By Lynda Lopez
Growing up, I used to go to the Mega Mall on Milwaukee and Sacramento. For Latino families, it was the place to go in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Walking through its halls, you would see business upon business owned by Latino vendors, selling everything from clothing to jewelry. I remember looking excitedly at the toys and the many trinkets to be found. I don’t recall much of what I bought, but I remember the energy and bustle of the place that few places can replicate.
In the Mega Mall’s heyday, I would venture to say few developers viewed the location of the Mega Mall as “desirable.” I have never lived in the heart of Logan Square, but I lived close by and knew its reputation (which of course was riddled with racist undertones). In the 1990s, the neighborhood was not considered hip by any means. This context only makes its rise in popularity more striking. I don’t know the complexity of how this came to be, but the neighborhood is now seen as coveted. Developers are now vying for a zoning change to start new construction at the Mega Mall site, which is no surprise. “It’s minutes from the Logan Square and California blue line stops, on the bustling Milwaukee Avenue, etc.”
The Terraco development company and its partners have named their proposal for the site “Logan’s Crossing.” In looking through the renderings online, I saw nothing that remotely resembled the Mega Mall. I saw 5-7 story buildings with luxury studio apartments and stores. Though it’s unclear what storefronts would be on the first floor, they most certainly wouldn’t serve the demographic of the Mega Mall’s past.
This past Wednesday, Alderman Scott Waguespack held a community meeting about the proposed redevelopment. Many years have passed since the Mega Mall’s heyday and it couldn’t be clearer as I walked through its halls that night. I had seen the Mega Mall vendors slowly leave over the years, but now I hardly saw a trace of the hustle and bustle of the place. Save for a lone jewelry vendor, I didn’t see any other businesses (I later found out the jeweler is one of three tenants left inside the mall). Seeing the all but vacant Mega Mall finally drove home the fact that the place I once knew is gone. It’s less a loss for all the things I can no longer buy but for the space that no longer exists for a demographic that every day seems to have less of a place in Logan Square.
The Latino population in Logan Square fell by more than 10,000 in a decade, from 53,833 in 2000 to 43,395 in 2009. Non-inclusive development in Logan Square is only perpetuating their displacement. At the public meeting, there was no shortage of people that shared this sentiment. People called for the site to be accessible to low and moderate-income families in the form of affordable apartment units and commercial space. Others denounced the developers for wanting to “gentrify” the community and “turn it into Lakeview.” The developers didn’t help their cause, seemingly having two Freudian slips when one called Logan Square Lincoln Park and the street Linden Lincoln. It was no surprise when the developers said they lived in Lakeview and Evanston, as it’s clear what image they have for the neighborhood.
The developers, like everyone else at the meeting, came with an image of the neighborhood’s future in mind and how this redevelopment fits into that vision. Despite the many comments in support of affordable housing, there were obvious voices not part of the conversation. Most people that spoke didn’t seem to be facing displacement, though many had good points to add. This only continues to indicate that perhaps the people that need to be at the table aren’t the ones at these meetings or aren’t speaking up. Having old Latino patrons of the Mega Mall discuss what they would like to see in this new redevelopment would have helped bridge the old with the new, especially when the the developers often seemed to want to diminish the Mega Mall’s past. Hearing comments from low to moderate-income families would have added more depth to a conversation that eventually seemed more focused on aesthetics and logistics than inclusion. Those that care about affordable housing and have the resources to mobilize people should prioritize centering the voices of those most impacted, particularly Latino residents.
New development can replace the old, but the history and stories of places and communities will always remain. If we don’t lift up those stories, what message do we send about whose voices are most important?