The following story originally appeared in EXTRA News, a bi-lingual community newspaper in Chicago, IL, on Jan 22, 2015.
While trendy neighborhoods like Logan Square continue to attract growing numbers of twenty-somethings in search of cheap rent and bustling nightlife, Chicago’s quiet Polish Village hopes to maintain its historic working-class roots as new businesses and homeowners start to settle in the area.
“The neighborhood has a good balance of affordability and public transportation,” says Emily Taylor, head of the Avondale Neighborhood Association. “That’s something that we’ve been trying to highlight, the good points the neighborhood has, because it’s like the neighborhood’s been ignored over the past 10 or 15 years.”
As one of the few neighborhoods in Chicago that contains not only residential zoning, but commercial and industrial as well, some developers are viewing the area along the Chicago River’s North branch as something more than just a manufacturing space.
“A lot of those buildings…bow truss type buildings…a lot of them were in foreclosure,” says Dana Fritz, chief of staff for 33rd Ward Alderman Deb Mell. “Now with the economic turnaround, now we’re seeing those properties get purchased and people putting money into them. There are already some established businesses in that corridor. It’s very exciting because you have the river there and you can do a lot of stuff on the river. It’s a physically attractive place. They can bring people in for tours and utilize that river bank as sort of an event space. So not only do you have jobs there from the businesses on the manufacturing side, but you also have a tourism component too. So those businesses are drawing people in, seeing how those products are made, and as an added benefit, they can hang out in the neighborhood.”
Some residents have already noticed a shift in the neighborhood. Dave Roberts, who owns Late Bar on West Belmont, sees population shift as positive and unavoidable due to the neighborhood’s proximity to Logan Square.
“The neighborhood’s changed a lot already, but it’s going to change even more, and change is good.” says Roberts with confidence. “Some people complain about the whole “gentrification” thing, but other cities would kill for that. I worry about where people who live here are going to go, but still, it’s inevitable.”
Alderman Rey Colon, whose 35th Ward cuts through a large portion of Avondale, agrees, but feels the change will be gradual. “Avondale has a lot of single and two-flats; it’s more family-oriented, mostly working class folks. I don’t see that changing at the same pace as Logan…there’s not this momentum or “gentrification,” if you will. I think a part of it is that people are just not familiar with Avondale. Like when you get at Logan Square on the Blue Line, you’re getting off at, “Logan Square.” There’s no Avondale stop; there’s Belmont and Kimball.”
For now, however, Taylor and the neighborhood association are hoping to highlight some existing businesses in the neighborhood. “There’s kind of an eclectic business community; there’s a beekeeping supply store, a maker-share space for people to work out 3-d modeling, and an accordion store. There are a lot of quirky things and we really encourage people to explore Avondale and appreciate what we do have.”