How integrated is Oak Park?

The Chicago metro area has a reputation as one of the most segregated in the country.

Oak Park, however, is often cited as one of Chicago’s few truly racially integrated suburbs, and the village has had a commitment to fostering integration.

There’s no doubt about Oak Park’s success as a viable, vibrant, attractive community. A close look at recent Census data, however, might lead some to wonder about how truly integrated Oak Park is.

The New York Times recently made available a map of every Census tract in America, based on recently updated 5-year data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. It’s a great tool for exploring a community’s demographic, economic, housing and social characteristics.

The 2000 Census found that the population of tract 8124 – the heart of Oak Park – was 88% White, 8% Black and 3% Asian.

According to the more recent data, that tract had become 90% White, 4% Asian, and only 3% Black.

One of the community events that bring Oak Parkers together is the farmers market, where I shot the above video last summer. I scanned all of my video outtakes, and half a dozen other farmers market videos at YouTube, for signs of social integration. My rough guess is that less than 1% of the people in those farmers market videos were Black.

If you’re looking for true integration in Oak Park, you’ll apparently have to look along its borders, not at its heart.


  • Galewood 7 years

    I live adjacent to Oak Park in the Chicago neighborhood of Galewood. Our primary census tract is 2505 (Harlem to Narragansett and North of North Avenue) is a beautifully integrated community. We have a population of 8,000 consisting of 47% white, 28% black and 24% Hispanic. We have all the nearby amenities of downtown Oak Park which is 1 1/2 miles away plus 3 Metra stations for convenience to downtown. Our taxes are also 1/3 or less than we would be paying for a house in Oak Park.

  • Oakey Parky! 7 years

    Oak Park is a very racist community that hides under the cloak of a few liberal “good deeds”.

    The village “steers” blacks and latinos right out of the village using the Oak Park Housing Center and the ban on For sale and For Rent signs!

    • OPer 7 years

      “The village “steers” blacks and latinos right out of the village using the Oak Park Housing Center ”

      Actually, the exact opposite is true. The mandate of the Housing Center, as well as its practice, is to steer minorities to largely white areas and whites to largely minority areas of OP. This is from direct experience.

      • Another op'er 7 years

        Likewise- when I moved in to OP 10 years ago as a country-bumpkin white girl, I stopped in at the housing center, and they tried very hard to get me to move to the east side of town, actually, on Austin. I wasn’t comfortable there, so I am more on the east side. But they absolutely tried. In the neighborhood I am in now, there are families of pretty much all races around me, next door. Not sure about percent by neighborhood, but mine is pretty mixed.

      • Rex 4 years

        I stopped at Oak Park Housing Center this week…White male in early thirties… 80% of the listings they gave me were on Austin.

  • I have no invested interest here, but how does the ban on for sale and for rent signs steer minorities out of Oak Park? I think it just encourages the use of professional agents (I’d love to see Chicago ban for sale signs!).

    What am I missing here?

  • There’s a lot of history behind the subject of sign bans, which are also in force in a number of Chicago neighborhoods.

    In the 60s site signage was just one of the arsenal of tools that unscrupulous real estate agents used to create panic-selling conditions as neighborhoods were on the verge of integration. A lot of people still have vivid memories of those ugly tactics.

    The sign bans have the exact opposite objective of encouraging racial steering.

    • JR 7 years

      I don’t know how you conclude that track 8124 is the “heart of Oak Park”. It contains 6% of the village’s population. It may be predominantly white, but it barely populates one of the 7 elementary schools. By far the majority of people, neighbors and families in Oak Park live in more integrated neighborhoods. Color-wise, anyway. We still don’t have enough republicans in town, but what are you going to do?

      • JR,

        Isn’t 8124 the geographic center of Oak Park? Isn’t it common usage to refer to the geographic center of a community as its heart?

        Not to quibble too much but 6.85% is 7% in my book, not 6%. The District 97 Web site lists 8 elementary schools.

        Other census tracts in Oak Park, with larger populations, have lower percentages of Blacks than the US as a whole, and the Black percentage of Oak Park has declined within the last decade.

        I’m not an Oak Parker. I’m simply raising some questions, and would be very happy to hear that my initial take is wrong.

        • OPer 7 years

          “Isn’t it common usage to refer to the geographic center of a community as its heart?”

          Not in Oak Park, buddy. Hint: where is “Downtown Oak Park” located?

        • OPer 7 years

          Ok, I just checked out the census tract, and tract 8127 is certainly not the geographic center of OP (that would be 8124), much less the “heart” of OP. It is, however, the tract with the most whites, and the most expensive housing.

          I’m calling selection bias. Back to grad school with you.

          • OPer

            I’m calling attention bias on you. I clearly said 8124.

  • John Walters 7 years

    A. The plural of anecdote is not data.
    B. You falsely assume that because Oak Park has a diverse population events in Oak Park should reflect that diversity.
    C. What is the racial balance for the whole of Oak Park, and not the arbitrary sample that you selected to support your false premise.

  • John,

    I provided a link so that anyone can look up the “racial balance for the whole of Oak Park” on their own, and draw their own conclusions.

    “Balance” isn’t achieved by putting people on opposite sides of a line. If you look solely at the numbers, Chicago has racial “balance” while still remaining a largely segregated city.

    The farmers market is a major, ongoing public event at a central point in the community. Examination of videos from that event on multiple dates is not anecdotes. It’s objective data on the question of whether Oak Park’s overall residential racial “balance” masks continuing residential and social segregation. I’m not contending it’s sufficient data, but it is data.

    I don’t think I made a false assumption. I articulated what I understand true diversity to be, i.e. diversity in voluntary social gatherings, a major public event being the minimal level of that mingling.

    If the data I’ve supplied aren’t adequate, how about providing the data that exposes my errors?

  • Rhonda Parker 7 years

    How much money you make is the biggest determination of how much the village of Oak Park will want you to live there. You can be of any race or religion- if you fit the financial profile.

    They want families making at least a 6 figure income, with college educated parents who have young families to pay taxes for at least another 18 years.

    I am not saying that people LIVING in Oak Park are not lovely, welcoming people on their own- they are. But the taxes and conditions of life in the village increasingly makes it a joke to try and live there without being in an upper income brakcet.

    Oak Park sadly and proudly rests upon the laurels of its 1960’s diversity- which was admirable. But now even working class families are finding themselves slowly squeezed out. Naturally diversity suffers too.
    But the village government is too busy trying to squeeze more parking fines out of its residents to really try and solve a diversity issue that it doesn’t actually care about anymore anyway.

  • I have friends who in no stretch of the imgaination make six firgure incomes (if you combine the two, yes) but have bought homes along each side of Ridgeland of the low $300s… and now you can similar houses for the mid and high $200s. For example, 1128 S Scoville is a cute Bungalow for $259K.

    For good schools and a thriving downtown (and easy to Chicago), this is not easy to do. So, Chicago friends that are very “middle class” in income and want a single family home for thier kids are turning to Oak Park quite often.

    • OPer 7 years

      thx for verifying what Rhonda above said, that to live in OP a *family* needs a six figure income.

  • Susan Hickey 7 years

    I had to leave Oak Park after my husband died because I could not afford to live there. I stayed long enough to see my daughter graduate from OPRF. It is very difficult to live there on one salary-even if you are in a well paid profession.

  • OP Resident 7 years

    If you want to see how intergrated OP is why didn’t you shoot your videos at one of the schools in the village? Maybe blacks choose not to attend the local farmers market? I am hispanic and have lived in OP for 17 years and have met many neighbors of all different nationalities. BTW I attend the farmers market on occassion but not every Saturday.

    • OPer 7 years

      Not only is the assumption that a farmer’s market is equally attractive to all races horribly flawed, but a 10 min video clip ignores the reality that there is also a temporal component (ie, if actually spend a whole morning at the market, you’ll see a variation in the racial mix.)

      My advice for the blogger is to not go into the social sciences.

      • OPer

        What makes you think I spent only 10 minutes acquiring that video? Is there some reason you ignore my reference to scanning my video outtakes and video from others shot at different times on different days?

        Where did I assume that a farmers market is equally attractive to people of all races? I’m as little qualified to make that assumption as you appear to be to call such an assumption “horribly flawed.”

        Reach into your social science trickbag and explain why people of different races don’t attend farmers markets or show up at different time periods if they do. I’m really looking forward to being enlightened on that subject.

  • OP Resident,

    Oak Park schools are fairly evenly integrated. I can learn that – and have – from seeing the school report cards.

  • Cuyler 7 years

    Interesting article. However, your sample is too small and not at all representative of the majority of Oak Park. You’re talking about a community that is 1/3 minority and has a powerful non-profit that actively strives to have a certain racial balance on each block. These few blocks that you include may be more imbalanced; however, if you study the whole of Oak Park, you will not find the same results that led you to write this title.

    Yes, the OP farmer’s market does, for whatever reason draw a largely Caucasian crowd. This has more to do with the nature of the event than the level of racial integration in the community. Look at more prominent examples that are more representative of the community at large. For example, the Harlem and Lake shopping district, which can in fact be called downtown Oak Park. Walk down the street with a camera there and post this – it’s far more diverse. Or film high-schoolers getting out of school – you will see roughly 1/3 African-Americans.

    Interesting observations. But it’s difficult to draw conclusions like these unless you live in the community every day, know major events and areas, and use a sample that’s representative of the actual racial balance on each block in Oak Park.

  • Bruno Christi 7 years

    Deeply flawed and simply bad journalism. Why is this still on the site?

  • Dick McKinlay 7 years

    Drawing inferences about trends by comparng 2005-2009 American Community Survey (ACS) estimates to the 2000 census counts is a dangerous business for any demographic characteristic, particularly for areas as small as a census tract. In the first place, the the more recent ACS data are ESTIMATES, derived from a very complex set of assumptions, and are not based on any more recent enumerations than the 2000 census itself. In the second place, the Census Bureau notes that particular caution needs to be employed in comparing data on race from the ACS to 2000 census.

    “Compare with Caution (Details)

    The ACS question on race was revised in 2008 to make it consistent with the Census 2010 race question, and this version is used for the 2009 ACS. The change in estimates for 2009 may be due to demographic changes, as well as factors including questionnaire changes, differences in ACS population controls, and methodological differences in the population estimates, and therefore should be used with caution. The 2009 ACS race question is different from the Census 2000 race question, therefore comparisons should be made with caution.” (Source:

    Quite apart from the fact that census tract 8124 (which chiefly consists of Oak Park’s “estate district” of large, historic homes) is a very inappropriate choice for taking the measure of the community, this article offers no reliable measurement at all.

  • Dick McKinlay

    You’ve misstated how the ACS data are derived. Here’s what the Census Bureau has to say on the subject:

    The American Community Survey (ACS) is an ongoing survey that provides data every year — giving communities the current information they need to plan investments and services.

    The ACS is not merely an estimate. It’s a survey sample and, by definition, less complete than the full decennial census. It’s a sample that annually determines the distribution of $400 billion in state and federal funds.

    As you rightly note, my comparison is based on 2005-2009 data, which limits the impact of the question change for 2009 sampling.

    It’s obvious that these data and my observations aren’t weighty enough to sustain any serious conclusions. I’m raising questions rather than firmly asserting answers.

  • Dick McKinlay 7 years

    I recognize that the ACS is based an a sample survey (a very good one at that!) and I have not misstated how the data are derived. The assumptions I refer to are those that direct how the data gathered by this national survey are extended to smaller geographic areas, such as census tracts. And the results are in fact ESTIMATES, without question. Here is what the Census Bureau says on the topic at the top of its “Guidance for Users”:

    “Three tips for using American Community Survey data…

    2. All American Community Survey (ACS) data are estimates. The Census Bureau collects American Community Survey data from a sample of the population in the United States and Puerto Rico–rather than from the whole population All ACS data are survey estimates. To help you interpret the reliability of the estimate, the Census Bureau publishes a margin of error (MOE) for every ACS estimate.”

    In the case of census tract 8124, the proportion of Black residents was estimated to be 3.0%, with a margin of error of +/- 2.9%. In other words, for such a small area, the ACS data are sufficiently reliable only to estimate that the percentage Black in tract 8124 is likely to be within the range of 0.1% to 5.9%.

    In view the fact that these estimates are based on a revised race question and that there are other methodological differences relative to the 2000 census data, the issue is simply whether the highly selective comparison at the heart of this article is sufficient to support the conclusion that “If you’re looking for true integration in Oak Park, you’ll apparently have to look along its borders, not at its heart.”

  • Dick McKinlay

    Glad you now recognize the ACS is sample-based. But, you previously said “the more recent ACS data are ESTIMATES, derived from a very complex set of assumptions, and are not based on any more recent enumerations than the 2000 census itself.” That’s simply not true.

    The ACS margin of error for this data point is not, I believe, wide enough to undermine the valiidity of the question I posed.

    • Dick McKinlay 7 years

      What I stated is in fact true: the decennial census is an enumeration, and not a sample survey. Race is one of the few questions that is asked of everyone. The ACS is a sample survey (a fact of which I was very well aware) and not an enumeration: the estimates that it produces on a small area basis do in fact depend upon the application of many assumptions, some of which are in fact derived from the most recent enumeration.

      As to the question you posed, I guess I missed it. My comments were directed to your conclusion, and, specifically to its foundation. The question of the state of integration in the neighborhoods of Oak Park is a very legitimate one which deserves to be more thoughtfully approached. It is in this spirit that I chose to engage in this dialog.

      • We seem to be using different dictionaries. In mine, a sample is an enumeration, i.e. an act of counting, which makes your first statement inaccurate.. Enumeratins occurred after 2000.

        So far you’ve simply quibbled about what I’ve said. How about sharing your take on the state of integration in Oak Park?

        The breakfast scene at George’s, a popular breakfast spot in Oak Park — click to enlarge. I took this shot late on a Sunday morning last May.

        George’s, Oak Park, Illinois

  • Daniel Lauber 7 years

    Despite having a grain of truth to them, the assertions in this posting are bogus beyond belief. For nearly 30 years Oak Park has been among the small handful of Chicago area suburbs with a racial composition close to what would be expected in a free housing absent racial discrimination. I don’t pretend that Oak Park is perfect, but it’s absurd to criticize its racial composition given the apartheid levels of segregation in its neighboring communities and throughout the metropolitan area.

    You simply cannot rely on raw American Community Survey data to determine whether or not a city or census tract is integrated. You must take into account household income which does vary by racial and ethnic group. It is crucial to conduct a “colorblind” analysis to identify what the racial composition of a tract would be if income were the prime determinant of where people live.

    As a professional city planner and fair housing attorney, I conduct “Analyses of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice” (AI) for cities and counties across the nation. We always conduct colorblind analysis to determine whether a city or census tract is segregated. For example, in the AI we are conducting for a major county out west there are census tracts that are just 3 or 5 percent African American. But when you take into account household incomes, that’s the approximate racial composition that you’d expect in a discrimination-free housing market where income determines where you live. Certainly there are tracts that are segregated, but those are ones like the tract that is 80 percent Black which would be only 20 percent Black if income, not race determined where you live.

    The same sort of analysis must be conducted of Oak Park before you start leaping to conclusions that it isn’t integrated. The fact is that Oak Park is one of the most integrated communities in the Chicago metropolitan area. But integration does not mean the same proportion of each race throughout a city — that is simply unrealistic given differences in household income that correlate to race and ethnic group.

    Better you should be concerned about places like River Forest that were only 3% Black in 2000 and would have been 12% if housing discrimination were not taking place.

  • Daniel Lauber,

    You haven’t pointed to a single factual assertion I’ve made that is “bogus beyond belief.”

    You do make a valid point about incomes, one that leads me to wonder how 8124 would have fared under your analysis in 2000 when it was 8% Black and how it will fare if the 2010 data shows it to be 3% Black as the ACS data does.

    It’s fascinating that you practice fair housing law in a community – River Forest – that you suggest is discriminating.

    • Daniel Lauber 7 years

      You owe it to your readers to define “integration” (including “true integration”) and provide concrete examples of communities that you identify as being “truelly integrated.” Otherwise, frankly, you have simply created a straw man and criticizing Oak Park for being something that you can’t even define. Surely you can define “true integration” for us so we can better understand the basis for the assertions you have made.

      Given the general tenor of your comments, I’ve been reluctant to reply to your post about me practicing fair housing law in River Forest. But to put it in terms I imagine you you might appreciate: Where better to practice fair housing law than in a place where discrimination may be occuring? Heck, one of the very top fair housing attorneys in the country, Ed Voci, also lives and practices in River Forest. But that’s not why either of us lives in River Forest. And the city in which your office is located has nothing to do with the nature of your practice.

      And let me make it abundantly clear that I do not suggest by any means that the Village of River Forest itself is engaging in discriminatory practices (except for its zoning code violating the Fair Housing Act regarding community residences for people with disabilities — Oak Park’s zoning also violates the act).

      And n the past 16 months, River Forest citizens have gotten the village board to end its most serious discriminatory practice brought about by former Village President Frank Paris and remove discriminatory provisions from a new village “Corridor Plan” that would have, if implemented, wiped out a significant portion of the village’s small supply of housing affordable to people with modest incomes (including a fair number of “minorities”). For details, visit and click on the link near the bottom of the left hand frame “Board Repeals Freeze on Number of Multi–Family Dwellings” and the links regarding the Corridor Plan.

      • My take is that I owe it to my readers to do wht I set out to do – state a few facts, raise some questions and start a discussion.

        Hark back to your law school days and view this as a Socratic exercise. I suspect readers will have very differing definitions of what constitutes true integration.

  • Suzanne 7 years

    The schools help us stay integrated and aware of other cultures. You don’t know how much work goes into understanding multiple lifes styles and cultures in our wonderful Oak Park schools.

    It isn’t perfect, but we try.

    Please support strong schools.
    VOTE YES on the REFERENDUM in APRIL 2011

  • KRS-ONE 7 years

    I laughed hard when I read this. Black people at a farmer’s market?

  • Sheridan B 7 years

    Are you Kool Rock Steady?

  • Oak Park keeps on making it, Berwyn keeps on taking it, Broadview keeps creating it, and Maywood keeps on faking it?


  • Sheridan B 7 years

    Oh god, another child of B96….. Thanks, now I’m earworming it. Guess I’ll go home and break out the 12″.