Chicago-based writer Daniel Kay Hertz finds that reactions to gentrification, and its effects, have remained the same for over a century:
I’ve been struck by the Groundhog Day quality of thinking on these changes. Decade after decade, observers alternately wonder at the latest clique of young, middle-class white people to have chosen to live in a less privileged urban neighborhood, and then predict that clique’s imminent demise, a return to the “natural” order of things.
As early as the 1920s, the sociologist Harvey Zorbaugh quoted people who swore that time was up for the residents of Tower Town, Chicago’s bohemian answer to New York City’s Greenwich Village, as young artists abandoned it. (Many of those who left just settled a short walk up the lakefront in what we now call Old Town.) Zorbaugh himself was convinced that the Gold Coast, the last inner city stronghold of Chicago’s upper class, had barely ten years left before the rich realized they would have fewer headaches farther from the chaos of the downtown Loop. (A century later, the Gold Coast is still, well, Gold.)
Often, even the gentrifiers themselves don’t quite believe that what they’ve created can last. Into the 1970s—when parts of Lincoln Park had already become wealthier than many white-collar suburbs—a Lincoln Park neighborhood association director fretted that one wrong development might push the area towards a “ghetto.”
Why have we found it so hard to believe that a generations-old trend of growing affluence at the core of a major city could be durable? And why has it proven so durable?
Hertz provides some pretty compelling and well-researched answers.