Environmental racism is a problem across the country, but the Southland of Chicago is facing its devastating consequences. When zoomed in on the demographics of Cook County, according to the Statistical Atlas, it is clear that the majority of people of color live within the Chicago’s South and West sides and the South Suburbs. The further north you go, the whiter it gets.
This same map shows the income disparity as well. The further north you go, the richer the families get. It’s no wonder that Diversified Partners wants to place its distribution center in the South Suburbs of Chicago. It is no secret that industrial locations tend to land themselves in poorer neighborhoods with higher populations of people of color.
The current location of choice, Homewood, is a demographic dream for environmental racism. The community itself, according to the latest census data, is 44% Black which is over a 10% increase since the last census in 2010.
Most residents would say that this change in population to more equal distribution is a boon to the community. Residents tend to tout the diversity of the community when talking to non-residents. It’s a selling point and something we are proud of.
We are also proud of our numerous parks, cute downtown, and dedication to small business. We’re known for our numerous golf courses and access to public transit, and herein is the crux of the problem.
As community involvement, diversity, and public participation increases, desire to be part of an elite club decreases. Residents have moved away from the country club model.
We would rather spend our money and our time with the other members of our community and spread the wealth to our numerous restaurants instead of being required to spend our time and money at an expensive club.
We would rather meet our neighbors at the public pool than only see a few other residents at a smaller private pool. We would rather go to the public courses with cheaper course fees.
With that we are left with a dilemma. What does a community do with a club that is no longer needed? What do you do with all that greenspace and trees that have been left to grow for decades and some centuries?
Diversified Partners would have you believe that the only thing that can be done is to build a distribution center; to cement over that greenspace to fill their already overflowing pockets.
According to public records, Diversified Partners is worth $4.98 million but, according to the Village of Homewood, Diversified Partners is demanding $1 million in TIF funds or they will disconnect the property form the village entirely. Based on the company’s annual income, they clearly do not need the TIF funds.
More to the point, in a recent FOIA of village emails, Walter Brown Jr., the CEO of Diversified Partners, specifically chose the location based on the demographics of the area. He even went so far to say that the demographics of the area mean no one else will want the property.
Let’s consider what Mr. Brown really means by demographics. He means that we are brown enough and poor enough to warrant additional pollution, traffic, noise and his racism.
According to a study done by the EPA in 2018, polluters are disproportionately located in communities of color. Asthma rates in black children are double the rates than in white children.
As a village that touts itself in marketing campaigns as dedicated to being a diverse community, the rolling over of the village board under the weight of Diversified Partners just doesn’t line up.
The village board is saying it would rather have the environmental racism of this business than lose the land to its neighbor. The same neighbor whose mayor recently came out against the plans of Diversified Partners and the disconnection of the property from Homewood.
What impacts does environmental racism have on communities? There is of course the increased traffic the trucks will bring, but with that, they will also bring more emissions, and faster degradation of the roads they use.
They add to the noise pollution that not only harms the people living nearby but also the wildlife in the area.
They create new drainage issues. A golf course is almost entirely permeable land. That means rain water that lands in the golf course has a place to go. The land absorbs the water which is used by the plants on the land, evaporates over time, or seeps down into the water table.
What happens when that land is replaced with cement? You guessed it, there is nowhere for the water to go. Instead of being absorbed by the land, the water rushes into our already overburdened storm water system.
So what’s the real story here? Who actually benefits from this land purchase? The real story is that Walter Brown Jr. has a lot of money to throw around and the Homewood Village Board wants that money at the expense of its residents.
The real story is that environmental racism has reached this normally calm and pleasant village. This project benefits Walter Brown Jr. and Diversified Partners. The village board would have you believe that this project will mildly benefit the village income, but in reality, the flooding, road repairs, and pollution, along with loss of property values, will only harm the village’s pocket book.
So what can we the people do about this? Well, a lot actually. Take a page out of the fight against the proposed power plant in Glenwood. Fight back, write letters, write emails, protest, and point out environmental racism when you see it.