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RANT: My Chicago Neighborhood Sucks, Where Should I Move?

Blog post by Mason Johnson

Walking down Milwaukee Avenue on a Saturday night a few months back, a thought popped into my mind as I dodged drunks and cringed every time I saw a new bar:

"When did this place start to suck?"

Some backstory: I was born in Logan Square. For the purposes of this rant, imagine someone spilled an Old Style into the gutter, watery beer mixing with street dregs, spitting and sputtering, spewing forth a baby that would one day grow up to be the man standing before you.

When I imagine Chicago, it's not the Loop or the Sears Tower that pop into my mind. It's red-bricked two-flats and riding the Diversey bus to the store with my grandmother. It's the old diner my mom used to work at, the one where my cousin Alex once stabbed me in the head with a fork (good memories!), which is now a 7-Eleven on the corner of Milwaukee and Fullerton.

When I was eight, we left Logan Square for the suburbs. In my 20s, I returned and noticed a striking change...

…. There were A LOT more white people.

Now, as you may or may not know, I am a white people. (And an average one at that, I do not claim superiority.) The Logan Square I remember from my childhood had predominantly been brown. While there's still a strong population of Mexican and Puerto Rican families in Logan (during the 2010 census, half the neighborhood identified as Hispanic, which is less than the 65% in 2000), the demographic, especially along much of Milwaukee Avenue and the Square itself, has shifted.

But my problem with the neighborhood isn't the demographic. I don't even have a problem with the drunks, to be honest (that'd be hypocritical). In fact, I'm not certain what my problem is.

Which leads me to believe that maybe I'm the problem? Maybe it's unfair of me to hold Logan Square to the standards of a child's inaccurate memories? Maybe there's nothing wrong at all...

Then again, they tried to put a Trader Joe's in the neighborhood, so CLEARLY there's something wrong.

Mason Johnson

Playing devil's advocate, my girlfriend Hillary (who may have been paid off by developers) asked, "What's so wrong with building a decent supermarket in the neighborhood?"

Instead of trying to defend Sunrise Market or Tony's, I answered her question by grunting for six minutes straight before finally yelling, "DAMN THE MAN."

After some soul searching, I realized it's not the supermarket idea I have a problem with either. In fact, I like Trader Joe's! They have gummy penguins with juice in their tummies.

They're really good.

(BTW, Trader Joe's said they will NOT be adding a store to the neighborhood anytime soon.)

It wasn't until I saw a proposal from Terraco Real Estate Development & Management that my frustration with Logan Square began to make sense.

I don't know if you heard, Terraco Inc. wants to turn Discount Megamall into some sort of space-agey shopping center called "Logan's Crossing."

"Save that crap for Lincoln Park or Lakeview," I thought to myself.

And it's that thought that made me realize where my hate was comin' from.

Lincoln Park, Lakeview, the Near North Side -- these locales used to have people. Real people. People who don't consider frozen yogurt a food group.

So what happened?

Over the span of decades, many of these North Side neighborhoods were subjected to the dreams of politicians -- from aldermen straight on up to the mayor -- and, eventually, developers.

While each of these neighborhoods have developed in their own unique ways, the selfish dreams they've been put through often share some of the following symptoms…

If a neighborhood shows even a small amount of promise, local politicians will let rents rise without lifting a finger. As rent prices get heftier, they'll do everything they can to stop the number of residences in the neighborhood from going up, because that could – God forbid – stop the rise.

Similarly, longtime businesses that don't fit into the future plans for the neighborhood will find themselves lacking support from the local government, which might mean aldermen doing everything they can to prevent these businesses from obtaining/updating licenses and permits.

Public housing? Mental health facilities? There's no room for those in a neighborhood on the up and up!

Only after the rent has risen significantly, businesses have been pushed out, and resources for low income individuals have been obliterated are the floodgates allowed to be opened, enticing developers to rush in with gastropubs, high-end apartments and luxury grocery stores.

So it's not that I don't like Trader Joe's, or whatever the heck they're going to put where Megamall is (which, let's be honest, is -- at its best -- a hack pseudo-flea market, but it's our hack pseudo-flea market). It's the fact that you had to boot half the locals and businesses to get that luxury grocery store in the first place.

And anyone who says this process is "natural" for a neighborhood is either lying to your face or too lazy to genuinely care. While I'm essentially nitpicking about the superficial effects this process has on me as a Logan Square resident, this process is a much harsher reality for others, especially the teens who find themselves pushed out of the neighborhood.

And it doesn't even serve the interest of Chicago as a whole!

As some neighborhoods are carefully groomed, others become neglected. Is it any wonder that allowing rent prices to rise unchecked in some North Side neighborhoods has coincided with floundering neighborhoods on the South and West Sides? Is it any wonder that as violence has gone down on the North Side, it's worse in some South and West Side neighborhoods?

So maybe this is why my chest tightens with irrational anger when I see plans for a new bar going into a space that used to offer mental health services to low-income Chicagoans.

OR, maybe I'm just a grumpy elitist who doesn't want his rent to go up.

Whatever I am, I don't want Discount Megamall to turn into a Super-Apple-Store-Whole-Foods. And since every real estate developer gets to throw their hat in the Logan Square ring, I feel I get to offer up my proposal for Megamall.

Picture this: Medieval Times. With a moat surrounding it. Filled with real sharks.

No, that's probably not any ethically better than a luxury grocery store, but if we're going to continue to screw over the locals, we might as well shoot for the moon, y'know?

Either that, or we recognize that the distribution of power in Chicago is uneven. We have to stop relying on the boundaries that separate Chicago into neighborhoods and start trying to prosper as one whole.

Which, let's face it, sounds a heck of a lot less likely than developers building a Medieval Times with a shark-filled moat in the middle of the Northwest Side, but a guy can dream, can't he?

Mason Johnson is a Web Content Producer for CBS Chicago. You can find him on Twitter.

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