"Anti-gentrification" or plain old vandalism?

Pilsen is a neighborhood on the lower west side of Chicago which has seen a slow but admirable growth in its fortunes of late. The area was once home to a large population of Czech immigrants (and was actually named after a city in what is now the Czech Republic) but today is a majority-minority neighborhood with a large Mexican-American population. Unlike some of the other, more murder-prone sections of Chicago, Pilsen has seen a rise in employment, income and general prosperity.

Great news, right? In fact, the area has attracted more new businesses recently, including one eatery named S.K.Y. Restaurant, a project of chef Stephen Gillanders. He’s planning to open his new venture in a few weeks, but on Halloween his staff arrived to find that their building and another one across the street had been tagged with a large amount of graffiti. This wasn’t just some kids out for an evening of mischief, however. There were ominous messages sprayed on the walls, warning the owner to “get out” of the neighborhood and decrying the “gentrification” of Pilsen. (CBS Chicago)

Two upscale restaurants in Pilsen have been hit by vandals with graffiti that tells them to leave the neighborhood.

The act is believed to be a response to the gentrification of the changing Mexican community.

“We woke up and we were greeted by a lot of spray paint that was letting us know that a certain group of people don’t welcome this space being here. Which is unfortunate for us, at least – you know?” said Stephen Gillanders…

“The entire face of the building had been marked up,” he said.

These complaints are all too common in cities these days, generally consisting of people who are angry if “white folks” begin moving in, buying up property and making improvements which tend to push up prices for rent, goods and services. But those complaints really seemed to confuse Stephen Gillanders. You see, he’s Filipino and his wife’s Korean. That makes the blatantly anti-white gentrification hate messages scrawled on the building seem a bit out of place.

But even if the Gillanders family were as white as the driven snow, this sort of vandalism born of racially based grudges is part of what makes it so hard to turn around urban neighborhoods even when overall conditions may be improving. Cities around the country are faced with these challenges and residents regularly complain when urban centers are in decay and lacking in job opportunities or chances for growth.

But then when someone comes along and actually wants to open a business, hire people, attract more consumers and generally clean up the place, this happens. You can leave race out of the conversation entirely if you like and still get the same result. If you want your neighborhood to improve, that means bringing in more jobs in the form of new businesses. It not only puts money in the residents’ pockets, but makes the area more desirable. But the natural consequence of these improvements is that prices tend to go up. If you want to live in a nicer neighborhood it’s going to cost a bit more.

It’s one of those situations where you can’t eat your cake and have it too. And this is precisely why these “anti-gentrification” campaigns are so self-defeating. You’re not preserving anyone’s culture. You’re leaving them stagnant in poverty.