Dessie lives in the neighbourhood of Woodlawn, three blocks south of the University of Chicago, with her father and four cats. Her apartment is part of Grove Parc Plaza, a Section 8 development project built in the late 1960s, but like many public housing residents across Chicago, Dessie doesn’t know how much longer she will be able to hold on to her home. Last year, Grove Parc was threatened with foreclosure by the Department for Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and despite an organized and vocal campaign by the members of the Grove Parc Tenants Association to save it, the future of the complex is still in doubt. Right on the edge of a campus too small to contain increasing numbers of students and faculty, and only a short walk away from the proposed site for the 2016 Olympic Stadium, Grove Parc’s land is prime real estate, and over the past few years residents have found themselves caught in an intensifying crossfire between the city, the university, and HUD. If there is a front line in the fight against gentrification, Dessie is on it.
The perception of gentrification in Chicago mirrors would-be progressive groups’ social imaginations and the heterogeneity of their goals. Gentrification is the reconstitution of a neighborhood which occurs when lower-income areas with lower land value are re-developed with higher-value housing into a decidedly wealthier neighborhood. During this process the class-composition and character of the neighborhood is changed; those already living in the neighborhood cannot sustain the rise in property taxes and must move elsewhere.