8th Annual Wright Ride – August 17, 2014!

Wright Ride logoEnjoy the charm, beauty and architectural character of the near western suburbs at the 8th Annual Wright Ride on Sunday, August 17, 2014.

The Oak Park Cycle Club, The Oak Park Regional Housing Center, and Visit Oak Park invite you to sponsor the Wright Ride 2014. One of the best ways to discover the delights of Chicago’s near western suburbs is on two wheels. A family-friendly event, the Wright Ride is not a race, but a leisurely jaunt through some of Chicagoland’s most beautiful tree-lined and architecturally rich communities. Cyclists of all abilities are welcome: whether you’re a novice, casual cyclist, or experienced long-distance rider, there’s something here for everyone. A plus is that cycling is an eco-friendly way to tour the wealth of historically significant homes and structures through the area.

With a choice of 10, 30, 50 and 62-mile routes, riders will be able to take in the scenery and charm of as many as 10 communities, including Oak Park, River Forest, Riverside, and Western Springs, with more than 25 intriguing landmarks – including a dozen designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. All routes begin and end on the newly renovated Marion Street in Downtown Oak Park – giving participants the opportunity to take advantage of the wide-range of dining experiences and specialty shops that set Oak Park apart.

Ticket Info:
Adults – $25 ($30 day of ride)
Children under age 12 – $5
Get your tickets online here!

OPRHC logo Visit OP OP Cycle Club

Historical and Current Integration Strategies; Strengths and Weaknesses

by Jessica Hartshorn
A Summary of A Review of Historically Integrated Communities by Casey Griffith

Did you know that the history of integrated communities is only about 60 years old?  Communities that have the longest history of integration started in the 1950s through 1970s as mass migrations of African Americans moved to the Midwest and Northeast.  60 years ago these regions were becoming “diverse by circumstance” but today specific communities use strategic efforts to be “diverse by direction”. Oak Park is one community that proactively integrates along with Shaker Heights, OH, Beverly, Chicago, and Maplewood and South Orange, NJ. 

Proactive integration is a response to the Fair Housing Act of 1968 which requires communities to promote racial integration in the housing sector.  Before the FHA, segregated minorities suffered from unequal access to resources like education and employment. Communities like Oak Park realize that because segregation leaves a group of people under resourced, it leads to concentrated poverty that disproportionately affects minorities.  For this reason, Oak Park, Shaker Heights, Beverly, and Maplewood and South Orange employ various strategies in order to uphold the FHA because maintaining integration is vital to equal opportunity. 

Many strategies were popular and used by each town.  For example, all of these communities organized associations or committees to address the changing racial tides in the 50s and 60s when African Americans began moving in in the 50s and 60s.  They sought to ease the fear of white residents who wanted to move to the suburbs and educate them about inclusion in order to change their attitudes.  Oak Park, Shaker Heights, and Maplewood and South Orange self-promoted the benefits of living in their neighborhood.  Both Oak Park and Beverly partnered with local realtors while Ohio and New Jersey hired their very own Housing Coordinator and Integration Consultant.  Finally, Oak Park and Shaker Heights, took proactive measures to integrate their local schools. 

While overlap in strategies is evident, differences in success and primary methodology do exist.  Shaker Height’s Housing Office disbanded in 2012 and their integration methods have taken on a different form.  More recently they are investing their efforts in intensive urban planning and revitalizing vacant properties for the purpose of economic development and housing.  Unfortunately a failure to directly address race has prevented the diverse community from successfully sustaining integration. 

Unlike the changing methods of Shaker Heights, Oak Park’s methods have remained consistent. The Oak Park Regional Housing Center has served as a referral service for affirmative housing since opening in the 70s and has contributed to effective integration in the community. The town also attributes a great deal of success to a healthy partnership with the housing sector and educating realtors.  Maintaining an openness toward the discussion of race and racial attitudes has also greatly contributed to Oak Park’s successful integration. 

Similar to Oak Park, Maplewood and South Orange, New Jersey have maintained their devotion to racial integration.  Acquiring over 2,000 signatures, these East Coast residents started strong with a pledge to advocate for fair housing.  They maintained tenacity through the 1990s by assembling a Racial Balance Task Force whose mission statement was,

“To promote strong and sustained robust demand by all racial groups for housing in every area of our community; take proactive steps to ensure involvement of persons of color in the civic life of our community, and promote dialogue and understanding on race-related issues”. 

Presently, a vibrant campaign focuses on social integration by discussing race regularly at community forums, book clubs, and dinner groups. Even though social integration is important, often times it follows naturally after residential integration.  A direct approach to racial residency prefigures further depth to the integration already occurring in Maplewood and South Orange. 

Initially, Beverly, Chicago also enjoyed open conversations about race, but this has gradually dwindled.  The community promotes integration by encouraging community pride and participation.  Unfortunately Beverly experiences setbacks because it is part of Chicago and thus not self governing or self taxing. Additionally, there is only one body working toward integration rather than a collaboration of residents, leaders, and groups.  Despite these setbacks, Beverly can boast about homes being passed down through generations maintaining not only family legacies, but also a legacy of integrated relationships.

Approaches to integration are multifaceted, and have strengths and weaknesses, but the most successful plans demonstrate a few key elements.  First and foremost, no one ought to assume that integration will happen naturally, since societal forces tend to promote segregation.  Rather, a collaborative effort from all sides of the community is essential while participants play proactive roles in strategically implementing and sustaining racial balance.  Then, an open dialogue about race and the benefits of integration help subside fear and reservations. Finally, without dedication to vibrant communities that attract residents with good schools, parks, businesses, and events, integration would be impossible.  

Diversity and Prosperity – Integration is the Key

Over the past couple of months, I’ve had the good fortune to speak to various audiences around the country about Oak Park and the Housing Center’s work to promote and sustain integration. In addition to being able to share our model with others, I’ve learned a lot about how much latent demand is out there for a Housing Center model in many other communities.

In these recent presentations, I’ve been including a graph that shows something that consistently grabs the audience. It is a graph for the census years of 1980-2010. On the graph I display two sets of data. The first is the percentage of Oak Park’s population that is white. The second is the value of real estate in Oak Park. The lines move in opposite directions. As the white percentage decreases, the value of real estate increases. You’ll notice that the line showing white population is levelling while the line displaying real estate values is increasing fairly sharply. Also, during the period from 2000-2010 (the two years I could get the data) Oak Park’s values increased at more than 150% of the regional average.

value graph

It’s a powerful graph because it demonstrates a reality that challenges the conventional wisdom about diversity and housing values. The typical belief is that property values decline as more people of color move to a community. But, in Oak Park, this is clearly not the case. Inevitably, I am asked how this is accomplished. How does Oak Park create an advantage out of diversity?

The answer is in intentionality. While other communities either ignore or fight against integration (and this happens in multiple directions), Oak Park has established diversity as a core value. Moreover, our programs and policies don’t stop there. They intentionally promote integration within Oak Park to ensure that people of different backgrounds live among one another rather than within specific parts of the community. After all, diversity without integration is segregation. Segregation, not diversity, is what truly harms communities. Segregation is a system of inequality that, through disadvantage and disinvestment, eventually pulls down more than the initially affected neighborhoods.

Integration allows a community to turn diversity into an asset. People living together can learn from each other, improve empathy, build integrated social networks, and find common purpose. Everyone wants a good education for their children, a nice home, and a community with enjoyable choices. Systems that encourage integration ensure greater equity across the community so that race and place are unifying rather than divisive (as they are elsewhere).

So long as we continue our intentional integration strategies, we should see Oak Park continue to prosper from its diversity.

Cross-posted at http://www.oakpark.com/Community/Blogs/?Page=1&Search=&Authors%5B%5D=3_1_61

Follow Rob’s discussion of race, integration, and more on twitter @rbreymaier

2014 Events!


There are several events coming up that we are excited to announce! We hope to see you at some, or all, of them!

Bike to Work Week in Oak Park
The Housing Center is participating in Chicago’s Bike Week and the Bike Commuter Challenge during the week of June 13-20. Our staff members have been long-time participants in the Challenge and look forward to supporting the importance of cycling to work again this year! Partnering with Greenline Wheels, on June 17 we will set up a pit stop for commuters at the intersection of Marion St. and South Blvd. We hope you will ride your bike to work that day and stop by our pit stop on your way!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Marion St. and South Blvd. intersection


Oak Park Regional Housing Center at the Farmer’s Market
Staff and board members of the Housing Center will make and sell the famed donuts at the Oak Park Farmer’s Market on June 28. A portion of donut sales will benefit the Housing Center and we hope you will support us by stopping by for a donut!

Saturday, June 28, 2014
Pilgrim Congregational Church parking lot


Sons of the Silent Age Benefit Concert
Support the Housing Center by attending the Sons of the Silent Age concert at Berwyn’s great live music venue, Wire! Sons of the Silent Age put on a fantastic show dedicated to the music of David Bowie. Their show from January of 2013 at Metro was voted the best rock show of 2013 by Chicago Reader! Buy tickets at the link below.

Friday, July 18, 2014
Wire, Berwyn
Buy tickets HERE


Wright Ride
Enjoy the charm, beauty, and architectural character of the near western suburbs during this bike ride! There are additional ride options for this year: a 62 mile route, an improved 10 mile route with guides, and guided tour options and events in Riverside for the 25, 50, and 62 mile riders. The event is co-sponsored with the Oak Park Cycle Club and Visit Oak Park.

Sunday, August 17, 2014
Begins at 7:00a
Downtown Oak Park

Ticket Info:
Adults – $25 ($30 day of ride)
Children under age 12 – $5

Register at the link below.


Annual Housing Center Benefit
Save the date for our annual benefit at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple! Look forward to a fun night celebrating diversity and open housing in Oak Park on Saturday, September 20. Past benefit events have included performances by members of the OPRF Spoken Word Club, a raffle with many prizes, and live music! More information will be available closer to the event date.

Saturday, September 20, 2014
Unity Temple

Toxins Harm the Environment and Neighborhoods

coal plant_photo by Seth Anderson

“Approximately half of all Native Americans live in communities with an uncontrolled toxic waste site.”

“African Americans are 79 percent more likely than whites to live in neighborhoods where industrial pollution is suspected of causing the greatest health dangers.”

Dosomething.com compiled facts about environmental racism and the above quotes are two examples of the danger that specific housing placement causes for many minority communities. Environmental racism occurs when low income minority neighborhoods are located in areas of high pollution or dangerous toxic waste sites. as existed since the early 1970s but many are unaware it exists and those affected are often unable to protect themselves from it.

Environmental racism is found in poor communities built around highways or large industrial plants, and neighborhoods where housing is less regulated. A lack of funds in a community can lead to a lack of protection against waste and pollution. From dumping toxic hazardous medical waste in reservation sites to the high levels of lead poisoning in our urban low income school areas, environmental racism is a serious and deadly injustice.

The Altgeld Gardens community, on the south side of Chicago, was built in 1945 for returning war veterans. This community was constructed above an abandoned landfill where the amount of toxins such as DDT, mercury, lead, PCB’s, ammonia and more could easily destroy the area. Studies conducted in Altgeld Gardens have revealed positive results for environmental toxins which can lead to enormous health problems, including cancer and fetal illnesses. Standout cases such as Altgeld Gardens are being documented and fought within the justice system but other affected communities are overlooked. Many racial minority members struggle to survive and protest their placement among the nation’s worst human-made condition.

The largely Mexican neighborhood of Pilsen, in Chicago, finally saw the removal of its coal fire plants in 2010. The plants produced approximately 5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, which created an abundance of heart and lung disease in the immediate area. Perez Elementary School, three blocks away from the plant, experienced large amounts of toxic air pollution and the students suffered with immediate and progressive health problems. Schools and the community protested and urged the alderman to take action. With the help of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Pilsen neighborhood was able to measure the high levels of air pollution and demand that the company do something to meet quality air standards.

It is important to become aware of community health hazards and understand racial patterns of environmental conditions. In this video, environmental scientist, Sylvia Hood, explains questions that should be asked by concerned citizens. Questions include: what disparities are happening here? If people in other areas of my same background are not sharing in these disparities, am I entitled to something better? Speaking out, getting involved in the community, and being proactive is a wonderful step to protecting future generations as well as your own. Your earth or mine, we all deserve a clean one.

By Angela Curry, Fair Housing Research Assistant

Photo by Seth Anderson