|If you have to ask, you can't afford it|
Those who cower in the face of gentrification have long been pointing their collective fingers at the cost of rent, which has been rising in certain parts of Chicago that are popular with the young millenials. The kids aren't all out of work, despite the stories you might have heard. Sure there are plenty who come out of college with a degree in psychology and no marketable skills, destined to live in the parental home for all eternity.
For others, however, it is a different story. There are a lot of 20-somethings who went into finance, medicine, accounting or law and managed to land decent-paying jobs. Maybe it was Mom or Dad who pulled some strings to get that job, but at any rate the kids are working and they have money to spend.
They spend it on rent, so they can live in vibrant neighborhoods like Wicker Park or Pilsen, filled with good restaurants and bars that craft exotic cocktails (or throwbacks to the Mad Men era). Music venues abound, there is plenty to do, and the working professionals enjoy their youth in apartments that were once housing the urban poor until someone rehabbed the place and raised the rent beyond the reach of the average manual laborer.
What could be worse, then, for those who have not and feel that they are losing what little they have?
The young millenials don't want to own cars because cars cost too much to keep, especially in Chicago where fees are high and gasoline is even higher.
That being the case, they have to live near transportation, and that transportation has to take them into the Loop where they work in tall office towers.
Put it all together, and the have nots are losing access to cheap transportation, which they also need to get to work, because those with financial means are pricing them out of the convenience.
Them that's got shall get to work with a minimum of fuss, hopping on an 'L' car that is close to home. No need to transfer to multiple buses, which they don't want to do. The train system is close at hand for those who can pay the cost of living near the tracks.
Them that's not are losing out. Landlords can command higher rent, so they take it. Considering the rising cost of property taxes in Chicago, to say nothing of the nickel-and-diming that empties a pocket with remarkable speed, the folks who own properties are cashing in while they can, before the next round of tax increases takes a bite.
When you're not making much money, you either move or pay up until it hurts so much that you move. And when you move, you find that the places you can afford are farther away from convenient transportation. You have to take the bus, and if it means taking several to get to the 'L' stop or the factory where you toil, you're the one getting up hours earlier to manage a longer commute.
Transit-oriented development, as they call it, is cashing in on the phenomenon. Young millenials want what the developer is offering, and the developer can build to suit and get his investment back because the young millenials will pay the price. The poor can't, and so there is no incentive to put up a swanky new tower next to the 'L' stop. The money just isn't in it unless people with money buy in.
What's an anti-gentrification activist to do?
Talk and complain, sure, and demand that aldermen do something to stop the onslaught, but money talks louder. The developers are the ones paying the cost of aldermanic election expenses, after all, and the poor guy who votes for the alderman doesn't have much pull. What's one vote, when there's money to be had?