some questions about “demographic inversion”

Alan Ehrenhalt has a thought provoking article, Trading Places: The Demographic Inversion of the American City, in the current issue of The New Republic. Chicago dwellers will find added interest as our city features prominently in Ehrenhalt’s examples of the demographic inversion (a phrase he likes better than the more common “gentrification”) that he claims is rapidly taking place in America’s cities.

Chicago is gradually coming to resemble a traditional European city–Vienna or Paris in the nineteenth century, or, for that matter, Paris today. The poor and the newcomers are living on the outskirts. The people who live near the center–some of them black or Hispanic but most of them white–are those who can afford to do so.

Ehrenhalt sees three primary reasons for this sociological shift in our urban centers and suburban sprawls: the deindustrialization of the city center, decreasing random street violence and the media’s portrayal of urban life as seen in Friends, Seinfeld and Sex and the City. Despite our enjoyment of the occasional Seinfeld rerun, I’d say media had less to do with our recent move from the suburbs than did our experiences in Chicago over the past 8 years. Experiences that were shaped by the deindustrialization and relative safety that Ehrenhalt points out.

Even newcomers to Chicago like Maggie and me can’t miss the implications that rapidly changing demographics will have on many individuals and families.

We are moving toward a society in which millions of people with substantial earning power or ample savings can live wherever they want, and many will choose central cities over distant suburbs. As they do this, others will find themselves forced to live in less desirable places–now defined as those further from the center of the metropolis. And, as this happens, suburbs that never dreamed of being entry points for immigrants will have to cope with new realities.

To illustrate the complexities of how this happens, Ehrenhalt uses our neighborhood, Logan Square, as a brief case study.

Logan Square is still not the safest neighborhood in Chicago. There are armed robberies and some killings on its western fringe, and, even on the quiet residential streets, mothers tell their children to be home before dark. But that hasn’t prevented Logan Square from changing dramatically again–not over the past generation, or the past decade, but in the past five years. The big stone houses built by the factory owners on Logan Boulevard are selling for nearly $1 million, despite the housing recession. To describe what has happened virtually overnight in Logan Square as gentrification is to miss the point. Chicago, like much of America, is rearranging itself, and the result is an entire metropolitan area that looks considerably different from what it looked like when this decade started.

This is where it gets interesting for folks in our church. Given our commitment to Logan Square a number of people from the church have relocated to the neighborhood. Most of these folks (Maggie and me included) would fit somewhere within Ehrenhalt’s description of those with enough earning power to live where they choose. Our desire to live in the neighborhood reflects, I think, good motives and a desire to serve folks who often get overlooked by those in power. However, our very presence in the neighborhood raises a difficult question. Are we contributing to the demographic inversion that will eventually displace those with fewer financial resources?

Ehrenhalt ultimately sees this demographic shift as a positive force for the country, one that will lead to the formations of more communities. He may be right. In the meantime how do those of us involved in this inversion honor those who are most affected by these changes?


  • I got an email on Wednesday about Let Justice Roll, a one day conference that will address some of these questions. I’m planning on attending. Anyone want to join?

“peak season for texting-related injuries”

On Sunday I preached for the first time at NC3. This post isn’t about the sermon, but I’ve got to acknowledge what a good experience Sunday was and how kind folks were after the service. I’m really thankful to be a part of this church!

One of the things I mentioned in the sermon on Psalm 33 was that although we live in a culture that thrives on fear, those whose trust is in God have nothing to fear but the God who loves us with an unfailing love. I gave a few examples of how many fearful stories are in the news, including a recent one about salmonella and jalapeños which is truly scary for those of us spicy-food lovers.

Today Daniel, a member of our church, emailed me with the best example of a fear-based news story. The headline? INJURED WHILE TEXTING | Distracted texters fall down stairs, get hit by cars. Most hillarious sentence in the story?

Summer is peak season for texting-related injuries, which Adams said are “both common and underreported, because people don’t really want to admit what they were doing.”

Who knew that summer was “peak season for texting-related injuries”?

If you come across any other of these types of ridiculous fear-mongering stories please let me know. Better to laugh together than shake our heads in disbelief by ourselves.

vaction in oregon

I’m finishing up some last minute packing before going to NC3’s Sunday service. Following the service I have lunch and a meeting with many of NC3’s leaders and then a (hopefully) quick drive to the airport to make my 4:00 flight to Portland (via Denver and Salt Lake City, ugh).

I’m not sure what blogging will be like this week. The next few days in the hostel should provide plenty of time for reading (Lisa McMinn’s The Contented Soul and Marilynne Robinson’s Gliead) and writing. Once Maggie and my sister arrive on Wednesday I expect to be starved enough for people interaction that the blog may get quiet. Once the family reunion begins on Friday I don’t expect to have internet access.

I do have a something set to post tomorrow morning that I’ve been wondering about lately. I’ll be quite interested in your perspective on a proper response to this ongoing story.

Finally, I have two quick recommendations for you. Last week I read Listening is an Act of Love and was surprised how much I enjoyed it. Thanks to my friend Keith for giving it to me. And last night I rode to the Music Box Theater to see Werener Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World. Again, really enjoyed it. Thanks to Thom for making me aware of this film. I’ll review both of these soon, but thought some of you would be interested in one or both of these signs of life.

good meeting with nc3 leaders

I’ve not written much about my new job yet, mostly because I’m still figuring things out and there hasn’t been a lot to say.  Tonight’s community group leader’s meeting was maybe the biggest thing I’ve done yet in my new position.  The first anything in a new job is always a bit odd, but I was really happy with how things went.  I was hoping the meeting wouldn’t just be me talking at folks but that we’d have some good interaction.  That’s what happened.

I’m very impressed with the people who make up this team of community group leaders.  These folks obviously care deeply about community and want to be intentional in making it happen in their groups.  There are certainly areas for us to be more intentional as we pursue this value, but I feel good our prospects with this group of leaders.

The meeting almost got started off poorly when I locked myself out on the fire escape (don’t ask)… but I was able to crawl through the men’s bathroom window to get back in the building.  Pretty funny after I was back in the office.