White Gentrification In Chicago: My Response

Yesterday, I posted a letter from a reader who was concerned about potentially gentrifying neighborhoods of color when she moves to Chicago.

Her issue is that gentrification will raise rents and property values making it increasingly expensive for families who have been there for years---or in some cases generations--and they'll be priced out of the neighborhood.

Below is my response:

Hi XXXX,

Thank you for reading the old version of my blog.  Clearly you've found your way to the new or we wouldn't be corresponding right now.

While I very much appreciate your question, I feel it's best to focus on the basics:  Move to where you feel safe.  If you're a woman (as I am) safety trumps everything.  I don't ever assume I'm safe anywhere.  No matter how nice the neighborhood.  No matter what the crime statistics say.

But that's me---I've always seen the glass as half empty and am suspicious of most people.  I realize most folks aren't like that.

That being said, this beautiful city is pretty much divided by race and has been for quite a while.  Yes, you can move to neighborhoods that I like to call undiscovered gems but the thing about Chicago is that too many white people in one neighborhood, make the prices rise.  Other people want to pretty it up or state it a different way but it's the truth.  Wicker Park used to be a straight up hood twenty four years ago; I remember going west of the expressway for the first time ever---past Cabrini Green and over a branch of the Chicago River into this new neighborhood that everyone was talking about.

Now you can't touch a single family house there for under 1.5 million dollars (I think).

The same is happening in Pilsen and to a lesser effect, Bridgeport.  Yet Bridgeport has always been an enclave for white ethnics---the neighborhood has been nicknamed the "Cradle of Mayors" for years---very Irish and Italian.

I applaud you for not wanting to contribute to the status quo but as I stated earlier, you need to be safe and feel safe.  I don't know your exposure to urban areas, what you look like or how you carry yourself.  I make these points because no matter where you live in Chicago, it's a dangerous place.  If you look and act like a victim, you will be victimized.  Oft times you can be the most aware person in the world and something bad will still happen to you.

I'm 5'10 and NOT a size two.  I also happen to be able to throw a look someone's way that will more than likely give them pause.  It doesn't hurt that God also looks out for babies and fools.  I'm not quite sure which one I am but I will say that I've also been lucky that I haven't been in the wrong place at the wrong time---yet.

Let's be honest, society tells white America that they should fear people of color, specifically black people and black men most of all.  I've seen white woman literally jump a country mile when a black man moves near them and then turn red as a beet when it was nothing more than an innocent gesture.  So before you ask any of those other questions, you have to ask yourself if you're afraid of black people?  Are you afraid of Mexcians?  Are you afraid of people who don't look like you?

If the answer is "No" and you know how to handle yourself in an urban area, you'll be fine no matter where you move.

As for not being a part of the problem, that is going to be tough.  Once again, I applaud the fact that you don't want to contribute to the status quo but you have to think of your safety AND your budget first.  With that in mind, I'd suggest looking in the following neighborhoods if you're seeking to live by yourself and want some diversity:

1.  Uptown--North side, extremely diverse, my old 'hood and I miss it everyday.

2.  Hyde Park---South side, the 'hood directly north of me, home to the University of Chicago, plenty of kids your age.

3.  Pilsen---South side, Mexican neighborhood, burgeoning art scene.

4.  Bridgeport---South side, mostly white but there are a few Latinos and Asians thrown in for their version of diversity.

5.  Lakeview---North side, depending on where you settle in, there could be frat rats, young professionals or families.  The rents can be pricey.

6.  Andersonville---North side, amazing 'hood but can be expensive.  Lots to see and do.

7.  South Loop---Near south side, another excellent neighborhood but once again can be expensive.

8.  Rogers Park---North side, super diverse with a good selection of rents.

9.  Ravenswood---North side, beautiful  but a little pricey.  You may be able to find some bargain rents.

I wish you luck in your decision making.  Let me know when you finally move.

Best,

The Woodlawn Wonder

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