Burnham to Charles Moore, March 13, 1905, in Moore, Daniel H. Burnham, I, 245.
 Kelly, Philip F. “Urbanization and the Politics of Land in the Manila Region,” ANNALS of the American Academy 590 (November 2003): 173
Photograph, courtesy of Mar P. Bustamante, 2008
At the turn of the 21st century, though, cities like Chicago and Manila are beginning to more closely resemble a pattern that has already existed in Paris and many other cities: urban poverty is being gradually engulfed by suburban poverty. In Paris, the highest concentrations of poverty are found in the suburbs, especially in the governmentally-subsidized habitation à loyer modéré, while the city center is the picturesque locale known to tourists. In Chicago, save perhaps for a distinct inner core, the “inner city” has been the dwelling place of the poor, while those with financial means (particularly Caucasians with means) fled to the suburbs decades ago, to live what they thought of as comfortable lives away from people of other ethnicities and, presumably, from poverty and its accompanying social challenges.
In recent years, though, the trend seems to be reversing itself: as recent college graduates and young professionals have flocked back to the city, once-poor neighborhoods have been changed (either “gentrified” or “revitalized,” depending upon your perspective) from places of urban poverty to places of wealth. With that demographic inversion has come displacement, since the presence of these wealthier newcomers forces living costs up and thus forces poorer, long-time residents out—often to the suburbs. As much as gentrification is discussed (see a few interesting articles from the New York Times and The Chicago Tribune), the conversation among the socially conscious usually lingers on how to stop the phenomenon or how, if it were possible, to do “gentrification with justice.” In the meantime, there is too little attention to the present reality of the suburbanization of poverty.
I live and work in the suburbs, in DuPage County, among the wealthiest counties in the country. And yet, increasingly, DuPage County is also home to many people—about 45,000, up 115% in the past fifteen years—living beneath the poverty line, many of whom have moved out of the city. Others among DuPage County’s working poor are newly arriving immigrants; historically, immigrants began their lives in the United States in urban neighborhoods, but more and more are arriving directly to the suburbs—both because there is work available there and because the cost of living in many of the urban neighborhoods where immigrants once resided has escalated as a result of gentrification. During the 1990s, the suburban immigrant population grew by 377,000, a 91.9% increase. As of 2005, 62.5% of the immigrants living in the Chicago metropolitan area live in the suburbs, more than in the city itself. The challenge is that the social service infrastructure has not kept pace with the demographic shift: in 2005, for example, there were about twenty non-profit organizations recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals to provide low-cost immigration legal services to the City of Chicago’s 590,000 foreign-born individuals; meanwhile, the 370,000 foreign-born individuals in the collar counties of DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Will, and McHenry counties were served by just two BIA-recognized agencies.
On a recent visit to the Philippines, I observed a similar phenomenon in Manila. In order to make space for the renovation of the National Railway, tens of thousands of squatter families have been (obligatorily) “relocated” by the Filipino National Housing Authority from their dwellings along the railroad tracks of Makati and other central urban areas to suburban communities far from the city center. The city of Manila is now free of these railroad squatters, whom some considered an unsightly blight upon the city, but tens of thousands of families have been displaced to suburban communities like Cabuyao, Laguna and Marilao, Bulacan, which have neither the employment capacity nor the health or education infrastructures to meet their needs.
(Photo of the suburban poor south of Manila in Southville, Cabuyao is by Mar P. Bustamante, a very talented Filipino photographer).
Whether for better or worse, gentrification is happening—sometimes as a result of the invisible hand of market forces and in some cases (in Chicago, as well as in Manila) with the complicit intentions of city governments. As gentrification occurs, and many of the urban poor are displaced outward, we need to consider how to best serve, care for, and empower the suburban poor, even as we challenge the structures that lead to their displacement. As poverty increasingly becomes a suburban phenomenon, we need a new generation of suburban planners who can combine Daniel Burnham’s genius for planning with a Vincentian concern for the poor.