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Curriculum Vitae

Community Attraction and Avoidance in the City of Neighborhoods and its Suburbs: What's Race Got to Do with It? (2011)

Maria Krysan and Michael D. M. Bader Presented at the Great Cities, Ordinary Lives Conference, Chicago, Illinois.


Chicago is a city of neighborhoods. Politicians and city boosters extol the virtues of city neighborhoods for providing unique identities to the places where ordinary Chicagoans live their everyday lives, giving a collective sense of belonging as they go about their daily and mundane tasks. And leaders highlight the uniqueness of the city’s neighborhoods and the diversity of experiences one can get by traveling across them. While the mayor and city boosters extol the virtues of the metropolis’ neighborhoods, what they don’t highlight is how little diversity there often is within each of the neighborhoods that make up the city and its surrounding suburbs. Of course, the neighborhoods of Chicago make up only a small part of the communities in the metropolitan area—there are the hundreds of other communities that surround the city that also shape the daily experiences of residents and the lack of diversity within neighborhood becomes even more pronounced in the city’s expanding suburban ring. Chicago has been, and continues to be, one of the most segregated cities within one of the most segregated metropolitan areas in the country. While one might experience substantial diversity across the neighborhoods and communities in the metropolitan area, it is still true that most residents have neighbors that look very much like themselves. How does this pronounced pattern of segregation come about in the great diversity that exists within the city’s metropolitan population?

In this chapter, we step outside the traditional theoretical traditions related to the causes of residential segregation (economics, preferences, and discrimination) and provide unique insights into the perceptions that residents hold about actual communities and neighborhoods in their metropolis. We view these perceptions as a critical but often-ignored component of the residential sorting process that ultimately either translates into persistent segregation or offers the potential for integration. Drawing on the 2004-2005 Chicago Area Study, a face-to-face area probability survey of just about equal numbers of white (n=278), black (n=233), and Latino (n=232) residents of Cook County, Illinois, we first ask: Where do residents from the Chicago metropolitan area search for housing? In answering this question, we do not speak of abstract ideal types of communities, but ask about 41 different—real—communities. In addition, we explore how the race and ethnicity of the residents searching affects the communities in which they search? After doing so, we then ask where do those same residents would avoid looking to live? Although the two questions may appear to be the flip sides of the same coin, we find that patterns of neighborhood avoidance differ from patterns of neighborhood attraction in ways that help researchers understand how residential mobility and community perceptions perpetuate racial segregation in the city’s neighborhoods. Our results reveal a profoundly racialized character of community reputations that belies the ‘diversity rhetoric’ that public officials embrace and extol to visitors and residents alike.