The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Updated: Ald. Moreno To Talk Logan Square Gentrification At $50-A-Head Community Dinner

By Rachel Cromidas in Food on Jan 25, 2017 3:00PM

Avocado salad at Quiote, photo via Instagram.

This post has been updated.
Ald. Joe Moreno is slated to speak at an upcoming prix-fixe dinner hosted by the organization Community Dining about the ever-divisive subject of gentrification in Logan Square. Some activists are slamming the dinner because it bills itself as "community-focused," but costs $50 a head.

But Community Dining organizer Paul Sippil says the point of the event, one in a series of dinners with various discussion themes and speakers, is to foster discussion around locally-sourced dinners in the vein of old-fashioned salons, not to exclude people who can't afford the dinner from the discussion.

“Guests will have an opportunity to speak with Ald. Moreno and ask how his policies and initiatives have helped shape the ward,” according to the Eventbrite invitation for the Feb. 15.

Some local anti-gentrification organizers were not pleased, according to the Sun-Times.

“This is a joke, isn’t it?” said Justine Bayod Espoz, an anti-gentrification activist with the Somos Logan Square nonprofit group. “Charging $50 a plate for a gentrification dinner? Can you see why this is baffling? If you ask people to pay $50 a plate, all you’re going to hear is pro-gentrification stuff.”

"I'm not afraid to clarify what the purpose is," Sippil told Chicagoist. "I believe that a shared meal, and I believe, especially a really nice meal, will create a certain level of camaraderie with people who have all different sorts of backgrounds and opinions."

"There's a lot of free events with aldermen, and they're usually in a church, and they're just so boring," he said. "No pun intended, but I wanted to spice it up."

The cost of the dinner, Sippil explained, is to cover the cost of a multi-course meal in a private dining room at Quiote, a soon-to-open Logan Square restaurant with “contemporary, Mexican-inspired cuisine, complemented by local ingredients and rotating seasonal menus." The food is mainly sourced from local farms, Sippil said, which is his goal when hosting regular Community Dining events. Sippil, who works as a Certified Public Account, said he is not profiting off of the event, and Moreno is not being paid to speak.

In response to the criticism that the event is cost-prohibitive for the people who are most likely to be affected by the recent real estate development and rising costs of living in Logan Square, Sippil said he is sympathetic.

"Obviously if you don't have a lot of money, there's no denying that $50 is a lot to spend for a dinner. But that doesn't mean that someone couldn't come to me to ask to volunteer or to help promote the event or engage in other bartering opportunities," he said. "A resourceful person might come to me and present an arrangement that might make it affordable to them. I never said that that wasn't on the table, and I've done that for people before."

He also noted that some previous Community Dining events have cost $85, due in part to the higher costs of local ingredients used by the restaurants he chooses. He also noted that non-profits such as Chicago Ideas Week also host discussions or fundraisers over meals, that cost $50 or more per person. He said he'd like to host similar events with aldermen in every ward eventually, centered around different subjects depending on the ward—Pilsen, for example, might also be a pertinent community to host a gentrification discussion in, he said.

Sippil said he's disappointed that the opinions expressed in the Sun-Times article seemed to miss the point. "This article was not meant to incite meaningful conversation, it was just to tear down community," he said. "And that's exactly what I don't want to do."

In an interview with Sun-Times columnist Dan Mihalopoulos about the event Tuesday, Moreno scoffed at the notion that the event was excluding people who deserve to be involved:

Bayod Espoz and other activists from Somos Logan Square were not invited to the community event. I told them about it.

Moreno told me they are “idiots” who don’t understand the issues.

“I don’t consider those folks really legitimate actors,” Moreno says. “They’re a Facebook group.”

Updated Jan. 26
: Moreno's Chief of Staff Raymond Valadez told Chicagoist that Moreno's participation in this dinner does not mean Logan Square residents won't also have other opportunities to talk to him about gentrification—though he noted that the alderman's office prefers the term "development."

"The alderman is very accessible and always wants to speak to residents on topics of policy, etc.," he said. "He'd be more than willing to attend any other forum, and there are different ways the alderman can communicate with constituents and interested parties in the community pertaining to economic development and affordable housing."

Valadez noted that Moreno has supported affordable housing initiatives and that his ward is the ward with the highest number of affordable housing units, including a 100 percent affordable housing development slated for 2033 N. Milwaukee Ave.

In terms of Moreno's approach to the topic of gentrification, Valadez elaborated: "Gentrification is a term that has many meanings, most of them negative. for us, the alderman believes economic development should be balanced and provide opportunity for everyone. He's one of the few aldermen who requires that affordable units be built on site [per the city's housing ordinance, aldermen can approve new real estate developments that plan to put affordable units off-site, or that buy out of the affordable housing requirement]. It's a win win. We have economic development, and we're also creating additional affordable hosing. And commercial corridors like Milwaukee Avenue that has been blighted for many years, now we're seeing investors interested in developing on Milwuakee, and the alderman wants to promote that because he wants to see Milwaukee Avenue thriving."

Bayod Espoz of Somos Logan Square told Chicagoist in a separate phone conversation that Moreno and Sippil's comments on the event have been disappointing.

"Paul is of course entitled to have his community dinner events, but I do think it is completely exclusionary to the people who are most affected by gentrification to put a $50 price tag on a dinner that is supposedly discussing these issues fairly. These are the kinds of things we need to discuss in a public forum because they predominantly impact working-class, poor, generally minorities, being kicked out of their longterm neighborhoods because they're becoming hot properties for people with money, she said. "The people who can pay those $50 are the people who for the most part are coming into the neighborhood and gentrifying it."

Bayod Espoz said she would like to see Moreno refuse to discuss the topic at the dinner and instead host a public event on it. She also said Somos Logan Square has asked Moreno to meet with organizers multiple times and he has declined.

"His comments make clear that there's a certain part of his constituents that he doesn't want to listen to," she said.


Below is the Community Dining event description and suggested discussion questions:

Join Community Dining and Alderman Joe Moreno for dinner and a discussion of gentrification, which has been an issue of serious contention throughout our neighborhoods. Guests will have an opportunity to speak with Alderman Moreno and ask how his policies and initiatives have helped shape his ward.

These kinds of discussions carry special importance because the shared meal provides a comfortable environment for us to voice our concerns about issues that greatly affect our lives where we can feel free to speak our minds and get to know each other without barriers. Unlike a political rally where tensions and even violence erupt between opposing sides, Community Dining allows us to come together for our collective benefit, even when we hold contrasting viewpoints. Political systems, on the other hand, by their very nature, separate us into groups and pit us against each other, making us believe that we can only advance our interests by eradicating our political adversaries. They reward those who successfully garner large groups of supporters based solely on superficial encounters rather than cultivate real friendships, a time consuming endeavor which evolves from a foundation of mutual respect for another person's thoughts, feelings, and interests. They create networks rather than communities, which former public school teacher of the year and author John Taylor Gatto further explains:

“Networks, even good ones, drain vitality from communities and families. They provide mechanical solutions to human problems, when a slow organic process of self awareness, self discovery, and cooperation is what is required if any solution is to stick. Aristotle saw, a long time ago, that fully participating in a complex range of human affairs was the only way to become fully human. Networks, however, don’t require the whole person, but only a narrow piece. If you function in a network, it asks you to suppress all the parts of yourself except the network-interest part - a highly unnatural act although one you can get used to. In exchange, the network will deliver efficiency in the pursuit of some limited aim. This is, in fact, a devil’s bargain, since on the promise of some future gain, one must surrender the wholeness of one’s present humanity. If you enter into too many of these bargains you will split yourself into many specialized pieces, none of them completely human. And no time is available to reintegrate successful networkers and doubtless generates much business for divorce courts and therapists of a variety of persuasions.”

Perhaps now, more than ever, we could consider how Community Dining can help us rediscover the means of human interaction that we inherently know benefits us all - one in which we are free to connect with one another and create our own experiences with people we never would have met where authentic community naturally flourishes and ideas can peacefully collide to produce a greater body of knowledge and shared understanding. Maybe then we will begin to realize that we can thrive in the absence of political institutions.

Some possible discussion questions include:

1. What are the root causes of gentrification and does it pose a problem that requires solving? If so, are we better off restricting entrepreneurial activity or unleashing it?

2. What other major cities face the issue of gentrification and what measures have they taken to address it?

3. To what extent have property taxes and housing regulations such as building permits, zoning laws, and construction rules caused housing prices in Chicago to rise?

4. What effect does rent control have on the quality and supply of housing, and specifically non-rent controlled housing? Has it caused housing shortages in Chicago?

Correction: a version of this article previously incorrectly referred to Raymond Valadez as Raymond Lopez.