In the NY Times this weekend they had an article about a one man show by Danny Hoch. The topic of his show was gentrification, and how it impacted natives of New York City. In the article they reviewed him and he had the following quote:
“I did a lot of community arts work through the 90’s, really believing that we were making a difference socially…. Within the last 10 or 15 years, those communities have virtually been erased.”
On a seemingly unrelated line, there is a history of the neighborhood that I live in, the River North neighborhood in Chicago. Here is a link to a document summarizing River North history, notably its time as a manufacturing area called “Smokey Hollow”. This article summarizes the demographic changes in the Near North neighborhood of Chicago by decade.
These types of documents talk about the history of a neighborhood as if it was continuous, with links between each era. However, the reality of urban areas like River North (and the New York of Mr.Hoch) is really quite different. Aside from some projects just north of Chicago Avenue near Cabrini Green, the neighborhood has turned over to a degree that most US residents would find astounding. There are literally no individuals living in River North that were even here ten to fifteen years ago.
The area was not heavily populated, with many industrial buildings. Over time, the industrial buildings were converted into galleries, offices, or high priced lofts. Any apartments that catered to the non-well to do have been leveled over time and either converted into high rise condominiums or free standing houses costing in the millions (nearby residents include Michael J*rdan’s wife and Mancow, the shock DJ).
If you were here, and working with a community group, and you returned, all of your residents are gone. The relentless rise in rents and the fact that this land, within walking distance of the loop and filled with restaurants and other attractions, is too valuable to have even modestly price residences.
On a holiday, such as Thanksgiving, when you drive your car through the garage and out onto the street the garage, which is usually packed, is empty. Why is this? Because no one is FROM here. Everyone empties out of the neighborhood on holidays and goes to see their family. You can practically see tumbleweeds rolling through the streets (except for tourists).
The sad fact is that poor communities can’t exist long term in an area of high property values. The forces of rising rents and higher quality housing (which is sold for more than locals can afford) are relentless. Unless there is the heavy hand of the state (rent control in NYC or Europe) the gentrification sweeps across the neighborhood like a brush, taking away the old and replacing it with the new. Many neighborhoods in Chicago represent the EXTREME of that circumstance, where virtually every previous resident has been displaced (all the more so since the stock of housing was relatively limited).
Reading a history of River North is interesting if you are looking for a vanished civilization, or seeking to understand the remaining architectural landmarks.
If you are looking for people, like Mr. Hoch, they are all gone. Erased.
Cross posted at LITGM