Opponents of new high-rise developments in downtown Evanston often claim that they cause gentrification.
For the most part, new high-rise developments in downtown Evanston have been built on land that either was vacant or that had been devoted to commercial uses — so a claim of direct displacement of existing residents by the new construction is simply not credible.
But we decided to take a closer look — and see what’s happened to the median income of downtown residents in recent years and how any change compares to changes in the citywide median income.
Census tract block groups that include a significant portion of downtown Evanston.
One difficulty in conducting this analysis is that census block group boundaries don’t perfectly align with the area defined as “downtown” by the city’s 2009 Downtown Plan.
Five census tract block groups, shown on the map above, include some significant portion of the area, outlined in black, that the plan identified as downtown.
And, as you’d expect, those block groups have seen significant population growth with new construction in recent years, as shown in data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, comparing the period 2007-11 with the period 2012-16.
Population change from 2007-11 to 2012-16 in downtown census block group areas.
Overall, the population of the five downtown census block group areas increased by 23 percent — from 6,298 to 7,759 people — an increase of 1,461 people.
By comparison, Evanston’s overall population growth was just under 2 percent during the same period and totaled 1,323. Without the new residents downtown, Evanston’s population would have declined, rather than increased.
Now let’s look at how the median income has changed in each of those census track block groups from the 2007-11 to the 2012-16 period, as tracked by the American Community Survey.
Change in median household income from 2007-11 to 2012-16 in downtown census block group areas.
While median incomes increased in some of the areas, they fell in others. Average the changes for the five areas, and you get a decline of nearly 4 percent for the period. During the same period, the median household income in the city as a whole rose by more than 4 percent.
And the average of the latest median income figures in the five downtown block group areas is just under $53,000, more than $21,000 below the citywide median household income of just over $74,000.
Gentrification? Sure doesn’t look like it.