Changes in Forest Park’s population over the past decade can be found when we compare the data from the U.S. Census for 2010 to that of 2000. But what do these changes mean? As a social scientist and Forest Park resident, I have been digging through data from the U.S. Census Bureau, looking for patterns that help us see the bigger picture.

Population drop since 2000

With 14,250 residents, the population of Forest Park has dropped 10 percent since year 2000. But this is not exclusive to us. Maywood shrank by 11 percent and Oak Park and River Forest also lost residents though residually (respectively, by 1 percent and 4 percent). North Riverside has kept its population size (around 6,700). The exception is Berwyn which has grown by a healthy 5 percent, and currently hosts 56,700 residents. Still, consider that the city of Chicago has lost 7 percent of its population since 2000, along with the meager 3 percent increase across the entire state of Illinois, and you realize that Forest Park, after all, is not alone.

Hispanics drive growth in Chicago

These changes are linked to two types of migration. Population growth in America is being primarily driven by Hispanic childbirth rates and immigration, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Moreover, “global cities” such as Chicago see the significant presence of highly-skilled professionals, often “yuppies,” moving to upscale or gentrifying neighborhoods. This picture is reflected in the six towns across this area of West Cook County, where the Hispanic population has grown by 64 percent since 2000, particularly in Berwyn, North Riverside and Maywood. Meanwhile, well-off professionals from Chicago have moved to River Forest and Oak Park, where the white population has declined, albeit less dramatically than the overall region’s average.

Older population and fewer kids

The Census also reveals that Forest Park’s population has aged faster than those of other municipalities. Whereas the overall population has turned older or younger by a couple of years in each of our neighboring towns, in Forest Park the average age has jumped by four years since 2000 and now stands at 40. Closely related is the dramatic drop in the number of children and teenagers in Forest Park, a staggering 23 percent decline since 2000.

Vacant housing

Another important implication is that around 700 residences are currently vacant in Forest Park, nearly 9 percent of the total housing stock of the town. This is significantly above the 2 percent recommended by urban planners but only slightly worse than neighboring towns — except Maywood, which features a 12 percent vacancy rate, according to U.S. Census data. If each of these housing units were to host families of 2-3 individuals, then it can be suggested that Forest Park is about 1,500 people short of what is recommended from a housing policy viewpoint.

However, when we consider the harshness of financial and housing crises nationwide, Forest Park has fared reasonably well. Overall, our town features middle-of-the-road results when compared with wealthier and poorer towns in the area. In some regards, Forest Park presents certain advantages, such as quite affordable housing, proximity to public transportation and smaller classroom sizes.

As Forest Park begins its new Comprehensive Plan in 2013, analyzing this data can help us make better decisions about our collective future.

Tony D’Andrea is a social scientist and advertising professional. He is planning director at PACO, a multicultural ad agency in Chicago, and also writes for Ad Age. He holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Chicago and authored the book Global Nomads, a study on subcultures and tourism in Spain and India.

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