Venkata: This land was made for you and me

Gentrification pushes previous residents out of their neighborhoods. Let’s do our part to prevent that.

by Uma Venkata

I recently read a guest column in the Guardian from April 2017 called, “Confessions of a reluctant gentrifier,” about Rogers Park — the neighborhood in Chicago where I grew up. The article was a cool bit of introspection because of the racial topics it tackled that have been daily information for residents, but not necessarily for others outside cities.

Rogers Park’s claim to fame is its diversity. It is ranked by The Chicago Reader, time and again, as the most diverse neighborhood in the city. There’s a mix of all kinds of ethnic groups, including, for example, Rohingya Muslim refugees, Latin American immigrants (especially the Mexican community), the Somali community, the black community and the white community. Members of Rogers Park tend to have strong ties with Evanston, the suburb that borders Rogers Park, where Northwestern University is located. Those members tend to be white.

There’s no cut-and-dry solution for avoiding the ills of gentrification, something Rogers Park has certainly been experiencing for years now. There are now dog-grooming salons and a restaurant dedicated to macaroni and cheese. Property values are rising, and there are plenty of good effects from that. But the most clear negative consequence is that gentrification is pushing out the longtime residents. With more white people having moved in, the resident minority communities are under more scrutiny throughout their daily lives.

No one should be prevented from moving into new neighborhoods, just as no one should have to be forced to move out of their own neighborhood against their will. These two things are not mutually exclusive, but finding the balance is tricky. It requires a noticeable measure of human decency and empathy from those who are moving in. Rogers Park borders Lake Michigan, so you can imagine the residents of the blocks next to the lake are of a different racial and economic makeup than those a few blocks inland. 

As University of Minnesota students, we will eventually graduate and move off campus. For many of us, that will be to cities, including Minneapolis — or even Chicago. Our responsibility as new community members, with the economic power to affect and shift rent and cost of living, is to try to mitigate that effect as much as we can. We should support local business, certainly. But more importantly, we must allow our communities to remain in peace, not divided by a self-inflicted fear or paranoia of the racial and cultural other. When one racial group constantly and unnecessarily calls the police on the other, it only deepens divides, mistrust and hurt. When we move into a new neighborhood, or when we visit another, we shouldn’t perpetuate that habit. That’s being a good neighbor.