Which Chicago Neighborhoods Have Been Most Changed By Gentrification?

By Samantha Abernethy in News on Jul 31, 2012 8:21PM

According to home and garden blog Networx.com, four of Chicago's neighborhoods make their list of those that have been most redefined nationwide by gentrification: Andersonville, Boystown, Pilsen and Wicker Park. Aside from the arguments of what gentrification does and whether it ruins a neighborhood's identity, let's focus on how it happens and what are the tell-tale characteristics of a neighborhood on its way to gentrification.

Earlier this year, Humboldt Park residents weren't so keen on the idea of adding bike lanes to its neighborhood because the plan was perceived to be a form of gentrification coming from outside of the neighborhood, forced in by whites. Grid Chicago writes:

Bicycling doesn’t discriminate. It’s good for people of all ethnicities and income levels because it’s a cheap, convenient, healthy way to get around, and a positive activity for youth and families. So it’s a shame that cycling, especially for transportation, is often seen as something that only privileged white people would want to do.

Or maybe coffeeshops are the harbinger of gentrification. The quantity of coffee shops has an interesting relationship to crime rates in a study covering Chicago neighborhoods from 1991 to 2005. It found that as there were more coffee shops in white and Latino gentrifying neighborhoods, crime declined. However, as there were more coffee shops in gentrifying majority black neighborhoods, crime actually went up. Chicago Magazine writes:

The authors argue that it's because of differing intra-racial gentrification patterns: "Black gentrifying neighborhoods in Chicago tend to be spatially proximate to other high-crime Black communities and, thus, do not receive the same ecological benefits of White/Hispanic gentrifying neighborhoods." Not to mention that more people with money next to high-crime areas means more appealing and practical targets for robbers. It's a limited piece of data, but it does suggest some of the difficulties in maintaining stability in black neighborhoods versus white and Hispanic neighborhoods.

The Networx post looks at the evolution of each neighborhood, but it focuses on that old trope about gays and artists and real estate agents changing the city's landscape. No one neighborhood gentrified in the same manner, though, and a couple of those have twice redefined themselves.

When I first moved to Chicago, I went to Big Joe's 2 & 6 Pub at the intersection of Ravenswood and Foster. I didn't really know my way around, and I asked a bartender which neighborhood I was in. He said it depends: It's really Bowmanville to those who live here, but to the rest of the city it's Ravenswood. But if you're trying to sell real estate, it's called West Andersonville.

The once-Swedish neighborhood of Andersonville barely shows signs of its European heritage anymore, and one expert told Networx it even changed the boundaries of the North Side in more than one neighborhood when it started pulling parts of Uptown, Edgewater and Ravenswood into its web:

First lesbians had moved in and participated in the gentrification of the neighborhood in the late 1970's early 1980's. After that the neighborhood started to become attractive to others. Artists moved in around the same time. Later more white, middle class families moved in and by the time that I was studying the neighborhood a lot of gay men had moved in and it was becoming quite expensive and more and more of a destination, whether it be for tourists or people within the city looking for a place to shop or go to dinner.

Boystown's change was a little different. While it was also an influx of gay residents, the gay enclave stuck to the same strip of Halsted without changing other parts of Lakeview, like Wrigleyville. Now "it's not a necessarily a residential gay enclave, it's more like a gay motif that gave identity to that strip."

Yes, Pilsen is a Mexican neighborhood, but before that it was Czech. It was artists that redefined the east side of Pilsen. As one expert put it, "It became a cultural enclave destination within a Mexican neighborhood, carved out at the expense of Mexicans; now it's predominantly white. It didn't take the whole neighborhood, it took a corner of it."

Wicker Park was so redefined that the name is a whole brand created by the real estate industry. That chunk of West Town has been changed twice over. "It is undergoing regentrification which means that the early gentrifiers (principally artists who developed a Bohemian style destination around the intersection of Milwaukee, North and Damen Avenues) could not afford to stay there and higher-income gentrifiers are replacing them," one expert said.