Gentrification is not something I feel strongly about in one philosophical direction or another.
I think that gentrification, the concept of and what are examples of, is too often expanded to include other neighborhood changes. While these neighborhood changes may occur in some areas where gentrification is happening, they are not necessarily inherent in the definition of the concept. I will explain
With that being said, I am going to start this entry with a simple definition of gentrification:
Housing stock in less desirable neighborhoods are rehabilitated, rise in property value and see an influx of new, wealthy(er) residents. Existing residents, because of rising living costs, may or may not move out.
This transformation is quite easy to identify: Certain neighborhoods seemingly become attractive overnight. Observers spot one day an old building, the next day it is gone, and the third day a sign promoting a developer’s proposed new dwelling standing in the new foundation. Those who lived in the now removed building either moved within the same neighborhood or to a neighborhood which is not experiencing gentrification.
Gentrification is two things:
- Housing in a neighborhood becomes nicer
- The demographics of the people who move in is different than those who currently inhabit the neighborhood
What I believe is NOT gentrification, but usually comes as a result of the above two events, is the expanded definition that changes from person to person, based purely on opinion and speculation.
I say this because I have heard too much of the banter in Chicago about who is and isn’t a “gentrifier” and how obnoxious or delightful the newcomers are.
The neighborhood which acts as the prime example of all “styles” of gentrification in Chicago is Lincoln Park. Obviously, if you don’t currently live Lincoln Park, you either really want to or abhor those who do because of what they have personally done to remove the character of the neighborhood and forced out the prior inhabiting residents.
I am, of course, speaking facetiously, but what I write goes to show the expanded definition of gentrification: it brings about only one new demographic of resident. That new demographic is always described to be young, urban and professional and usually white – a yuppie. People in Chicago see no other gentrifier than this Chad or Trixie – gendered personifications of the new resident.
Gentrification is not always begun by yuppies, white people, or those who drive BMWs to work and Mercedes to their summer cabin. Gentrification is almost always initiated by those who are much poorer or if not poor, gay. It’s very simple to understand:
Artists and students have limited funds to devote to housing so they move into cheap apartments or lofts. As such, they bring a creative atmosphere and attitude to their new dwellings and either create or attract new development that enhances the neighborhood offerings, even if the crime that comes attached to poorer neighborhoods still has not moved on. The new “creative district” that was formed now attracts those with more money who like the idea of independent bars, restaurants, galleries, and kitsch shops.
Every neighborhood has a different point in time when it’s identified as gentrifying. Each neighborhood changes a little differently at a different pace. Pilsen was said by Utne magazine to be the next big Chicago neighborhood (along the lines of Wicker Park and Lincoln Park) in the early 90s. It’s easy to spot in Pilsen the actions supporting gentrification, but it sure is taking a long time; Pilsen is indisputably not at, or close, to the level of transformation seen in Lincoln or Wicker Park fifteen years after Utne’s prediction.
Some people measure gentrification by how many chain stores or restaurants have established themselves in the neighborhood, practically implying that corporations cause or further gentrification. However, these corporations are simply responding to a need from the residents or feel that a need can be created easily and quickly enough to support the new location.
Pilsen currently only has the corporate interest of banks and is home to TWO national banks and one major regional bank. There is a McDonald’s and a Payless Shoe Source. If there was a strict scale to measure gentrification (not entirely based on the amount of “corporate sponsorship,” I would posit that Pilsen is only 40% along the track.