What Does Inclusive Growth Mean in the Chicago Region – an RSA US Panel Discussion at North Park University


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Chicago Fellows from The RSA recently hosted a panel discussion at North Park University in Chicago. The panel was moderated by RSA Fellow, Kelwin Harris, a Senior Outreach Planner with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) and included the Provost of North Park University, Dr. Michael Emerson, along with community psychologist, Dr. Tiffany McDowell and sociologist and gentrification expert, Dr. John Joe Schlichtman.

The purpose of the discussion was addressing inequality and inclusive growth in Chicago in the backdrop of the city’s recent election of the first female black mayor. The Chicago region faces serious threats. Growth in uneven. Downtown is booming while many neighborhoods are struggling. Many black residents are giving up altogether and leaving. More than ever Chicago must address challenges to inclusive growth and provide strategies for prosperity for the good of everyone.

Our panel discussed multiple facets of the issues, from systemic policies that produced inequality and racial segregation, to gentrification and the effectiveness of economic incentives. Panelists also offered strategies and interventions to point the way forward.

Michael started the discussion with a presentation and background on how Chicago came to be so unequal. His presentation was based off of his recent book, “Market Cities, People Cities: The Shape of Our Urban Future”. He offered a construct that “Market Cities” are profit driven and designed to reward the wealthy at the expense of poor communities. As a result, they have greater inequality. “People Cities”, on the other hand, he suggests, invest in people and are value-driven, focusing on quality-of-life provisions and therefore have less inequality. Michael suggests that Chicago is a “Market City” and suffers from the resulting byproduct of inequality in comparison to “People Cities”, like Copenhagen, that have less inequality.

The following is a summary of Michael’s presentation:


“Market Cities”

  • Market Cities are designed to fundamentally produce wealth and create a thriving economy that rewards the “creative class”.
  • Market Cities have greater income inequality and more social problems, (i.e. higher murder rates, spatial segregation).

“People Cities”

  • People Cities are focused on quality-of-life and value all residents.
  • Copenhagen offers multiple social benefits such as free education and stipends for families with children.
  • Taxes are higher in Copenhagen but this is considered a worthy cost by taxpayers, outweighed by the social benefits residents receive.


Chicago as a “Market City”

  • Chicago has strong geographic, race, and class distinctions and high income inequality as measured by the Gini Coefficient.
  • Chicago has a “creative class” that enjoys prosperity contrasted against a “service class” with lower wages and poorer quality-of-life.
  • Chicago’s creative class lives geographically separate from the service class.
  • Disconnectedness and joblessness has resulted in some neighborhoods being more unstable and violent.
  • Highways and infrastructure have historically divided Chicago – i.e. the Dan Ryan expressway.
  • Chicago’s transit system is designed to get people to the central business district, leaving many neighborhoods disconnected. This results in affluent areas having greater connectivity – being more walkable and bikeable. Many people who live in these areas don’t need to own cars for example. Poorer areas alternatively are left with longer transit times and find it more difficult to access jobs.
  • Chicago lags behind in transit investments compared to London, Paris, New York, Dallas and Miami.

Kelwin followed with an Inclusive Growth framework for the Chicago region:

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  • Chicago is lagging behind peers like Boston, Los Angeles, New York and DC, in job growth and Gross Regional Product (GRP).
  • PolicyLink’s National Equity Atlas estimates that Chicago’s GRP would have been 20 percent higher if there were no racial gaps in income.
  • The Metropolitan Planning Council’s landmark Cost of Segregation report showed that the Chicago region would produce an additional $4.4 billion dollars a year without segregation.

Dr. Tiffany McDowell presented a Definition of Equity vs. Inclusive Growth?:


How do we prevent “Equity” and “Inclusive Growth” from being buzzwords without meaning?

  • “Inclusion” is a trendy term in the corporate world.
  • By definition the term implies someone has power over another and is deciding to “include” someone else into their privileged space. One can be inferior, for example, but still be included in certain areas of life while never achieving real power or influence.
  • Equity is rebalancing privilege to people who have been oppressed so that they have power and agency over decisions that effect them.
  • We must upend the policies that have been used to oppress people and redistribute resources and influence by creating intentionally inclusionary structures.

All panelists addressed Chicago’s concerning population loss challenges and unpacked why black people are moving out of the city.


Why are black people moving out of Chicago?

Chicago has been declining in population over the last four years. This is concerning as cities like Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston are gaining. The black population declined from a million in 2000 to 800,000 in 2017. Some are calling this a “reverse migration” – a reversal of blacks who came to Chicago escaping the Jim Crow South in the early 20th century.

The panelists were asked:

  • Is black depopulation the outcome of past racist policies designed to push blacks out of the city (“displacement by decline”) and retake valuable land.
  • Are black people “voting with their feet”, saying, enough with the crime and violent disinvested communities?

Panelists were also asked about economic development incentives and who gets the reward from these programs.

  • Do incentives like Opportunity Zones actually increase wealth among residents who need it or do they only reward the private sector without benefiting the people who live there.
  • Programs that invest in residents and give them the skills to compete in the economy of the future must be prioritized.

How do we get residents better skills for the new economy of future?

  • 60% of blacks who left Chicago in the recent census were without a job when they left.
  • Unemployment for blacks is twice that of the rest of the Chicago region.

Some are concerned the exodus of blacks is by design as gentrification shifts neighborhood character. John provided a framework for the discussion and offered a working definition of gentrification:



Gentrification can be defined as, “The reinvestment of real estate capital into disinvested and devalued neighborhoods to create a new residential and/or commercial infrastructure for middle and high income inhabitants”.

  • We must understand the causes of disinvestment in communities and respond with necessary reinvestments.
  • We must look at why investment left communities (i.e. withholding of mortgage capital because of redlining) and seek policies that reverse this legacy.
  • Chicago has hyper-gentrifying neighborhoods and those that haven’t been touched at all.
  • Gentrification happens in sequences and thresholds: 1.) White ethnic neighborhoods gentrify first, 2.) Latinx neighborhoods second and 3.) black neighborhoods gentrify last. This is a clear example of racial selectivity along the pattern of historic segregation.
  • Many residents are fearful at the first sign of investment, (i.e. new infrastructure, bike lanes) that they’ll be priced out and no longer be able to afford to live in their neighborhoods.

How do you revitalize communities without displacing people?

  • People have to make 6 figures just to afford a 1 bedroom apartment in some parts of Chicago.
  • We must invest more in people and empower them to build wealth.

Panelists also discussed Universal Basic Income and reparations to descendants of slaves?

  • The wealth gap is so extreme that if we don’t look at strategies like reparations and income redistribution, America could experience another civil war.


Key Take-A-Ways:

What interventions should Chicago’s new Mayor deploy to promote inclusive growth?

  • Chicago’s new mayor, Lori Lightfoot, should seek out the low hanging fruit and establish systems and metrics to measure progress on inclusive growth and equity. Panelists agreed, if you can’t measure it, it’s not real.
  • Inclusive growth and equity must not be fashionable terms without clear objectives that must include disrupting the current power structure and giving agency to the powerless.
  • If we don’t respond, Chicago will continue on a trajectory of population decline and violence.
  • For any interventions to be successful they must start by listening to people who live and experience the city. They own it and must be at the table.


Panelist bios:

Dr. Michael Emerson is the Provost of North Park University. He is a sociologist, urban studies expert, author, and speaker who has co-authored 15 books and is considered one of the nation’s leading scholars on race and religion. He was the head of the International Global Cities Program, charged with creating a strategic global network of researchers, institutes, and programs. He was founding director of the Center on Race, Religion, and Urban Life at the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, at Rice University and directed the Community Bridges Program, integrating service learning, course instruction, and community development in Houston. His recent book, Market Cities, People Cities: The Shape of Our Urban Future, examines transportation, the environment and inequality across markets and people in multiple global cities.

Dr. Tiffany McDowell is a community psychologist and thought leader committed to identifying and eliminating systems that push people to the margins of society. She understands the multiple ways that our current structures create barriers to wellness. Tiffany serves as Director of the Equity Institute at the YWCA Evanston/North Shore, and is co-founder of the Chicagoland Equity Network, where she convened a diverse membership to advance a common equity agenda across Cook County. Much of her work is focused on building capacity of organizations, community residents, and other stakeholders to develop strategies and action plans toward equity and inclusion.

Dr. John Joe Schlichtman is an urban sociologist who is motivated by the potential of equitable, just, and productive community development. His research has focused on understanding the dynamics of macro-level processes such as globalization and gentrification: how stakeholders resist or exploit them, the decisions residents make in navigating them, and their influence on the urban landscape. This interplay relates to facets of community as diverse as housing, community development, policing practices, and education policy. In his recent book GENTRIFIER co-written with Jason Patch and Marc Lamont Hill, John works to develop a more nuanced and productive theorization of gentrification that can directly inform action and policy.

Kelwin Harris is a Senior Outreach Planner with The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) where he conducts outreach and local planning for the Chicago region’s metropolitan planning organization. Kelwin focuses on inclusive growth and has worked on economic development strategies in the South Suburbs of Cook County and the North Lawndale neighborhood. Prior to CMAP, Kelwin led workforce development initiatives in the Auburn Gresham community in Chicago and was a non-profit Executive Director and Director of Social Services for St. Sabina Church. He has also served in city government where he led public housing and human capital departments. Kelwin is the Chicago Regional Ambassador and Fellow with The RSA.

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The RSA US works to grow civic culture by providing opportunities for serendipity and collective action through our community of Fellows. Our Fellows are leaders in their fields united by a commitment to social change and human progress. Our Fellowship is made up of grassroots community organizers, “big idea” thinkers and academics, problem-solvers, tinkerers and inventors, expert facilitators, designers, social entrepreneurs, policy makers, network builders, impact investors and philanthropists, amongst others. Through our Fellowship we help to put a spotlight on important issues and architect relationships that can drive society forward. We believe in the power of dialogue and connection to unlock change in the world.

Photos by Matt Marion, courtesy of Gumbo Media.

Video by Jasmine Monet, courtesy of Gumbo Media.


Published by Kelwin Harris

Kelwin Harris is a public speaker, city planner and public engagement professional who focuses on creating equitable communities, empowering people that have been historically excluded from connectivity, and dismantling inequity in Chicago.

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