No more kids playing at the fire hydrant in West Town

This week, we’re taking a break from examining other people’s
neighborhoods and to reflect on our own.
Day 4 of our census tract series comes from reporter Angela Caputo. Check out the previous entries in this series and come back to read more the rest of the week.

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It’s not hard to pinpoint what’s changed in my neighborhood over the past decade. When I moved into my place in West Town nine years ago, there were kids everywhere. The local grade school – Ellen Mitchell – rented out the old Holy Rosary school to accommodate an over flow.  And, never fail, every hot day, someone would pull the plug on the fire hydrant on my corner and kids would let loose in the street – by the dozens. That was 2002.

While Mitchell has made impressive gains since, enrollment is now a fraction of what it was less than a decade ago. I still see a couple of kids who lived in the neighborhood when I moved in peddling around my block when the weather is decent. But most of the once family-filled two flats have been turned into single family homes. Few show signs that kids live there these days. My own daughters were the only children living in my 30-unit building for years, until a baby boom broke out last year. We’ve since added two new little ones under our giant roof. We’ll see how long they stay.

My block is an example of the gentrification wave that swept over my neighborhood in the past decade. Half of all properties in my small census tract are now worth, on average, more than $431,500, according to a New York Times analysis of census data. By my own observation, the price tag on the new construction has hovered around a $1 million over the latter half of the decade. The rentals that do exist have grown 35 percent more expensive over the past five years alone, the data show. My guess is that most of the kids who once lived in my neighborhood were priced out.  And they were mostly Latinos.

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Latinos made up 39 percent of residents in my census tract — which stretches from Kinzie to Chicago and Western to Hoyne avenues — back in 2000. Now they compose 21 percent, according to census data. Now white residents (like myself) have grown from holding a slight to a vast majority – from 56 percent to 72 percent. College graduation rates surpass the national average, and 20 percent of adults hold a masters or professional degree.

Businesses have taken notice, which isn’t surprising considering that the number of households earning more than $75,000 a year has grown by 10 percentage points to 34 percent. New shops and restaurants are continually opening. In dollars, the zip code that includes my census tract falls in the top ten when it comes to new sales tax revenue between 2005 and 2009 (we were 9th to be exact), according to state data obtained by The Chicago Reporter.

There’s no doubt that the European cars and professional landscape jobs that have replaced the families around my home have helped to prop up the value – on paper at least. But I’ve got to say, after nearly 10 years, no mortgage ledger has ever amused me like the neighborhood kids.

What’s going on in your neighborhood? Take a look at your census tract with the New York Times’ slick map
and tell us what you see. Check back the rest of this week to see more
about where we live and how our neighborhoods are changing.

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