Universities in Chicago continue to study the effects of gentrification

CHICAGO — Gentrification is a process that has been going on for years in Chicago. From Logan Square to Pilsen, communities are shifting demographics as a new wave of gentrifiers move into previously lower-income neighborhoods.

A study conducted at the University of Illinois at Chicago by John J. Betancur with Youngjun Kim found that Pilsen lost over 25 percent of its Latino population from 2000 to 2010, while the white population increased by 22 percent from 2000 to 2013.

According to Euan Hague, a geography professor at DePaul University, gentrification is the process by which neighborhoods are renovated and restored which increases property values in a community. This results in the displacement of the people who originally lived in the neighborhood but can no longer afford to keep living there.

Hague describes gentrification as a “class transformation,” as working or lower-class neighborhoods turn into neighborhoods for middle-class or upper class people.

Winifred Curran, a doctoral professor at DePaul University, urges the public to recognize that the process of gentrification is not natural. Long term divestment in minority and working class communities has laid the ground for gentrification to occur today, she explained. In order for a community to be gentrified, it must have something in that community that needs to be cleaned up. In other words, there needs to be room for renovation and investment.

According to Alec Brownlow, a geography professor at DePaul University, as communities flip over to the kinds of “communities city government wants to see”, more interest in placed on clean streets, transportation, safety, environmental concerns, etc. This heightened interest and attention to communities can be seen as a good thing, but the problem comes when it leads to the displacement of people already living there.

Dr. Curran has focused her research on a specific facet of gentrification that exemplifies what Brownlow is discussing. “Green gentrification”, as she calls it, is a new form of gentrification in which neighborhoods that were previously unattractive, receive ecological renovations to appear more attractive for investment. In Chicago, this can look like cleaning up a toxic waste space, building a new park like the 606 on Chicago’s west side, or tearing down old buildings to build new LEED certified ones. These neighborhoods are then marketed toward a different population than the group currently living there.

While these green investments appear to benefit communities ecologically, it’s important to look at who is being benefited, Hague said. If the people who lived there originally are displaced as a result of investment, then it’s just a reshuffling of where lower-income people live.

The concept of “Just Green Enough” as Dr. Curran explains, means working within communities to see what type of green initiative they would benefit from. Green investment should be “more focused on actual ecological improvement that helps the people who are already there,” Dr. Curran said.

For example, building a port for a barge would be more beneficial than creating a kayak path. Using barges to transport goods is more environmentally friendly than using trucks, but a barge port can’t exist if a kayak path is being built instead.

There are other sorts of policy changes, activists are calling for that would reduce the rate and displacement of gentrification.

According to Hague, changing policy that would make it more difficult for investors to receive demolition permits, or require a certain amount of affordable housing to go along with a demolition permit would help curb the negative effects of gentrification.

Hague points specifically to tax credits as means to changing the pace of gentrification. Currently, investment companies can receive a tax credit for a vacant lot in Chicago. This means investors tear down a home or building, presumably kicking a family or business out, and sit on that space without paying taxes, until the market turns when they can build on the lot and sell it for a higher profit.

Hague encourages “gentrifiers” or the people moving into gentrifying neighborhoods to be aware of the neighborhood they’re moving into.

“Don’t assume that your very presence improves it,” said Hague.

He encourages people to get to know their neighbors and local businesses, rather than avoiding organization or businesses because they may speak a different language. People moving into gentrifying neighborhoods should be mindful that the hostility of the local people isn’t toward them as an individual, but “young white people in general” who are changing the demographic and kicking out generations of families who have lived there.

UIC study: