Friday, July 11, 2008

Old Neighborhoods

"But Pilsen, on the city's near south-west side, may be the neighborhood most closely connected with Latin Chicago..It remains 90% Latino...But apartments in the area are being fixed up, and higher rents are squeezing out some residents.."

Jeff Bailey, "Finding the Beat of the City's Latino Quarter," New York Times, June 29, 2008

It's good and bad that things don't change in neighborhoods. When I cut my teeth in community development in Chicago in the 1970s, (See: Nonprofit Leadership)Pilsen seemed under attack from white artists, activists, developers, historic preservationists, mobsters, and big downtown business interests. Incursions were made, territory lost, like east Pilsen, but the southside location of tenements guarded by a railroad viaduct, the Chicago River, and Maxwell Street protected Pilsen like a medieval moat. These protective factors have been breeched to some degree, but the sheer size and dynamics of the Latino community have prevented wholesale turnover.

Earlier this week I was walking around a Baltimore neighborhood east of Johns Hopkins Medical complex that I did some work in for a local CDC in the late 1980s. Frankly, the neighborhood looked worse than I remember -- more abandoned buildings,foreclosures, and more defunct projects of DC speculators. There is nothing wierder than a street full of Baltimore or Philly rowhomes in disarray. A non-profit developer has gone belly up, and hundreds of affordable housing units in an old HUD complex were torn down at the height of the housing boom. I experienced the same strange, depressing view from decades ago as I saw towering buildings and new construction of the medieval Hopkins fortress over the rooftops and through the empty windows of the ragged, abandoned buildings a few blocks away.

What's the old straw about uneven development? Strong markets and weak markets? Disinvestment and overinvestment? Some things don't change.

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