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By Rob Breymaier

Executive Director, Oak Park Regional Housing Center

Welcome to the introductory post of a new blog here at oakpark.com - E Pluribus Unum. I plan to have this blog focus on the issues of diversity, integration, and equity. They are big issues and they don't always have easy answers. I look forward to conversations where we can talk about these issues in a respectful manner.

I hope to have the range of topics be wide. Some posts will be personal observations. Some will be questions to the community. Some will speak to local issues. Some will be informative about national trends and updates. Topics will include housing, education, human relations, and more.

To start out, I'm leaning a little more academic. I promise they won't all be like this. And the question at the end is open to any answer.

I'd like to talk about just what we mean when we use the word diversity. Studies have shown that there are many different perceptions of what diversity means. To some, diversity is only about people of color. To others, diversity includes everyone. When we talk about what makes a community diverse, different definitions are suggested. I tend to go with a definition that diversity of a particular area -- let's say Oak Park -- should reflect the diversity of the region it lies within. In this case that region is commonly considered to be metropolitan Chicago.

Folks at The Atlantic Cities have tried to measure diversity in a different way. The article measures diversity of metropolitan areas by how small the largest racial/ethnic group is. By this measure Californian and other Western cities dominate the top spots. Largely this is due to the larger Asian, Hispanic, and multiracial populations in these communities that make population shares decline as a rule. (If you are dividing by 4 or 5 major groups instead of 3 or 2, the shares are going to go down for all.) The article states that Midwestern and Northeastern regions do poorly in this measurement. Mostly this is because white or black shares are still dominating these regions. (New York City is an exception.)

They did the same thing at the neighborhood level. I find the regional measurement somewhat useful but the neighborhood level is problematic for a variety of reasons. For starters, ZIP codes are poor measurement areas for diversity. They are too large to be a neighborhood and in larger cities they often do not coordinate well with what people consider to be established neighborhoods.  But, it also loses context at the neighborhood level. Because each region is different, neighborhood diversity should always be measured against its region if we want to compare equally across the nation.

What do you think? How would you measure diversity? What do you think makes a diverse neighborhood? What do you think makes neighborhoods sustain diversity? I look forward to your thoughts.

Reader Comments

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Teresa Powell  

Posted: November 19th, 2012 1:31 PM

Last night's Interfaith Thanksgiving Service (oldest in Chicago area) included a Muslim Call to Prayer, an address on Buddhism, a classic Thanksgiving song, Quaker silence, Methodist & UCC prayers, and more. Another sign of diversity in town.

Dave Coulter  

Posted: November 19th, 2012 12:24 PM

Welcome aboard Rob! I can tell you that diversity was a subject that was front and center last week at the Chicago Wilderness Congress. Speaking as a middle-aged white guy this is a good trend for our local environment. We're in this together!

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