Daniel Kay Hertz on Urban Renewal and Gentrification in Chicago

 /  Oct. 2, 2018, 11:47 a.m.


Daniel Kay Hertz is a policy analyst and writer who currently works as the Research Director at the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. His writing, which primarily focuses on urban issues, has been featured in a variety of outlets, including The Atlantic, Chicago Sun-Times, and The Washington Post. Hertz sat down with The Gate to talk about his work involving gentrification and urban renewal in Chicago.

The Gate: Your work as a policy analyst and writer has primarily focused on urban issues in the context of Chicago, such as housing, transportation, and public finance. Why urban issues? Why Chicago?

Daniel Kay Hertz: I grew up in Chicago in Albany Park and Rodgers Park until I was fourteen. I attended Whitney Young [in the Near West Side], which as a magnet school had students from all over. This meant I was going around the city to visit my friends and going to their neighborhoods. That by itself was a radicalizing thing to do.

Then my family moved to an outlying neighborhood in Madison, Wisconsin, which had little public transit. In the beginning, it was that shock and thinking about how this sucked and why. That got my gears working on those systems and how they affect people’s lives.

Like a lot of people that are from here or move here, the city got under my skin. I love it and I hate it. Chicago is an insane place.

Gate: You have a book coming out in October, The Battle of Lincoln Park, about the gentrification and urban renewal process of the Old Town and Lincoln Park neighborhoods. Walk us through it.

DKH: The book opens in about 1927 with an Art Institute School drop-out looking to recreate the Parisian artist studios right on the edge of what we now call the Old Town Triangle. There was a desire by artists, people connected to the downtown through jobs, and the patrons in the Gold Coast to be close to the center of the city. Old Town was the next closest cheap neighborhood.

Over the course of the 1930s and 1940s, when home construction came to a halt, the best option for middle class individuals that wanted to live in the city was to buy an old home, like many of those in Lincoln Park and Old Town, and rehab it. This formed a community of rehabbers that started organizing to protect the privileges they would have had if they had moved to the suburbs: public services, clean streets, good education. This culminates in 1956 when they successfully demand that Lincoln Park become an urban renewal area through a federal program, which leads to the demolition of huge parts of the neighborhood that are considered undesirable. This lays the groundwork for the gentrified area to spread to the entire neighborhood.

Gate: In contrast to the downzoning and townhomes of Lincoln Park, the recently revealed Lincoln Yards project looks to develop massive new high-rises in the area. It has been described as Streeterville in Lincoln Park’s backyard. Is this a new phase of the gentrification and renewal or simply an anomaly?

DKH: It’s important to note that Lincoln Yards is an industrial area where no one is currently living. It is on the fringe of the neighborhood. I think that’s the only way the development is happening. There’s opportunity for similar high-rises elsewhere in the community; economically, it would work. Regulatory-wise, however, it won’t. It would get shut down immediately. It’s not unexpected that developers would look to formerly industrial yards near wealthy residential areas. It’s a pattern that has been seen before, but this is an area without great transit options and it’s not on the lake. It’s on the river, which hasn’t traditionally been a place for high density residential. In some ways, it’s following a pattern. In others, it could be breaking new grounds.

Gate: Hyde Park is also an interesting neighborhood when it comes to the conversation on urban renewal and gentrification. How does Hyde Park fit into that narrative you are exploring up in Lincoln Park?

DKH: All of gentrification in Chicago has come out of the seed of the Gold Coast and Old Town. It’s been people glomming onto that continuous zone of affluence. Hyde Park is the only other place where you could make an argument that there was a separate seed of influence and wealth, both from the residents and the University itself. In the last twenty years, there has been a slow growth of gentrification and renewal out from the core of Hyde Park: North and South Kenwood, Washington Park, Woodlawn, etc. The engine of gentrification on the North Side has been downtown jobs, downtown culture and amenities, and a network of upper-middle class people. The engine of gentrification on the South Side has been one powerhouse. Correspondingly, the scale then has been smaller. It’s coming to a point where people on the North Side are thinking about how their commute might not be worse, the housing is cheaper, and how it’s a less totally gentrified neighborhood if they move to the South Side and Hyde Park’s zone of influence.

Gate: Is then gentrification a “bad word”?

DKH: Where I’ve come down to over the course of writing the book is that we talk about it as if a neighborhood is worse to be gentrified or wallow in disinvestment. These two things are being thought of as opposites when in fact they are complements. Gentrification has been happening since the 1930s in Chicago at the same time as massive disinvestment. It’s still happening now on a massive scale. The fact they are happening at the same time is not an accident. The disinvestment is why people who moved around Old Town and Lincoln Park felt the necessity to put up the barricades and create an affluent zone. They set up a dynamic to heighten the inequalities, which creates a situation where people face a stark choice between increasingly disinvested neighborhoods and these other areas where people have put all of their wealth into the neighborhood. It’s a trap. The answer is that gentrification and disinvestment go hand in hand and we need to break it.

Gate: How do we break it?

DKH: If you are in a city, there’s the power to improve the day to day lives of people in the city, which is everything from making the buses run on time and fixing the potholes to providing decent parks and making sure there aren’t holes in school ceilings. The mayor can’t fix the forty-year trend of income inequality—that’s global—but what they can do a better job of is making sure people can take for granted basic quality of life and public services in every single neighborhood. If that were the case, I think it would go some way to taking the edge off the choice between disinvested areas and hyper-invested areas that people with economic power face when they move to Chicago.

Gate: Public housing can be seen as a battle of the dual NIMBYs—the wealthier, North Side neighborhoods that don’t want public housing in their area in fear it will affect the neighborhood composition and the disenfranchised neighborhoods that feel they have had to put up with more public housing than they ought to. Is public housing part of the equation to break gentrification and, if so, how does it fit in?

DKH: One way of fighting the exclusion of low-income and stigmatized people, particularly people of color, from North Side neighborhoods is public housing. There’re interventions that make it possible for low-income people and people who may be discriminated against to live in Lincoln Park or on the North Side. Not to force them to do it, just to give the ability. It also sends a message to the privileged people that move to those places that excluding low-income people is not an option.

Gate: Aldermen Beale and Burke, of the 9th and 14th wards respectively, are looking to have Chicago follow in NYC’s footsteps by capping rideshare vehicles. On one hand, supporters argue that congestion can be targeted and public transit ridership can be improved with these efforts. On the other, opposers have credited Uber and Lyft for providing the South and West Sides with alternative transportation options and a potential source of additional income. Should Chicago go through in limiting ride sharing services?

DKH: Ideally, there would be a public transit system that would serve people well enough that services like Uber and Lyft could fill in the gaps but wouldn’t pose a serious threat. In practice, that’s not where we are right now. There is public interest in regulating those services, particularly since they create more congestion and more air pollution. My preferred way of solving that problem is bus lanes where appropriate so the public option of transportation isn’t subject to the same congestion.

Another one is labor. Make Uber and Lyft subject to minimum wage laws. Treat the drivers like employees. That would go a long way to solving some of those problems. If Uber drivers had to make $15 an hour, how much of current Uber service would be viable? A lot of it would not be.  If the only way for the service to exist is to pay precarious sub-minimum wage compensation—and that’s with Silicon Valley subsidies—that just doesn’t seem like something we should put a lot of reliance on as a transportation solution. 

Claire Cappaert

Claire Cappaert is a 4th year from Des Moines, Iowa majoring in Public Policy and Russian & East European Studies. This is her third year as the interviews editor for The Gate. In her free time, she enjoys spending time at the lake, drinking coffee, and watching the Chicago Bears.


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