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Posted May 4, 2015 by

After the Great Migration brought hundreds of thousands of new black residents to Chicago in the first half of the 1900s (described well by Arnold Hirsch in Making the Second Ghetto), white Chicago residents left for the suburbs, encouraged by post-World War II government policies promoting suburbanization as well as racial animus. Such moves transformed numerous Chicago community areas; Englewood, south of the traditional Black Belt, went from 2.2% black in 1940 to 96.4% black in 1970 and North Lawndale, a Jewish population center, transitioned from 0.4% black in 1940 to 91.1% black in 1960.

Amidst these two substantial demographic shifts, what happened to the locations of churches in the Chicago region? I’ve been working on a project that involves mapping church locations in the Chicago metropolitan area at six time points: 1925, 1936, 1948, 1957, 1968-69, and 1988-90. Utilizing address data from directories published by the Church Federation of Greater Chicago, a primarily Mainline Protestant group, I have mapped over 8,500 church locations in a number of denominations (including denominations in the Mainline, Conservative, and Black Protestant traditions).

Here are two of the findings thus far. First, not surprisingly, the changing racial demographics of Chicago neighborhoods affected churches. Here are two maps of the locations of African Methodist Episcopal (AME) churches, first in 1925 and then in 1988-90. The shading on the maps indicates the percent of residents in the community areas who were black: the darkest shade is 40% black or greater while no shading represents 0-9.99% black.


In 1925, twelve of thirteen AME churches in the region were on Chicago’s south or west sides but by 1988-90, eighteen of the forty-nine churches were in the suburbs, mostly in suburban communities with higher black populations like Joliet, Aurora, and Elgin. Concurrently, the number of AME churches in Chicago increased after World War II, primarily in racially transitioning areas such as North Lawndale, East Garfield Park, and Morgan Park. In contrast, DuPage County in 1970 had no AME churches amongst a population of 491,882 - only 1,613 county residents (0.03%) were black. By 1990, DuPage County had 1 AME church and was 1.98% black (15,462 residents).

Another aspect of this project involves examining church locations within suburban areas as populations increased with mass suburbanization. I looked specifically at DuPage County, a county with communities first founded in the 1830s and with prominent railroad lines constructed in the mid nineteenth century. See three maps of church locations from 1925, 1968-69, and 1988-90.

In the 1925 directory and amongst the Protestant denominations in this analysis, there were twenty churches in DuPage County (1920 population of 42,120). All were within a short distance of the three major east-west railroad lines or an interurban electric line and are primarily located within older communities/suburbs. As the distance from Chicago grew, the number of churches decreased.

By 1968-69 (population of 491,882 in 1970), there were more churches in more locations including between the railroad lines in new developments and suburbs. The number of churches was still limited in the furthest corners of the county.

Two decades later, development had spread throughout the county (1990 population of 781,666) with churches added in expanding suburbs like Bartlett and Naperville. Development between the railroad lines continued, leading to more churches in the already developed central and eastern portions of the county.

Both of these findings suggest that the locations of churches within a metropolitan region are affected by factors beyond just their congregants or the state of their church buildings. As evidenced here, two influential factors are the movement of different racial and ethnic groups within a region as well as suburban settlement patterns. Protestant churches may have more freedom to pick up and move than Catholic parishes (see John McGreevy’s Parish Boundaries and Gerald Gamm’s Urban Exodus) but where they go may just often depend on social forces beyond their control.  

For the past six years, Vienna, Austria has been ranked by the international consulting firm Mercer as the world’s most livable city, according to factors such as public transportation, power and water supply, political, social and economic climate, medical care and education.


Vienna’s city center is a hive of massive stone monoliths, adorned with elaborate carvings, mosaics and wrought iron balconies, lining broad leafy avenues and narrow pedestrian alleys. The Habsburg monarchy, one of Europe’s most important royal dynasties, established their primary residence in Vienna, and bequeathed to it an enduring architecture from the 12th century until the demise of their rule in World War I. Such an immovable historic built environment is bemoaned in the city council chambers of some other European cities as an impediment to “modern development.” As much as historic architecture, particular the royal kind, is a valuable attraction for the tourist revenues which city leaders pursue, planners in historic cities face the challenging task of sufficiently modernizing the urban infrastructure (Public transportation! Wi-fi!) and tourist amenities (Shopping! Luxurious hotels!) to accommodate tourists with high-end expectations.

It is after all the high-end tourists who spend the most in the city, and thus contribute the greatest proportion to the city’s revenues. In addition to the high-end tourists, as the European Union has increased the ease of international relocation, mobile young professionals have also become targets for the planning schemes of the Europe’s large cities. Various European cities have adopted different strategies to reconcile their historical attractions and modern aspirations, from piecemeal demolition of historic buildings to serve a large new development to large-scale demolitions and restructuring. These efforts differ from previous city planning schemes, such as Baron Haussmann’s (in)famous reshaping of Paris’s center in the 19th century, in that a general sense that the urban built heritage should be preserved when possible limits the scope of demolitions. Or, as some cynics might argue, at least it ensures that the rhetoric of planning in these historic areas must give lip service to historic continuity.

However Viennese city planning has occurred in the past twenty years, the results are impressive. Underneath the stone Habsburg city blocks, a subway carries Viennese throughout the city, while those who opt for a better view can take the city trams or buses. And for anyone wanting a bit of exercise, an extensive network of bike lanes crisscrosses the streets and sidewalks. Of course all that exercise requires a stop at one of Vienna’s characteristic coffeehouses, which serve as the city’s public living rooms and enable conversation, perhaps over a caffe mélange and sachertorte, until they close around 1am.

This combination of public infrastructure and private coffeehouses contribute to a distinctively Viennese social life, creating an imminently accessible and visible city. My all-too brief stay in the city piqued an interest in Vienna, but further conclusions will require further, extensive ethnographic research, to be sure. And probably another slice of sachertorte.