased housing costs. The redevelopment of Chicago's Loop created higher housing prices and thereby pushed blacks out of the Near West Side and Near South Side. The lack of available housing pushed the children of many Northwest and Southwest Siders into the suburbs.

But Chicago's burgeoning Hispanic population appears to be the sole "Near-to-Nest" exception. Hispanics tend to move to where housing is most affordable and to where other Hispanics are congregated  -- and they often bring their extended family with them.

Mexican and Puerto Rican immigrants to Chicago during the 1970s and 1980s settled primarily on the Near North (Logan Square) and Near South (Brighton Park) sides. Subsequent population growth, coupled with immigration, created two direct spokes to the suburbs, one along the Stevenson Expressway/Ogden Avenue corridor, with Hispanics from Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village and Brighton Park moving southwestward to Cicero, Berwyn, Stickney and the area around Midway Airport, and the second along the Grand Avenue corridor, from Humboldt Park and Logan Square westward into Melrose Park, Northlake and Stone Park, and then even further into Bensenville, Addison and Wood Dale. And then there are the points not even on the spoke, with large and growing Hispanic populations in Waukegan and North Chicago, Elgin, West Chicago, Aurora and Joliet.

There also is a large and growing Hispanic population -- now close to 20 percent -- in the northwest suburbs of Wheeling, Des Plaines, Hoffman Estates and Mount Prospect.

The "Near-to-Nest" theory explains why Northwest Siders move to north, northwest and west suburbs.