A brief, cogent analysis of gentrification in Chicago.
As a journalist on urban issues with a Harvard degree in government and a master’s in public policy from the University of Chicago, Hertz clearly knows this territory, and he ably translates matters of public policy into laymen’s terms. He shows how Chicago—and, by extension, other cities—experienced profound transformation before the “white flight” to suburbia in the 1950s and ’60s and how zoning, redlining, and other actions affected what areas were developed. In a city of segregated neighborhoods, the author clearly demonstrates that race has always been an issue, even in neighborhoods as proud of their liberal progressivism as Lincoln Park. Even Chicagoans will be surprised to learn that, in the immediate aftermath of World War II, Lincoln Park “ranked sixtieth out of the city’s seventy-five neighborhoods” in terms of residents’ incomes. There was of “slum clearance,” as those who could afford it moved to suburbia. Yet “at the same time, a small but growing movement of white professionals viewed Lincoln Park as a gem waiting to be polished and reclaimed.” That set the stage for the titular battle, as rehabbers and urban-renewal investors transformed what had once been an area of beaten-down apartment buildings into single-family dwellings that lowered the population density of the neighborhood, and its diversity as well, while attracting higher-income residents. The proximity to downtown, the Gold Coast and the lake, as well as the neighborhood’s namesake park established it as an inviting alternative to suburban life. It also pitted the rehabbers and newcomers against those who had lived there longer and felt they had more authority and legitimacy. By the 1970s, the battle had shifted in tone, with the more militant Young Lords at odds with those they considered carpetbaggers. And what happened in Lincoln Park has subsequently been transforming adjacent neighborhoods in every direction.
A little more storytelling and reporting might have made this an even more compelling narrative, but this is an incisive and useful narrative on the puzzle of urban development.