Monday, August 27, 2007


It seems like a good time to post the map below, together with a link to an interesting piece from The Chicago Reporter on the city's "Commercial Chasm." It gives cartographic expression to what we all already know, but also attaches a few useful numerical values to familiar commercial trends.

This map represents "leakage," or "the amount of consumer spending that exceeds retail sales for a given market."

The general drift of the Reporter piece is that the dearth of retail on the South Side -- made graphically clear in several other illustrations not reproduced here -- is due in large part to racism. The most evident correlation, after all, is that money flows from black areas on the South Side to white/mixed areas on the North Side. I suspect that racism on some level certainly plays a part, though straight-up demographic factors related to economic class and urban geography, I believe, are more likely to be the root cause nowadays.

Chicago is a centralized city, and always has been. For most of the 20th century, neighborhoods that aspired to host anything more than a local retail district had to face competition with downtown. Then came the suburban malls, adding to the outflow of spending dollars from local neighborhoods.

Even so, proportion of spending over sales in South Side neighborhoods is striking. Between 25 to 50% of all dollars spent by Hyde Parkers go outside the neighborhood. And they're not going to Woodlawn or Oakland. In the ring of community areas around Hyde Park, the proportion of spending to sales is even higher -- 75% or more of local dollars go outside the community. And these shoppers aren't spending their dollars in Hyde Park, either. There are a handful of neighborhoods that appear to be in equilibrium, but almost none of them are on the South Side.

Hyde Park is not economically self-sufficient. While it would be interesting to know how leakage breaks down by all sorts of demographic categories, the fact is that in aggregate, there is not enough gravity in local commerce to capture all local spending. There is not even enough gravity to capture the spending of folks in neighboring community areas.

While racism should not be dismissed, it seems clear that the absence of supermarkets, discount retailers, restaurants, and apparel stores has a lot to do with relatively diffuse purchasing power across the South Side, a much larger area geographically than the North Side. Until purchasing power begins to concentrate more heavily -- through higher incomes, higher populations, or both, this will be the status quo for some time.

Which is why all those proposed condo towers might not be as evil as Hyde Park NIMBY's think they are.


Famac said...

A friend of mine who manages a store in Hyde Park struggles to find reliable workers. Being a close knit community of retailers, I'm told its a common problem in Hyde Park -- which probably mirrors other South Side areas.

chicago pop said...

I've heard the same thing about the U of C Hospital administration and staff. They have a tough time recruiting, and then have poor labor relations on top of that. The reputation for poor bedside manner at the U of C Hospital is legendary, so much so, I understand, that they no longer even try to compete with Northwestern on basic outpatient services like obstetrics. They're just letting NU have that market, focusing instead on very specialized procedures.

Elizabeth Fama said...

The entire U of C pediatric cardiology department, with the exception of one doctor, moved lock-stock-and-barrel to Rush this summer. I couldn't get an appointment for my son with that one fellow until October, so I did what I always do at the Hospitals: I massaged the system. I personally e-mailed the adult cardiologist who had treated other members of my extended family and asked if he'd see my son (which he did, and quickly).

Are the U of C hospitals a fair topic for this blog? I'm not sure it fits with the theme, but it sure is one of the services that needs drastic improvement in our neighborhood.

chicago pop said...

"Are the U of C hospitals a fair topic for this blog?"

I don't see why not; we leave the neighborhood to do our shopping, and we left the neighborhood to have our baby. Both take/took money out of the neighborhood.

U of C has a hell of a time keeping its talent for all sorts of reasons that seem to parallel those of other neighborhood institutions. The bureaucracy at the Hospital is atrocious and byzantine and management is inflexible, from what I understand; the local labor pool is often unsatisfactory; and, at least in one case that I am familiar with, the Hospital takes a nice chunk of the insurance payments for itself, discouraging the MDs who actually see patients.

Sound like the Co-Op?

Elizabeth Fama said...

We need a guest speaker on this topic!

chicago pop said...

I know where to find one! You?

Elizabeth Fama said...

My neurosurgeon friend left the Hospitals with a thousand complaints. I wonder if he's too busy to write a quick guest letter, now that he has an endowed, full professorship, and is the division head of neurosurgery at a major, respected hospital, with extra research time written into his contract (ah, the rewards of leaving the U of C).

Still, maybe commenting as "anonymous" would appeal, just to unload...

VivaLFuego said...

Of course, if the wealthy South Siders suffering from a dearth of retail -actually- valued close proximity to many retail options, they wouldn't live on the South Side to begin with and could surely afford the North Side.

So it's ultimately self-fulfilling on their part, since of course by driving accross town to access these retailers they've eliminated any incentive for the retailers to locate in Hyde Park.

Former Hyde Parker here (of about 17 years), now happily living car-free on the North Side. Love the blog, keep it up! Part of why I left was the utter irrationality of the classic HPers in re: real estate development, retail, the point, etc. so this blog goes a long way towards restoring my faith in South Side pride.

Peter Rossi said...

these comments about U of C hospitals might be valid but they detract from the point of the statistics which tell a dire story