The Gentrification of Chicago Neighborhoods

What is Gentrification?
According to Wikipedia, gentrification “is a trend in urban neighborhoods which results in increased property values and the displacing of lower-income families and small businesses [and is a] common and controversial topic in urban planning.” Historically and presently, Chicago is a city both vastly diverse and markedly segregated––by race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and the intersections thereof. Gentrification, to some degree, is necessary for promoting diversity and serving communities in struggle, but it remains a precarious social trend on account of displacing and marginalizing residents as well as potentially extinguishing culture.

Which Neighborhoods are Gentrifying Most?
In Edward McClellen’s 2012 piece “The Fastest Gentrifying Neighborhood in Chicago,” he notes that (according to the 2010 census), in the 2000s, the zip code that experienced the third highest increase in white population in the country was 60604, better known as Chicago’s South Loop, which increased from 37.7 percent to 75.4 percent white. This seems to be based on several factors, including but not limited to: The Pacific Garden Mission (serving the homeless community) moving out, an influx of IT professionals moving in, the election of a white alderman in 2003 (Bob Fioretti), etc. Other neighborhoods that experienced significant gentrification since the early 1990’s have included Logan Square, Wicker Park, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, and even Bronzeville–the heart of Chicago’s historic Black Belt, the epicenter of black arts and culture.
What are the Gentrification Patterns and Trends?
In Whet Moser’s piece “Why and How Chicago Neighborhoods Gentrify–and When,” published in 2014 in The Chicago Reader, he discusses a seminal study done by University of Chicago (and now Harvard University) sociologist Robert Sampson, entitled Great American City. Sampson has studied long-term patterns of gentrification and his contention is essentially that there is a “gentrification threshold” for neighborhoods in Chicago, meaning that neighborhoods with a base number of white inhabitants will continue to gentrify. More specifically, neighborhoods with a 35% white constituency in 1995 have continued to gentrify rapidly. Moreover, he found that neighborhoods with 10% more of a Hispanic population (than other neighborhoods), have significantly lower rates of gentrification, but that segregation between whites and Hispanics is lower than that of whites and blacks, thus making Hispanic neighborhoods more likely to gentrify overall (most specifically, Humbolt Park).

What are the Implications of Gentrification?

The issue and patterns of gentrification shed light on communities in struggle, specifically predominantly black communities. Studies on gentrification in Chicago have shown that the areas in greatest decline are on the South and West sides of Chicago, where two-thirds of the population is black. Gentrification has, to some degree, raised real estate prices high enough to marginalize these communities and keep them in decline steadily. But the issue of “inequitable development” as Natalie Y Moore writes in The Grist’s “Gentrification May be Real, but it’s the Least of Chicago’s Problems,” is the real culprit in severe social gaps, and must be addressed in order to better serve communities in struggle. Community development (better parks, streetscaping, etc.) as well as the addition of commercial retail (e.g. building a Whole Foods in Englewood) constitutes positive change (that is often lumped in as a facet of gentrification) in so far as it helps bridge the socioeconomic divide without entirely whitewashing a neighborhood.

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