Philanthropy in the 'hoods

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Chicago's largest philanthropic organization, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, announced it will invest $26 million in 16 low-income neighborhoods — Auburn Gresham; Chicago Lawn; the quad communities of Douglas, North Kenwood-Oakland and Grand Boulevard; East Garfield; Englewood; Humboldt Park; Little Village; Logan Square; North Lawndale; Pilsen; South Chicago; Washington Park; West Haven and Woodlawn. — over the next five years.
It's great news for neighborhoods that need help.

City Hall scribe Fran Spielman writes, "New Communities Program was tailor-made to revive downtrodden communities, give a shot in the arm to those on the edge and prevent gentrification from destroying the diversity of other neighborhoods."


The cynic in me wonders why these communities were selected. And how the money will be used to "prevent gentrification from destroying diversity" when the real estate market is already rolling in that direction thanks to speculators, a growing influx of high-priced condos and skyrocketing property taxes that follow.

Consider this:
Logan Square -- Gentrifying.
Kenwood-Oakland -- Gentrifying with an exploding real estate market.
Humboldt Park -- Gentrifying.
Pilsen -- Gentrifying (on the east side).
Washington Park and Woodlawn -- Could host Olympics, (residents fear gentrification.)
North Lawndale, West Haven -- A prime location for gentrification as development shifts westward from the West Loop.

Of course, the McArthur Foundation's heart and pocketbook is in the right place. I don't mean to criticize too much. Five years from now, I hope my cynical view is completely off base.
I guess I just wish there was more money to help build-up downtrodden Chicago neighborhoods that are plagued by gangs and drugs and lacking commercial development, but aren't on the gentrification track. They're worth saving, too.

What do you think?

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4 Comments

You just want to see some money flowing into your Pullman neighborhood. But, rightly so, that neighborhood deserves it. You're also right about questioning some of those 'hood selections. Some of the neighborhoods, like Englewood and Lawndale, are no-brainers. Pullman and Roseland on the Far South Side certainly need some investment infusions. I know the Foundation can't fund all struggling neighborhoods, but like you said much of Logan Square, Humboldt Park, and Kenwood already have been redeveloped and have been gentrified to some degree.

Maybe the cynic in you should tell the reporter in you to do a little reading and research on why the neighborhoods were selected, and ask a few questions.

This was a cheap shot at a valuable program that's trying to save the neighborhoods that have the best shot at being saved. Your mushy ending doesn't change that.

Konkol reply: Or maybe the cheerleader in you should should be a bit more cynical and consider that maybe you don't know what it's like to live in a neighborhood that doesn't have the "best shot at being saved."

Konky,

You are right on my brother, kind of. Pilsen is actually gentrifying throughout though, if you use Western Ave as the border. There are lots of things going on there.

East Garfield Park didn't make your list, but you can lump that one in with North Lawndale. They are getting development, though the prices are still awfully low. The question is, if asked in response to Costner's kid in Field of Dreams "If you build it, he will come," to which the response is "who exactly is coming?" You can build new homes all over and people say "hot damn, this place done up an' gentrify." But it's not if the critical mass isn't coming.

The east parts of Humboldt and Logan Square are gentrified. About the only thing that will stay from gentrifying are the Bickerdike homes, which, in a purist's sense, are gentrification in and of themselves because they were built in the last 5-15 years. I will say nothing of the criminals that live in a lot of those places though.

If the Olympics do come, then yes, Woodlawn and Washington Park will be gentrified, if only for the few years leading up to the opening ceremonies, and slightly beyond. Then, it all gets turned on it's ear.

The question about gentrification is this: what is it? Is it merely the perception that because some whites come in and live there, the neighborhood is on the cusp of gentrification? People use the term way too much. I like to refer to my white brethren who moved into the neighborhood of my youth as gentrifiers because the place is nicer than its ever been. Of course, I am joking when I say this - I am making fun of the people who feel just because things get better, they're being gentrified.

Taters is right on. There are many neighborhoods on the southside that need an infusion of money, and that is where the shame in the MacArthur Foundation is wrong in giving any of these grants. If someone were from, say, Beverly or Mt. Greenwood, and they wanted the money to protect the identity of a neighborhood, that would be pretty racist. Yet why is it that when people of Latino or Hispanic descent in neighborhoods like Pilsen, Woodlawn or Humboldt say they aren't going to be displaced (and organize campaigns around keeping whitey out), they hide behind the veil of victimization, as if whitey is trying to get them up and out?

It's ridiculous in a free market. The MacArthur Foundation is out of touch with the reality of a lot of things. Things that don't touch their North Shore homes. Sometimes, things just change and to them, I say to hell with you for misdirecting funds and not focusing more on two things: using your money for building better parents, which will then build better schools. Until that happens, we will never live down our segregated schools and racist past, and that, I'm afraid, is the reason we have so many fingers pointed at each other from both sides.

With something like this there will always be conflicting points of view, and to the MacArthur Foundation's defense, it seems like they are at least sincere in their efforts to invest and stabilize the selected neighborhoods. The one thing I would like to find out is does the MacArthur Foundation or any of its members have a personal stake in the companies that will be performing the for-profit development of these chosen neighborhoods? Because it all could be just smoke and mirrors. Yes, the chosen 'hoods would get needed cash/development infusions, but if the donated money is going back to those who donated the money, then does that really do anyone in the neighborhood any good? I guess it would still promote economic development, i.e., jobs and a more stable local economy. But on the other hand, is it just a slick PR move that still lines the pockets of the already wealthy who don't even live in the 'hood?

Woodlawn Chuck raises a good point, too, in asking "what exactly is gentrification?" Me being caucasian, for most of my adult life I've always felt that mostly it really is a word to describe "infiltration" of white people, and hence a racist term or at least a term with racist connotations. It makes me wonder if the average resident of Kenwood/Oakland feel that their neighborhood is gentrified. I mean, I haven't seen many whites move into that neighborhood, mostly affluent blacks. But is it not gentrication if it's not white people who are moving in and changing the local environment? And what about Woodlawn? I know the U of C is developing like crazy, as are private developers, in that area, and, yes, I have seen whites & Asians move into the north part of Woodlawn (near campus). Is that gentrification? I don't know. And it seems there are pockets of "white" neighborhoods in Chicago that get the shaft--Canaryville comes to mind, although I guess technically it's not considered a neighborhood, or at least not a large one. How big of an uproar would there be if a neighborhood like Canaryville received some of that MacArthur money? Does everyone just assume that these "white" neighborhoods, just by their very nature of being inhabited by whites, don't need economic help?

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Mark Konkol

Mark Konkol covers city neighborhoods for the Chicago Sun-Times. You can e-mail him or call (312) 321-2146.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Konkol published on May 23, 2007 9:26 AM.

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