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Race, Real Estate, And Oak Park

What are the limits of inclusive liberal development?

Readers, I’m going to be traveling this morning and very busy the rest of the day on a project, so I’m not going to be able to post much until evening. Comments-approving will be sporadic, so if you don’t see your comments posted soon, do not despair.

Here’s something for you all to chew on. Steve Sailer, in a series of posts (first one here, second one here, third one here), takes a look at the fate of two Chicago neighborhoods existing side by side. One, called Austin, is a hellhole where 450 murders took place over the last 12 years. The next one over, Oak Park, is relatively idyllic; only six murders were recorded there in the same time period. What’s the difference? They look about the same, in terms of housing stock. But Sailer says Austin is a black underclass neighborhood; Oak Park is heavily white.

How did they get that way? An illegal quota system instituted by the town of Oak Park in the 1970s. Sailer quotes the Encylopedia Of Chicago on the topic:

Leaders acted on a vision of Oak Park as a community strong enough to achieve integration, and able to challenge the Chicago pattern of block-by-block resegregation with a policy of managed integration through dispersal.

The most controversial policies involved racial steering. A group of residents led by Roberta (Bobbie) Raymond established the Oak Park Housing Center, which retrained real-estate agents to prevent racial steering and encouraged black home-seekers to live throughout Oak Park. The center worked with the village to improve areas that white home-seekers or residents might find unattractive and steered whites towards these areas to limit the concentration of black residents in a particular neighborhood. A public relations campaign targeted white home-seekers across the country to promote an image of Oak Park as a multicultural, cosmopolitan middle-class community, close to the city, with good transportation and schools.

Despite these programs, during the 1970s the village experienced a net loss of 10,000 white Oak Parkers, coinciding with a net increase of only 5,500 black residents. Urbanologists’ predictions that the ghetto would roll over Oak Park, however, proved inaccurate. Oak Park maintained its majority white population through extensive and white-oriented planning, and has remained an integrated village. Pockets of racial segregation have persisted, but the community has succeeded in maintaining a public culture that takes pride in racial diversity.

In other words, Oak Park is a liberal triumph. They’ve managed to build a neighborhood that cherishes its diversity and physical beauty. But as Sailer points out, they achieved this end by using a means that’s almost certainly illegal, and certainly illiberal, while deceiving themselves about what they were up to. Sailer dubs it the “black-a-block” program. An academic paper details the complex strategy. It’s amazing to read. It involves a massive intervention by local government into the market. It was designed to racially integrate the neighborhood while maintaining neighborhood stability. Reading the paper, it sounds like the kind of “diversity” policy scheme that liberals love, but Sailer identifies the bottom line:

No, it’s like this because the government of Oak Park back in the 1960s passed laws to let in some respectable blacks, but definitely not too many. People in Oak Park like to celebrate this as a triumph of liberal integrationism, which I guess is one way of putting it. But mostly they don’t like to talk about it. Personally, I think it’s a fascinating solution that has mostly been stuffed down the memory hole.

Liberal white hypocrisy is a given. But, the techniques liberal whites (Oak Park voted for Obama 83-16) use to get what they want are well worth study by the less privileged.

In other words, they got racial diversity by more or less cherry-picking the kind of black families they wanted to move in. They used government to massively distort the working of the market, to achieve a socially desirable outcome. And they did so by consciously choosing, by race, the kinds of homeowners they wanted in the neighborhood.

Result: Oak Park has preserved its historically significant architecture, has maintained itself as a desirable place to live, and has diversified itself racially while maintaining peaceability. A key component is that the property values in Oak Park are so high that poor urban blacks can’t afford to live there. The city has requested a high number of Section 8 residents, but has gotten less than its number of vouchers, because poor people can’t afford to live there. From the academic paper:

Taken as a group the recipients of Section 8 vouchers are less educated and
poorer than most Oak Parkers. They are at the margins of the middle class and as such represent a cultural challenge for the solidly middle class and frequently liberal Oak Parkers who may hypothetically espouse the liberal sentiment of wanting an economic diverse community but bridle at the conflict in cultural values between themselves and their poorer black neighbors who occupy different and often conflicting taste publics. To suggest a clichéd example, it is the conflict between rap music coming from an auto and Bach performed in a public park. As the majority of the Section 8 clients are black and poor, it is a place where issues of class and “race” become confused.

In other words, Oak Parkers get to say that they have a goodly number of black neighbors, but they also get the comfort of knowing that they don’t have to put up with the “wrong” kind of black neighbors, i.e., the underclass ones who cause all the trouble in Austin. And so, the “diversity” they enjoy is about middle-class people living around other middle-class people of different races. Hey, I’d like to live in a neighborhood like that too. But let’s not kid ourselves about the very strict limits of what Oak Park calls “diversity.”

Sailer says:

Look, you can whine about the hypocrisy of white liberals all you want, but you’d be better off studying their methods.

Race quotas have been popular with the Establishment in hiring and college admissions, so why, since they worked out well in Oak Park, weren’t they encouraged elsewhere in housing?

“Who? Whom?” of course. Race quotas to increase the numbers of Designated Victim Groups are good, race quotas to limit their numbers are bad, and that’s all you need to know.

I can recall reading about Oak Park’s “black-a-block” quota in a newsmagazine, probably Newsweek in 1988. As a young idealist, I was totally against racial discrimination. Yet, having taken my father and uncle to visit their boyhood home, driving through the endless desolation of un-quotaed Austin only to suddenly arrive in suburban paradise as imagined by F.L. Wright in Oak Park … well, maybe there are worse things than racial quotas …

What do you think? Talk about it. I’ll post your comments as soon as I can, but again, please be patient, as I am traveling today.