Unfortunately Jeff Huebner's article "The Panic in Wicker Park" [August 26] is heavy on the griping and petty finger pointing and light on a more substantial analysis of gentrification; a real and present danger. What seems painfully absent are the voices of the dispossessed, either from the street, the recently evicted, or the workers and manufacturers in whose lofts all these artists/realtors are squabbling over.
Instead of devoting 11 long pages to a reductionist he said-she said variety of drama between strong personalities, Mr. Huebner could have produced a critique of gentrification and exposed all the multifaceted agents that aid and abet its continuum. His article did nothing to demystify the quasi-metaphysical notion that somehow artists inhabit cheap real estate and then get priced out of the neighborhood. Mr. Huebner should ask why were all these lofts/manufacturing units vacant in the first place. As is typical of discussions sympathetic to the plight of artists and their work/dwelling problems, what is glaringly left out is the rest of the community. What would have been a more compelling story would have been to look a little further afield and examine why small industries that once inhabited West Town's (now overpriced) condo/lofts were not able to sustain production, and how the people that used to walk to these corner factories have lost their jobs, been unable to pay escalated real estate assessments or rents, have been forced to seek McJobs, jobs in the suburbs, or remain unemployed. It is into these former workplaces and their family dwellings that artists and their followers have moved.
Nowhere does Mr. Huebner mention Alderman Gabinski, or Congressman Rostenkowski, two major behind-the-scenes players, who through their political clout influence zoning decisions, ward services, police policy, etc. that shape the discussion of gentrification and allow developers open season on a community that has absent organized oppositional political participation at a grassroots level. Nowhere does Mr. Huebner discuss a national agenda that allows for global capital flight, a mayoral office that has a stated, published plan (Chicago 21) to massively gentrify the entire city and in concert criminalize the poorer urban inhabitants.
Here there is no larger critique that places the backlash against this wave of gentrification in any larger historical/political context. If Mr. Huebner opted against a metaphysical analysis (a few bad guys) he might have revealed a systemic agenda that gentrification is part and parcel of and that the current status quo reinforces at every juncture, including dismissively characterizing it as a benign series of misintentions and earnest efforts by basically good people as illustrated in the article.
Having been party to this discussion for quite some time now, I'm eager to see the same media attention afforded to a more substantial analysis that really answers the question.