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Uptown in the News  

May 14, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
5 pockets stand out in city makeover
By Mark J. Konkol and Art Golab, Staff Reporters

Five years after the U.S. Census, many communities have markedly transformed. In general, the Hispanic population has grown in Chicago, the white population has decreased and the Black population has remained the same. Uptown has bucked this trend.

Uptown was a “really hairy neighborhood” when Carolyn Choi moved there from Alabama in the 1970s.

It was shocking for a country girl to come to Chicago, “stepping over (passed-out people), seeing people fighting, drinking in public”, she said.

The north lakefront community was a point of entry for poor southern whites and immigrants from around the world. Diverse clusters of folks, speaking more than 40 languages, live there.

For those down on their luck, there are substance-abuse treatment centers.

For the poor, there’s affordable housing – shelters and single-room-occupancy buildings.

For the working poor, there are 6,000 subsidized housing units, amounting to about 18 percent of the housing stock.

But this holdout of diversity along the lakefront is starting to go yuppie, feeling the pressure of gentrification from neighborhoods on all sides.

Rampant development and residents eager for the housing prosperity of neighboring Lake View, Andersonville and Edgewater are slowly pushing low-income residents out.

Apartments are getting scarcer and rents have caught up to those in Edgewater and Lake View, where a decent one-bedroom place costs about $900.

In the last five years, the white population jumped nearly 10 percent, while the number of blacks decreased nearly 12 percent, data show.

Median condo prices have surged 69 percent to $251,000 – more expensive than condos in Edgewater to the north. And the average median income in Uptown jumped 15.6 percent between 2000 and 2003, according to market research and census data.

“The developers are trying to get the lower-income class out of the Uptown neighborhood, so we have to choose to run to where we can afford to live,” said Wendy Cameron, an immigrant from Guyana.

Ald. Helen Schiller (46th) has long fought against gentrification in her ward, pushing to improve city services for people without clout. And because of her work, the wealthy now find Uptown desirable.

“All of a sudden as the neighborhood became more and more ripe for development because of those services, their ability to stay has been threatened,” Schiller said. “I think development is something that should be done. The challenge is to do development without displacement.”

Starbucks, Borders and a fancy sushi joint spruced up the once-downtrodden corner of Broadway and Lawrence near music scene hot spots – the Riviera, Aragon Ballroom and the beloved Green Mill jazz club – and the rumble of Red Line trains.

Schiller also argues that Uptown is an oasis of diversity in a city that’s becoming more and more homogenized.

“If you want to live in an area that is diverse, there ought to be one that you can go to and feel a part of, and that’s what Uptown always was, so why change it when there’s no alternative?”

Still some neighbors are ready for the kind of change that has brought prosperity and retail conveniences to other north lakefront neighborhoods.

Choi, who married a Korean American and lives on Dover Street, one of the rare blocks of single-family homes, said she couldn’t afford to buy her house now.

But she opposed efforts to increase low-income housing. It seems to her that over the years the city has allowed more subsidized housing in Uptown than any other lakefront North Side neighborhood.

They’ve tried to dump everything on us,” she said.

“We’re all for diversity in this neighborhood, and we have it. We don’t need more.”

To view the entire article for a fee, please visit the Chicago Sun-Times website at www.chicagotribune.com.

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