In the midst of gentrification, what is our vision for community?

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A “neighbors against displacement” sign in a Humboldt Park home.

By Lynda Lopez

It isn’t easy to have a conversation about development in a gentrifying neighborhood. Many of the new amenities and buildings that come into gentrifying communities are often seen as non-inclusive and perpetuating the idea that white culture is more valuable. With these perceptions in mind, new development is often viewed with suspicion and disdain, often with good reason.

Luxury towers on Milwaukee Avenue aren’t representative of social justice, accessible only to those that can pay exorbitant rents. Streets upon streets of bars and up-scale liquor stores don’t cater to the working families of our communities. Art galleries (though complicated aspects of gentrifying communities) can often play a role in making an area more “attractive” for development.

For those of us against the gentrification of our communities, we are very clear about what we don’t want. We don’t welcome those aspects that send the message that certain people are more deserving to inhabit our communities. In that same vein, what we don’t want is very much intermingled with what we do want.

We all have visions for what we want our communities to look like. We fight against gentrification because it clashes with our ideals for what a vibrant, inclusive community looks like. We may not always articulate what that vision is because we get caught up in being on the offensive, as the relentless tide of gentrification keeps us occupied. But we don’t have to reimagine alone. Campaigns across the city are creating frameworks for what healthy communities can look like. Whether it is Fight for 15 or Black Lives Matter or the fight against charter expansion, we are in the midst of reimagining and recreating our communities for the better. A non-gentrified healthy community looks like: living wage jobs, strong public neighborhood schools, green space, no shortage of affordable housing, community centers, democratic decision-making, and integration that doesn’t marginalize working people & people of color. I can go on and on.

There is so much more to unravel about our visions for community, but we all innately know what those visions are.

When we get angry at a new luxury development, our anger is triggered because of this fear of loss. Maybe we fear not seeing the elotero anymore or enjoying el pan en la panadería. Maybe we fear not seeing any aspects of our culture in the streets of our neighborhoods, and ultimately feeling like outsiders.

We fear the loss of home.

We need to tap into our emotions and acknowledge that fear. It’s what we fear losing that is worth protecting. It’s what we fear never being able to build that is worth envisioning. It’s those people we want to continue to see that are worth fighting for.