Daniel Kay Hertz is a Chicago native and an author of “Battle of Lincoln Park: Urban Renewal and Gentrification in Chicago”. In his book, he talks about how Lincoln Park became an affluent neighborhood from buildings falling apart in the 1950s. He predicts that same will happen to Pilsen, Logan Square, and Humbolt Park, if the rehabbers and the builders keep spread on to the next “it” neighborhood. Lincoln Park does serves an ideal location for many with the gorgeous view of the lake, accessible public transportation, and variety of restaurants and entertainments within walking distance. As a real estate agent and a resident of Lincoln Park, I find this article and Hertz’s book raw and impressed by the take on gentrification.
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At a time when gentrification and displacement of residents are hot-button issues in Pilsen, Humboldt Park and other neighborhoods, a writer is taking a deep dive into the granddaddy of Chicago gentrification battles: the transformation of Lincoln Park in the mid-20th century. Once a working-class area and now among the city’s most affluent, Lincoln Park is “the neighborhood a lot of people say they fear their neighborhood becoming in the next 15 years,” said Daniel Kay Hertz, a 30-year-old Chicago native who grew up in Albany Park and Evanston. Their notion of Lincoln Park, he said, is a neighborhood populated almost entirely by affluent people, and regardless of whether that’s accurate, “it’s not what the first idealistic rehabbers thought they were going to create.” Like many of the activists in today’s gentrifying areas, the rehabbers who bought into decaying Lincoln Park in the 1950s and 1960s believed the future of the neighborhood lay in both retaining existing residents and attracting new ones, said Hertz, who’s in the midst of reading newspapers and other archived materials from the era while writing his book, “The Battle of Lincoln Park: Urban Renewal and Gentrification in Chicago,” to be published in October by Cleveland-based Belt Publishing.
Harvard-educated Hertz, who lives in the Edgewater neighborhood, is a senior policy analyst at the Center for Tax & Budget Accountability, based in Chicago. He is writing the book independently, not under the center’s auspices. “When you read what they were saying,” Hertz said, “there was this genuine commitment to what we could call inclusion.” But as throngs of middle-class people joined the trend and property values climbed, “there’s this realization that having the middle-class accoutrements they wanted was not compatible with the social and economic diversity they wanted.” The detailed chronology will all be in the book, he said, but it boils down to the preference for middle-class accoutrements winning.
“Since the start, rehabbers had been saying, ‘It’s important to us that Lincoln Park be a place where all people can live,’ ” Hertz said. But in the latter days of the 1960s, the tone changes to “There are other places in the city where poor people can live.” Those conflicting attitudes echo today in the gentrification struggles going on around the 606 trail and in Pilsen, and on the question of whether Chicago should consider adopting rent control, Hertz said.
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The conflict is sharper now because of the sheer numbers. When Lincoln Park was gentrifying, the siren song of the suburbs was at its strongest, which meant only small numbers of young affluent families were buying homes in the city, while today living in the city appeals to a far larger number of people who can afford to choose where they live. The “zone of affluence,” as Hertz describes it, once had Clark Street as its western edge and now reaches about 4 miles farther west, to Kedzie Avenue. One result: There’s not as much space for lower-income people to shift into. At least two veterans of the “battle of Lincoln Park” agree with Hertz’s reading of the historical record. “We were just young people looking for places in the city that we could afford,” said Larry Booth. “There was no thought of pushing these other guys out. There wasn’t a lot of snobbishness.” Booth, now an eminent Chicago architect who’s head of Chicago firm Booth Hansen, in 1967 was a struggling young professional who didn’t want to live in the suburbs. (He grew up in La Grange.) With his wife, Pat, Booth bought a dilapidated rooming house on Fullerton for $29,000 in 1967. After pulling out 13 sinks, they owned the home for about 30 years while raising their four children.
“I don’t buy the mindset that we ought to feel guilty about coming into the neighborhood,” Booth said. “The buildings were falling down, the windows were rattling, and the heating systems were half-baked old radiators.”
When Ruthie Alan was born in 1970, her architect father, Howard, was already rehabbing buildings in the area of Lincoln Park west of Halsted, a rough-edged area at the time. She grew up in the neighborhood and is now an interior designer.” My parents’ generation had the altruistic spirit of the times they were living in,” Alan said. “They were happy to reach out and be part of a diverse community. It was the era of the civil rights movement, and they brought those values to the table.” Her father designed affordable housing in the neighborhood for the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican group, and “was friends with the Black Panthers.”
By the mid-1980s, she said, “let’s face it: People were cashing in.” The aim in writing “The Battle of Lincoln Park,” Hertz said, is not necessarily to declare who won and lost, but to document what happened. If today’s readers are people involved in the Battle of Pilsen or the Battle of the 606, he said, they might discover that many of “those idealistic rehabbers who came to Lincoln Park ended up disappointed.” Albeit with more money.
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