The first round of data from the 2010 U.S. Census was released last week, and it includes information on population and race. 

Forest Park is a smaller, but slightly more diverse place, based on the census “snapshot,” which takes place every 10 years. Almost all of the demographic groups saw some drop in their populations between 2000 and 2010. Looking as far back as the 1990 census reveals some striking changes in the town’s racial mix.

In the last 10 years, the village’s recorded population dropped by 9.7 percent, from 15,688 in 2000, to 14,167 in 2010. In the decade before that, Forest Park experienced a 5.2 percent increase – from 14,918 people in 1990 to 15,688 residents in 2000.

Latinos were the only group to register an increase, up 13.7 percent, from 1,230 in 2000, to 1,398 in 2010. Latinos now make up 9.9 percent of the population.

“I’ve noticed a lot of Latinos, [but] not only in Forest Park,” said Juan Montesinos, who has lived in the village for 11 years, referring to neighboring areas like Oak Park, which saw a 48.3 percent increase in its Latino population between 2000 and 2010.

As for the overall decline in population, Montesinos attributed it to the mortality of the village’s once pervasive elderly population.

Whites are still the majority, making up 49.7 percent of the population, or 7,048 residents; with 4,504 African Americans now making up 31.8 percent of residents.

Asians, constituting 6 percent of the population, totaled 843 residents. The group’s numbers have been on a slight but steady decline since 1990.

More striking than the roughly 10-percent fall in overall population, are the substantial differences between the 2000 and 2010 census data.

From 1990 to 2000, the village’s black population rose from 1,926 to 4,824: a 150.4 percent jump, accounting for 30.7 percent of the population in 2000, up from 12.9 percent in 1990. During that same time, Latinos grew by 67.6 percent, from 734 to 1,230, though they only accounted for 7.8 percent of the population in 2000.

“We saw an influx of new residents that came into the community,” said Bill Lichtenberg, a Forest Park resident of 31 years.

“I suspect that had to do with affordable housing,” said Village Administrator Tim Gillian, when asked about the increases in Black and Latino populations between 1990 and 2000.

During that 10-year period, 25.6 percent of the village’s white population declined.

Lichtenberg believes that while some of the white population decreased because families moved to avoid sending their kids to Proviso East High School, and to “cash in” on a then-booming real estate market, “white flight” was also a factor.

“You started to hear people say, ‘We’re getting out of here before it goes to hell,'” Lichtenberg said, disapprovingly.

In 2000, the village’s white population was 8,169 or 52.1 percent. In 1990 the numbers were 73.6 percent, or 10,983 white residents.

Between 2000 and 2010 the white population fell by 13.7 percent, the black population by 6.6 percent, and Asians by 21.2 percent. Compared to changes between 1990 and 2000, the fluctuations of the last 10 years are less dramatic.

“When I saw all of us in the near west [Chicagoland suburbs] were in the same boat, I noticed there is…something bigger going on,” Gillian said. He also pointed to population “explosions” in Kane, Will and McHenry Counties. He also noted that, prior to the subprime mortgage crisis, newer properties could be bought at very low prices in those areas.

Is a smaller, more diverse Forest Park a good thing? 

“One of the reasons I have been attracted to Forest Park is because I can actually see living together every day,” Dr. Andrea Hines recently told the Forest Park Review. Hines, an African American, has lived in Forest Park for 12 years.

The 1990, 2000 and 2010 census data regard Latinos as a separate race.