Chicago's Gentrification: Art Folks Caught in Being Clever (Part One)

Chicago's Gentrification: Art Folks Caught in Being Clever (Part One)

Accidentally or not, artists camping out in low rent areas eventually result in some sort of migration. Gentrification is frowned upon by displaced populations – of course – but land owners and developers are usually pretty pleased. Even if a clutch of minorities are eventually pushed out of a neighborhood, folks running the city generally don’t mind too much. And there’s definitely no outrage when rents become too exorbitant for those artsy denizens eventually being shuffled through the area either.

The West Loop’s somewhere in the middle of it’s complete and total transformation into an upper class Mecca replete with clothing stores hosted by rail thin, would-be models and trafficked by upper class ladies whose pocket books are weighted down by the income of their husbands. Of course, everyone’s glad when a few more coffee shops pop up.

Walking past a slew of overpriced restaurants, which for lunch seem to be frequented by bald business men who’ve parked their BMW utility vehicles out front, most would get the general impression that Randolph Ave. and its surrounding environs aren’t too much more than a destination to blow a few dollars.

That might not be completely incorrect.

Maintaining an economically prosperous neighborhood, predicated on any collection of businesses and its clientele, shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand, especially in an economic climate leaving most folks with the flu. But at the same time, how inviting a neighborhood is to a wide variety of people is an important aspect of sustaining an atmosphere of continued success.

Among the buildings dating to the earliest moments of the twentieth century, all brick and charm, a few razed plots are scattered around this quarter of Chicago begging for development. Within viewing distance are usually a couple new, resplendent condos ostensibly functioning to make the rest of the neighborhood look older than it actually is. The contrast is interesting, but disquieting and sometimes confusing as turning a corner transports those walking down the street to another place. It’s just as likely to see a Tucker Carlson look-alike parking a Volkswagen as it is to hear someone shouting “cullo” into a cell phone just up the block.

But that’s what loft dwellers like: the promise of excitement. The previously mentioned women screaming in Spanish might eventually accost a renter for some reason, making one’s monthly lodging costs for a space uneconomical to heat in any conventional manner during the winter worth while. And then there’d be cool story to tell about rubbing up against the lower classes.

It’s interesting to wonder, though, if you have enough money to live in this particular neighborhood, why would you? Oprah and her Harpo Studios being down the road certainly have nothing to do with it. That cultural icon finding the area a befitting place to plunk down her business, as horrific as it is to look at, says something about the shifting nature of the neighborhood. Maybe it’s already changed, explaining why the local Salvation Army displays some weighty price tags.