The former patchwork quilt that is Chicago is dissolving; the homogeneity of the gentrification is ripping at the metaphorical seams of what makes Chicago, Chicago. A virtual Catch 22 has settled in on the beloved City of Neighborhoods, gentrification set in place to “better” a community replaces the dilapidated, character rich establishments that once gave a given community its individuality. People on each side of the argument compete in a constant tug-o-war. The diverse institutions that once lined Chicago’s thoroughfares are pushed out by people looking forward to the comfort they find in chain restaurants where the food is always the same in a mass-produced, plastic sort of way. Areas that once stood proud of their individuality and uniqueness now stand ambiguously next to the bordering neighborhood.
Hole in the wall restaurants and smoke filled gin mills are quickly forgotten as their walls are torn down and replaced by corporate chains, their memories die with the generations that grew up patronizing them. This homogeneity irks me, and leaves me constantly questioning, where has our character gone. Has American society lost its ambition to endeavor into new businesses or has corporate America taken a chokehold on its smaller adversaries, making it virtually impossible to compete in today’s economy. Those who do hang on and attempt to ride out the shit storm give inspiration and hope that the future may not become a sea of plastic realities created by some master designer at Buffalo Wings n Rings® Corporate Headquarters.
All this may seem like senseless rambling, but someone must be held accountable for their desecration of neighborhood uniqueness, but who. One person cannot be held responsible for the filth that is McDonald’s® One thing can be held responsibly though, gentrification. Gentrification, individuality’s antonym, can simply be defined as a euphemism for ethnic cleansing. To the average American person the sight of a soon to be Starbucks® is a welcome sign, a light at the end of the tunnel, a sign that things are getting better. This is the tipping point where things go wrong. This is the point in time where neighborhood institutions established on the backs of immigrant families lose their clientele as their patrons turn a blind eye to their usual haunts, in search of something new. This is the point where respectable institutions such as Impalaria’s Bakery on 30th and Wallace slows down because Dunkin Donuts decided it would be a great idea to open on every corner of the neighborhood.
To those who still hang on, preserving what makes their communities unique, I tip my hat to you.