Chris Barsanti of In These Times has a review of Richard Lloyd’s _Neo-Bohemia: Art and Commerce in the Postindustrial City_. (Odd that a Logan Square-based magazine would assign a Brooklyn writer to the piece, but oh well.) Lloyd, a contributor to “_The Baffler_”:http://thebaffler.com/excerpts.html and now teaching at Vanderbilt, has written a serious ethnography of a not-so-serious neighborhood. Personally, and maybe because I was there to witness its last throes, Wicker Park’s gentrification has been far more explosive and fascinating than any number of East Village accounts. Compared to New York, Chicago’s lack of rent control, tenser race relations, better overall fiscal health, pro-business and pro-development attitudes, and far deeper deindustrialization combined to put gentrification on fast-forward here. (Incidentally, I once mentioned this opinion to Terry Clark, who replied with something about one of his graduate students. Turns out that was Lloyd, of course, and I gave it nary a thought until seeing the book.) What’s different is that Chicago is only a regional center of media and “content creation”; not only does news from here tend to spread slowly, but the creative first-line gentrifiers (literally, the cultural capitalists) are fewer in number and less self-consciously or self-referentially creative.
Somehow, thinking of Wicker Park as “over” reminds me of a conversation with a scruffy, underemployed resident of Montréal’s Plateau, a favorite landing pad for hipsters who’ve tired of Toronto or Brooklyn, who stated after a moment of thought that “you could live here pretty easily on $10,000 Canadian a year.” Plus free healthcare!
$10,000 a year? Sounds tempting. But before all the Williamsburgers head northwards, consider that a lot of the remaining rent-controlled apartments in the Plateau are converting to condos; the spate of condo construction and infill building was supposed to take pressure off the rental market to relieve the low-income space, but had the opposite effect, spurring demand for condos. Under a quirk of Quebec rent control laws, the landlord can take over an apartment for his own family use, then turn around and condo-ize. This happened all over the western first-ring suburb of NDG when I was living there; a solidly middle-class neighborhood became upper-middle class within about 5 years. Still cheaper than NY or Toronto, though!
But honestly? The poverty line in Canada is something like $14k. You could live in the Plateau on $10k a year with roommates (or family), shopping exclusively at thrift stores, and skipping a meal a day. More realistically, you might be able to live in Park Extension, Montreal North, the east-end Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighborhood, or south-of-downtown’s subsidized apartments in St-Henri, Point-St-Charles and Little Burgundy on that amount – and that’s only by living on public assistance.
And the free healthcare – well, you have to be a Canadian citizen or landed immigrant to get that. The first takes 3 years, the second usually involves marrying someone. Just so you know ;)
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