DIY spaces and gentrification

About the map

This is a map of Chicago community areas, the number of DIY spaces in each area, and the socioeconomic state of the neighborhood based on an index developed by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The index used statistical changes in factors like median family income, percentage of families below the poverty level, median house value, percent owner-occupied housing, race/ethnicity, percent of school age children, percent of workers who are managers and professionals and percent of adults with a college education to describe how Chicago neighborhoods had changed over time.

The numbers in the markers represent the number of DIY spaces in the community area.

The shading of the community areas represents the socioeconomic status of the neighborhood:

Dark Gray Moderate decline
Light Gray Mild decline
Green Gentrification
Purple Poverty
Mint Green Positive Change

DIY punk and gentrification

DIY punk spaces are often located in less resourced neighborhoods.  These neighborhoods offer less expensive rent that is affordable even with income from sporadic part-time work or odd jobs, housing stock that might accommodate many roommates or unused warehouse space that can be converted to a music venue and living space.  Neighborhoods housing DIY spaces may feature lower density housing which makes it easier to have band practice or shows without disturbing neighbors or empty lots that could be utilized for projects like community gardens.  In some cases, people participating in the DIY punk subculture may fetishize less resourced neighborhoods, or neighborhoods with a large population of people from racial or ethnic minority groups as a reaction to white, suburban culture or a more affluent urban (“yuppie”) culture.

Daniel Traber’s article, “L.A.’s “White Minority”: Punk and the Contradictions of Self-Marginalization”, describes the fetishizing of poverty in the early days of American punk and hardcore culture in Los Angeles.  Contemporary DIY culture complicates this dynamic.  With community and social justice as core values of the subculture, middle-class DIY subcultural participants may create institutions in their neighborhood for their friends that are also available assets for the community at large.  Punks may create a neighborhood community garden, a collective bicycle workshop or an arts space with free events for neighborhood children.  However, these institutions, and even the presence of white, middle-class residents, may also make the neighborhood more appealing to other middle-class people and to developers creating housing speculating that more affluent residents will move to the neighborhood.  Over time, both the punks and the neighborhood’s original residents may be priced out of the neighborhood.  Furthermore, the conversion of industrial or warehouse space to housing, art studios, or gallery and performance spaces removes light industrial infrastructure that could create needed jobs in a neighborhood.

Where are DIY spaces located in Chicago?

I mapped all music venues that held events listed on the DIY Chicago calendar from the calendar’s inception in January 2010 to April 2010.  These spaces were located in neighborhoods such as Logan Square, Humboldt Park and Bridgeport.  I mapped the community areas, boundaries used to aggregate census data, containing DIY spaces as well as the number of spaces in each area.

Do Chicago DIY spaces follow trajectories of gentrification?

In 2003, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago created an index of neighborhood change based on census data from the decennial census from 1970-2000.  The index looked at a number of factors such as total population, the percentage of population of different racial groups, median family income and percentage of the population with different educational levels.  Based on how these factors changed in neighborhoods relative to the city as a whole, the researchers labeled the neighborhoods as experiencing dynamics such as poverty, mild decline, gentrification and positive change.

Neighborhoods with DIY spaces tended to be in neighborhoods that were gentrifying or in decline.  While the research is based on data from the 2000 census, 2010 projections from EASI, provided by the Metro Chicago Information Center show that the median family incomes in all of the community areas are likely to increase from 2000-2010.  This suggests that trajectories of gentrification detected in 2000 are likely to have continued or neighborhoods may be starting to gentrify.

What does this mean?

It is difficult to assess whether the effect of DIY punk spaces and residents on a neighborhood is positive or negative.

A recent National Public Radio story about a low rate of census return in a gentrified Brooklyn neighborhood sparked debate about whether or not the young, itinerant  creative-class residents felt less connected to the neighborhood and were thus less likely to return their census forms.  If this is the case, neighborhoods could be deprived of valuable federal funding for community resources.

On the other hand, the Chicago’s 49th Ward which includes the Rogers Park neighborhood, home to one long-time house that has shows in its basement, recently conducted a participatory budgeting process where all residents of the ward, aged 16 and older, could vote on how around $1 million in city menu money could be spent.  Many of the proposed projects reflected grassroots, creative culture in the neighborhood.  The process offers one model where DIY priorities might be institutionalized and still effect the culture of the neighborhood, even as demographics change.

Ultimately, it may be whether or not DIY spaces and the people who inhabit them stay in the neighborhood that decides their impact as the neighborhood changes.

Out With the Old …

and in with the new …

What’s the word that means the opposite of panacea?  There must be such a word, but I don’t know what it is.  If ever there was something that was seen as a symbol for everything that was bad about the expansion of corporations and the power of global capital, Starbucks would be it.  Hating on Starbucks as the great satan of the coffee world seems so 1998, especially if one thinks about the differences in wages and benefits for Starbucks workers versus many independent coffee shops and the differences in “diversity” between the work forces.  At the very least, things are more complicated when it comes to coffee shops or globalization.

Still, it seemed like the punchline to a tasteless joke when I saw the worker-run, communal coffee service at my work banished to the smaller, further kitchen and replaced with the sparkling Starbucks-branded machine.  Great. Starbucks wasn’t satisfied with having a presence on every other street corner in some major metroplolitan areas, rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, and interstate exits, it had to squeeze into my job’s break area too.  If I don’t fall back on portraying Starbucks as the totally evil corporate monster, it’s not quite as easy to explain what’s wrong with the coffee giant, but the machine’s arrival bothered me somehow.

I think that what I don’t like about the machine, and the chain in general, is that it erodes a community’s (whether a workplace or a neighborhood) immagination and sense or responsibility.  With the collective system, people had to figure out how to negotiate machine ettiquete, what kind of coffee to buy, how much to charge per cup, what to do with any profits, and what to do about delinquent users.  Even if someone coordinated the system, I think that there was at least a sense that the existence of the system was dependent on some consideration of these questions and a certain amount of responsibility for maintaining the flow of coffee at the offices.  These aren’t hugely important questions, I know, but it’s easy to see how these could be seen as a microcosm of the bigger considerations of a community.  With the new machine, you just pay your money and that’s it.  If it doesn’t work, someone else will come fix it, or maybe they won’t.  If the prices seem too high, you just have to deal with it.  Who knows where the profits go.  Maybe if the machine doesn’t make enough money, it will go away, but to buy or not to buy and cup size are about the extent of the choices.  This doesn’t exactly empower a great deal of positive coffee stewardship.

Thinking about the implications of brick and mortar coffee shops, I recall an independant coffee shop that I once visited, and really liked, in another city.  It was in a largely Latino neighborhood that was struggling with gentrification within the city’s long history of racial segregation.  On the wall of the coffee shop was a clipping of a news article about the neighborhood entrepreneur who opened the shop.  In the article, he said:

“When I came in, there was a lot of old-fashioned-thinking people who thought I would never make it,” says Mr. Delgado, 36. “But I saw an unmet need in the community for a place where people could come and hang out. Just because you’re Latino doesn’t mean you have to eat tacos every day. We needed a cafe.”

If, instead of this coffee shop, a Starbucks had opened up in this neighborhood, it probably wouldn’t have explicitely challenged this assumption, both internally and externally about Latinos.  In so many places, I perceive Starbucks as a marker of gentrification, something comforting to outsiders coming into the neighborhood and something unused and hostile to some long-term residents.  Instead, a coffee shop might act as a so often absent middle ground where creative-class newcomers, long-term resident coffee drinkers, and those who defy the stereotypes of coffee shop patron that, at least for me, still revolve around the cursed Friends sitcom, all find some sense of investment.  A shared space to drink coffee won’t solve the problem of gentricication, but it seems so hard to find other foundations for dialog or accountability.

A sense that a business is accountable and malleable to a community is so important.  Otherwise, tough questions about economics and social responsibility get reduced to “should I stay or should I go” as was the case with neighborhood “save our Starbucks” campaigns when the company recently cut the number of franchises or the fate of the “too big to fail” auto industry.  That simplification, and the accompanying sense of things that severely impact lots of people being totally out of their hands, might actually qualify as that thing that is the opposite of a panacea, whatever the proper word is.

On a somewhat related note, I’ve been in Italy for almost 3 weeks and have drank a lot of coffee.  I have yet to see a Starbucks, or even a to-go cup of coffee.  It seems that most people get their coffee from one of the “bars” that seem so ubiquitous.  People either sit or stand at a table or a counter, but it’s nice to see drinking coffee as a real break and social activity instead of a fillup.  I haven’t been able to perceive much difference between the quality of the places I’ve been too, but I appreciate the little differences that come with independently owned places – the decor, slight differences in the menu, and the idiosyncracies of the proprieters.  I really like the cast of regulars that trickle in and the longstanding repoir they seem to have with the folks behind the counter.  Maybe this is how it feels for people who frequent their nearest Starbucks, but it’s hard to imagine it being the same.  It’s the difference between feeling that twinge of propriety over something in your corner of the world and things being made the same, everywhere.

Williamsburg Development

I distinctly remember my parents once getting mad at me and saying something like, “the whole world doesn’t revolve around you.”  The thing that I hate about visiting friends in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is that when I’m there, this idea of the world not revolving around me, or at least, people like me, just doesn’t ring true.

I love skateboarding, and fixed gear bikes, and grafitti, but walking down Bedford, I feel like I’m in a commercial.  And the neighborhood is so familiar to me, and familiar enough that, even as a visitor, I notice changes – that Bodega shut down, this Bodega seems to carry fancier beer.  And it’s crazy howyou can seperate out the ironic white-kid graffiti from the rest, and how it has this menacing colonial quality.  It gives me the same fear as seeing the little posts popping up for the surveyors in the field behind my house.

Living in Bloomington, I understand that it’s nice to be in a place where there is support and excitement surrounding the things that you make, and the things that you like doing.  But I think that living somewhere should also be a negotiation, or rather, a dialogue between the different desires of different people.  I think that people should exist for themselves and that their survival in a place shouldn’t be tied to existing at the service of others.

Every year the students come back to Bloomington, and it is both frustrating and exciting.  This week, I’ve gotten two e-mails from strangers asking about the show I’m setting up this weekend, and it seems so long ago that people in town were excited about shows.  The university definitely brings a certain vitality to the town, but the relationship can feel one-sided too.  Whether it’s Kiva providing Internet to the college-oriented apartment buildings, Boxcar selling textbooks, or the bike project gearing up for a huge student bicycle demand, everything around me feels like it’s growing to support one kind of person.  Certainly, it’s not much of a dialogue or a compromise, at least on a large scale.  But some of my favorite people in Bloomington are students, and it is true, that more than anywhere else I can think of, any given person has the ability to build things, at least metaphorically, to stand alongside the college apartments, boutiques and bar and grills, to provoke that dialogue, to negotiate that compromise.