Gentrification, Density and a New Logan Square High-Rise

2015_4_2LoganTowers

Rendering from Wheeler Kearns

Neighborhoods change, it’s inevitable. The area that was once Cabrini-Green housing project is now populated with big box stores and cookie-cutter yuppie fortresses, while other, once prosperous, (or at least working class) neighborhoods on the west and south side, are losing people and money. UIC has defined 14 Chicago neighborhoods in South and West Chicago as in “severe decline” these neighborhoods “have populations that are, on average, two-thirds African American.” These are the same neighborhoods that have put Chicago in the national news for having high rates of homicide.

For some, gentrification carries benefits, landowners see their properties increase in value and small business may stand to benefit if their customers are more comfortable being out and about in the neighborhoods. Neighborhoods that are richer or more densely populated are often more walkable, and foot traffic on the streets correlates with safety. For other people, gentrification can be devastating. A person learns a neighborhood. Our lives get built around where we shop, send children to school and live from day to day. If your neighborhood gets a rapid infusion of new people from a different background, if the neighborhood businesses no longer cater to you and, most importantly, if it becomes unaffordable in terms of services, parking and rent, that’s going to have a huge impact on your life.

gentrification

From: “The Socioeconomic Change of Chicago’s Community Areas (1970-2010)”

So what should be done about this? Whose interests should the government serve?

I’d start by reframing the question around what can be done. Neighborhoods can’t be trapped in amber. Change is inevitable. Take Pilsen as an example. This neighborhood takes its name from a state in Czech Republic that was the former home of many of its residents, but as these people acculturated and dispersed throughout the city, the neighborhood became mostly Latino. With the change in the people who lived in the neighborhood, came a change in the institutions and the look of the neighborhood. Now Pilsen is in the midst of a decade-long shift toward a younger, whiter population.

Logan Square Development

Let’s look at the project mentioned in the title. A 12-story apartment building is planned for Logan Square near the California Blue Line stop. Though this building will feature some low-cost housing, it is primarily aimed at renters who can afford its $1,500 a month studios. Make no mistake, this neighborhood is gentrifying rapidly.  Rents are rising, new businesses are moving in and creating more competition for retail space, and the ethnic mix of the neighborhood is changing. As the area becomes more trendy, it will become less Latino and more Anglo. There’s no question but that this development is happening because of gentrification. If the neighborhood weren’t attracting new people, developers wouldn’t invest in putting an apartment building there.

The question becomes what should be done about this? If the city wants to support the renters in the neighborhood who are seeing their cost of living go up, they should encourage building as much dense housing in Logan Square and other popular neighborhoods where these populations are being pushed out. The law of supply and demand dictates that if you want to make something cheaper, you have to make more of it or discourage demand. The city does not want to make itself less desirable.  That would only shrink the tax base and make life here worse for everyone, so the only possible solution is increasing supply.

The caveat here is that you must preserve or create affordable housing, like Section 8 or units whose prices are held below market rates and only available to residents of more modest means. That said, cities can never do enough to completely stop trends in neighborhoods. The market will always work faster and more dynamically than the people regulating it. And more importantly you shouldn’t try to block these trends when they’re bringing people and money into the city. The reason to create some of these units then is to create some economic diversity in the neighborhood, and to benefit the renters getting squeezed by rising prices. So, yes, there should be two ways in which we try to help the people in gentrified neighborhoods, but the biggest and most important will always be supply.

It may be difficult to be the one struggling with rising rents in Logan Square, but stopping developments like the one proposed on Milwaukee Avenue will only make that struggle worse.

About Casey Brazeal

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