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.