A Tale of Gentrification

By: Ryan Sillins

As I walked passed beer cans littering Garfield Boulevard by the bridge I noticed a mural of pink, purple, blue, and yellow shapes that morphed and congealed.  The sky was darkening gray over the Englewood Back 2 School Parade, and the air smelled of rain. Dancers dressed in teal dragged their feet on wet concrete through the pitter-patter of a light drizzle.  I caught a ride to a picnic set-up at Ogden Park, where there was free food, music, and more dancing. The scent of chardogs and White Castle sliders filled the air. I saw several “for sale” signs in what looked like abandoned homes and apartments, all empty and barren.  A big construction vehicle was sweeping the ground and asphalt was being prepared and laid out on Garfield. I was surprised to see this type of construction in Englewood and got to wondering: who was this actually for? Was it for the community that lives there? Or was it yet another example of gentrification in Chicago? 

I do not know for sure, but I am sure that for many years now this city has undergone massive changes in its lower income communities.  Investors have been coming in, buying property, refurbishing it, and reselling it at significantly higher rates than what those in the community can afford.  The Chicago Tribune reports: “some parts of Chicago that historically have seen a pattern of disinvestment are experiencing a significant uptick in housing prices, as a strong economy attracts investors to more areas. The market is moving in those neighborhoods,” said Geoff Smith, executive director of the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University. “There hasn’t been a great set of solutions to prevent displacement and dislocation … to slow down change and encourage neighborhoods to be inclusive.”  This is particularly substantial because the article specifically mentions Garfield Park, Austin, and South Lawndale, all of which are neighboring or direct communities where Chicago HOPES for Kids is involved.

The people in these communities already have a rise in homelessness (ergo the shelters we serve in) and if we are to see the housing prices increase, we will inevitably find more cases of displacement and homelessness.  When creating infrastructure and investing in communities, we need to be respectful and ensure that the work is being done for the betterment of those already in the neighborhood. Gentrification is not the answer to the struggles these communities face.