Neighborhoods are living, breathing things.
They change. Sometimes they change slowly and sometimes they change in a spurt.
Last night I felt my Logan Square neighborhood change in a spurt. And it felt good.
I’m not sure the tide of gentrification that has moved across Logan Square the last dozen years can be halted. If the history of Chicago is any predictor, probably not.
Many will tell you that that ship has sailed.
Hundreds of thousands of working class, mostly African Americans, have been pushed out of Chicago over the last 30 years. Logan Square, which in the 70s and 80s was predominantly Latinx and working class, has also seen a push-out of our neighbors that number over 20,000.
While the City and its corporate developers create walled cities within the city for the wealthy with public money – like the Lincoln Yards project – support for affordable housing receives pennies.
Thousands of units of public housing have been destroyed in the last decades
Yet when the announcement that our 35th Ward Alderman, Carlos Rosa, along with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Logan Square Preservation and Bickerdike, a 51-year old non-profit housing organization had worked to turn a city-owned parking lot in the heart of the neighborhood into a 100 unit, 100% affordable apartment building it aroused a huge amount of interest.
How much say would we have in how our community changes and in which direction?
The debate about the project has raged on social media for weeks. Many locals were just hearing about the project for the first time even though the idea first came to birth over five years ago with discussions between the former alderman and the Metropolitan Planning Council.
Over a hundred community organizations and businesses signed on in support of the project.
Some neighbors organized against it, calling themselves Logan Square Neighbors for Responsible Development.
As part of the process for Emmett Street to proceed, the Alderman did what he has done for other projects that require a zoning change. He called a community meeting to explain and answer questions and to assess community feed-back.
I left home early to get a parking space and a seat.
That was a good idea, as the four hundred chairs that were put out in Logandale Middle Schools multi-purpose room quickly filled 30 minutes before the scheduled start of the meeting and hundreds had to stand.
The guy sitting next to me had come from the 49th ward where they had just elected a new progressive alderman. He was sent to watch the process.
If there was any doubt about the sentiment of the those who filled the room, it quickly disappeared.
The need for affordable housing in this neighborhood and city are so pressing that it has become a central defining issue for the city’s future.
Mayor-elect Lightfoot has likely taken note. She lives just a few blocks from the proposed Emmett Street project.
The line of those who wanted to speak or ask a 90 second question was long.
The testimony of those who have lost neighbors or are threatened by the lack of affordable apartments was moving to hear. Even those who opposed the project had to frame their comments less aggressively than what had been posted on the Logan Square Community Facebook page.
Social media debates can turn ugly really fast.
Only one speaker faced a truly hostile reception. That was Mark Fishman, one of the largest landlords in Logan Square.
At the conclusion of the community meeting, of the comment cards submitted, 385 (77.5%) supported the development and 112 opposed.
That was the spurt: A neighborhood struggling to define itself as a place that understands neighborhoods change but which wants to control the direction of the change.
For me, the troubling part of all this is that the process to build this one project won’t see completion until 2022 or 2023.
It will take nearly a decade to finish the project since it was first conceived.
A ten year span from conception until 100 units are built and families can move in.
That doesn’t represent the reality of the affordable housing crisis or urgency to address it.
It can’t be solved in Logan Square by itself.