Opinion: Shouting over each other won’t fix gentrification problems

Pilsen-web[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he graffiti wasn’t done up by local taggers looking for a way to display their art or gang members trying to mark their territory. The vandalism was conducted by members of a anti-gentrification movement, who were looking to mark their territory.

They constructed a simple message on the restaurant’s window: “Get Out of Humboldt Park/Don’t Gentrify Us/We Won’t Be Wicker Park.”
The irony of this is that the owner is a 20-year resident of Humboldt Park.

Pilsen and Humboldt Park seem to be the battlefield in a war against gentrification in Chicago. The movement in Humboldt Park gained huge attention when Ald. Roberto Maldonado sided with a small group of people to successfully push Riot Fest out of the neighborhood.

While the anti-gentrification movement claims to not be about race, shouts of “Go back to the suburbs!” and “This is OUR neighborhood” were heard during meetings between Riot Fest supporters and the opposition.

Gentrification is the big taboo word in urban development. It has its positive and negative merits. In a nut shell, wealthy developers come in to buy decrepit buildings in what some citizens feel are deteriorating neighborhoods. This causes property values to go up and, as a side effect, brings down the crime. However, it also displaces families and other residents who now can’t afford to stay in the neighborhood they once called home.

The irony is that many of the “new neighbors” of Humboldt Park aren’t Donald Trump-like developers who are looking to price out the current residents of the neighborhood. Many of them moved to Humboldt Park or Pilsen because they wanted a lower cost of living. They probably got priced out of Wicker Park or Lincoln Park and just wanted to start anew somewhere else.

They aren’t looking to strip the ethnic identity of a neighborhood, to tear down the Paseo Boricua or push out the Mexican identity of Pilsen. Many of them are turned off at the idea of having a Starbucks in their own neighborhoods. “Riot” Mike Petryshyn even told me once that he would protest if Starbucks made its way to Humboldt Park.

We forget that Humboldt Park, Logan Square and Pilsen were not originally Latino neighborhoods. They were first identified as Polish, Scandinavian or Czech neighborhoods. But over time, the dynamic of a neighborhood changes and new people come by to take roots and start a new life.

What upsets me about the anti-gentrification movement is that the utilization of Tea Party/Fox News style fear mongering is the strategy of choice to drive out the new neighbors. Instead of working to come up with a compromise, opposers of gentrification are spending their time shouting at the top of their lungs to make sure they get their way. It seems to be the only way to get things done in this country.

With Riot Fest, it wasn’t the entire Puerto Rican community that wanted Riot Fest gone. It was just a small group of people. Other Puerto Ricans I talked to welcomed Riot Fest, despite their concerns about the condition of Humboldt Park. Some were even more concerned about a group of Puerto Ricans that has gathered in the park on a weekly basis and doesn’t pick up after themselves.

Gentrification is definitely an issue. However, there are other ways to go about tackling it. Instead of acting childish, we can act like actual neighbors and talk to one another. We may find that we may have more in common than we thought.

What the battle of gentrification shouldn’t be about is race. This is an issue of income inequality. Just as we minorities don’t enjoy being judged stereotypically, we shouldn’t do the same to another ethnicity that moves in. A community is a group of people, no matter the race or income background. We can all live together. That is what we should remember when we battle gentrification.

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