CHICAGO — Cook County leads the nation in population loss and residential high-rise construction.
U.S. Census figures released Thursday show Cook County is losing more people than maybe ever before. While Chicago figures have not been released, Cook County lost 21,234 residents in 2016, more than any other county in the United States.
The county is losing residents as 31 cranes for high-rise residential projects — more than any other American city — currently dot Chicago, mostly Downtown, according to a new report.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel proudly announced last fall that 52 total cranes, a post-recession record, went up in Chicago in 2016.
While thousands of people have left high-poverty neighborhoods such as Little Village and Englewood this century, population has risen in more affluent areas including Downtown, the Near West Side and the Northwest Side. Local Census data expected to be released in May should show that years-long trend persisted through 2016.
While Mayor Rahm Emanuel disputes that City Hall and businesses are investing in Chicago's Downtown at the expense of its South and West sides, it is true that dozens of new towers — mainly aimed at affluent professionals who can afford sky-high mortgages or rents — are under construction Downtown as people from poor areas leave the city.
It's a fact that isn't unique to Chicago.
Many cities addressed the recession by investing in their downtowns, aiming to attract young professionals, retirees and others moving closer to jobs and pedestrian-friendly lifestyles.
Local home prices have rebounded, and waves of new luxury apartment towers have driven rents to historic highs in many cities, including Chicago. Millennials, who were supposed to lead the charge back into cities, are now moving out more than any other generation.
But if that's the case, why are so many towers still going up Downtown?
They had nowhere to go but up.
Just 30,000 people lived in the Loop in 2014, and just 22,000 were living in the South Loop, the most recent Census data shows.
The more mature Near North Side, a broad area that includes the Gold Coast, River North and Streeterville, had 84,000 residents two years ago and still is growing.
Investors now are pouncing on vacant lots and other potential development sites Downtown, particularly in the South Loop.
South Lawndale, the community area that lost more people than any Chicago neighborhood this century, still had more than double the population of either the Loop or South Loop in 2014.
Rider Levett Bucknall North America, the Phoenix-based construction consultant that wrote the crane report, said Chicago was slower to recover from the recession than other cities, which explains why so many projects are going up or are in the planning stages now.
Many of those towers will be eventually built. But the big question going forward: Who's going to move in?