Why They Gentrify

DNAinfo’s Paul Biasco reports on Logan Square being named “one of the 15 ‘hottest urban retail markets across North America'”:

“The ranking by the national commercial real estate services company Cushman & Wakefield was compiled by querying hundreds of its experts across the country, including brokers, property managers, appraisers and marketing execs.

“Wicker Park and Bucktown, meanwhile, are ‘still cool while going mainstream.’ …

“Some of the criteria for ‘cool’ are walkability, bicycle friendliness and ease of public transportation as well as availability of places to eat and hear music.

“Logan Square’s coolness began two decades ago as artists flocked to the area from Wicker Park, where rents became too expensive, the report says. The launch of the Logan Square Farmers Market in 2007 ‘was a major touchstone,’ but growth since 2010 has been driven by new restaurants and bars.”

This past Sunday I grabbed brunch at Café Con Leche in Logan Square with my partner and her cousin. I had the usual cafetón and jibarito, while my partner had her usual chilaquiles. Her cousin, a bodybuilder enjoying a cheat day, ate everything. Afterward I led them (they’re intractable suburbanites) down to where Centennial Column has stood since 1918. When I described how a man had stabbed a police officer in the face with a fork back in April, the two quickly decided we should keep walking.

Luckily, the Logan Square Farmers Market was in full swing. We strolled through, marveling at the variety of locally grown fruits and vegetables. With the meal still churning in our stomaches, we opted for snow cones made with all-natural syrups. “We don’t even use coloring,” the middle-aged woman had told us as she passed us a sample. Then we walked to the end of the line of stalls to stand under the shade of a tree and hipster-watch. The wide assortment of people rivaled that of the ingredients on offer. A lot of the men wore beards. Some of the women had dogs. The overwhelming majority of vendors and customers, however, were white.

Logan Square is changing, some say improving. The same is happening in Pilsen, and to a lesser extent in Humboldt Park and La Villita. Restaurants and bars pop open in the blink of an eye, and shiny new buildings spring up like sunflowers. They attract even more hipsters into the neighborhood, who attract more developers and the young urban professionals (“yuppies”) looking for a sanitized version of city life. That means kicking out the longtime working-class residents — not by force of course, but by money fiat. The newcomers believe having the money to do something — to buyout a homeowner or business owner — is the same as having the right to do it. Their belief is regularly endorsed by city hall, which appears eager to extend Lakeview westward, all the way to city limits. This is Manifest Destiny 2.0. In Chicago — in America — money equals rights. Just ask the mayor.

“One of the hottest urban retail markets” is what Mayor Rahm envisions for all of Chicago. Not “one of the best communities for working-class families,” or “the best schools for low-income children.” That’s not a good plan for the city because it doesn’t pump more money into the city’s coffers, money that the mayor then splits among his friends and cronies. If you’re not profitable, then your expendable. The less fortunate require social services, good public schools and low-skilled jobs that pay a living wage, but that would force the city’s elite to do something they don’t want to do — invest in the people of Chicago. That’s what’s happening in Logan Square and Pilsen. The mayor and his pals are ridding the city of people who won’t make them as much money as rich people will. It’s good business, but bad governance.

Recall how this all started. After the Second World War, affluent whites didn’t want to live next to their exploited black and Latino workers. So they fled to the newly built suburbs, abandoning the city to government neglect and urban decay. Black and Latino neighborhoods were largely ignored for decades, except in cases where well-to-do whites wanted the land occupied by people of color, as happened in Lincoln Park in the 1960s. Now that the kids and grandkids of those White Flighters realize how boring the suburbs are (very boring), they’re looking to reclaim the city their forbears abandoned. The only problem is the people to whom such neighborhoods were abandoned still live there. What to do?

No worries. Mayor Rahm and his elite buddies have a plan. We need only give them a few more years. Then we’ll have farmers markets in every neighborhood with locally grown produce, long after the locally grown people have been shipped somewhere else, somewhere more convenient — convenient not for them, but for the newcomers.


Featured image: Logan Square Farmers Market, 2006 (Ageless North Shore/Flickr)

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