Vietnamese and Yuppies Clash on Argyle Street

At the café right now. Ron’s in Kansas City. It snowed some today but everything has been plowed and shoveled for right now. Kitty is crazy today – lots of biting. I think the heavier Zoloft dose might be making me sleep alot. I got up at 10, had breakfast, went to the grocery, had a snack and then came home and slept for three hours. Plus, yesterday was invirogatin and tiring all at the same time. It’s interesting to note how the café is showing the changing Kinsey Scale of the surrounding neighborhood. On Sunday mornings, gym-dandies caffeinate before a workout, bear-daddies coffee-bomb their hangover and straight parents come in with strollers. Tonight there are many more groups of straight customers than there used to be. Visiting a new condo for a friend’s houseparty in my old neighborhood showed me how much that neighborhood has changed as well. The barrio has receded and the artists and homosexuals are moving in. One of the revelers snorted:

they got rid of the all those Section Eights.

He was referring to the section eight government housing that funded some of the surrounding housing. Most of whom were families trying to make ends meet. But his attitude was invisibly racist and condescending all at the same time. The Borders bookstore they dropped in the middle of the neighborhood has helped things considerably (that Starbucks a few years back being the first hint that everything was about to change). A Target is on the way as well. More big-box stores that use tax breaks as corporate welfare and reduce the indigenous culture of the neighborhood.

And now this:

Neighbors love window-shopping on Argyle Street, where Vietnamese, Chinese and other Asian merchants display everything from live lobsters at the Seaworld Food Market to golden Buddhas in the Trung Tin Gift Shop. But steel burglar bars and security screens cover nearly all of those windows. And that reminder of the Uptown neighborhood’s mixed reputation troubles new homeowners, most of whom are not Asian.

Let’s look at that again. They love shopping because it’s so diverse and different and edgy but they fear the burglar bars are hurting their property value. Hello! It’s Chicago! Every business should have burglar bars up at night. Have you been to the Argyle stop? The buildings just off the stop look like they’ve been firebombed and at night riff raff feature prominently in the surrounding blocks.

[T]he merchants say they deserve more credit for taking a chance on Argyle Street during Uptown’s down-and-out period. Because the rents were so cheap, many refugees fleeing the aftermath of the Vietnam War were resettled in Uptown in the mid-1970s. Many Vietnamese newcomers landed apartments in nearby high-rises.

But the white residents want the best of both worlds. The luxury of living in a tall box while shopping in other smaller boxes (and going to work in a box) without all those pesky crime problems that dented the property prices enough for the development to happen in the first place.

Most block club members are white and most merchants are Asian, which adds racial undertones, though both sides downplay that tension. Still, because most homeowners speak only English and many merchants have not mastered the language, misunderstandings fester. At a November block club meeting, one resident went so far as to suggest that Argyle Street needed fewer stores geared to Asians and more that appeal to white residents, according to several participants.

Basically, Thanks for living in a shithole and transforming it into a place we’d deign to live – we’ll take it from here. Why don’t you find a new trashpit to rehabilitate?

Plus there’s a cultural edge to the arguments:

A lot of [Asian business owners] left that meeting saying, `We agree with them, but just because they want us to do it, I’m not going to do it,'” Cheng said. “They feel like these outsiders are dictating how they should run their business.”

And the real issue pops up at the end of the article:

Vinh Nguyen, who owns Happy Day Realty, said he agrees that the bars should come down. But he fears that sprucing up the neighborhood brings its own dangers. “OK, we improve the street. Then what? Then the rent will go up and we will have to move out,” Nguyen said.

They’re being squeezed out which is like every other neighborhood gentrification anytime anywhere. These Vietnamese families fled their own country after the chaos there and are now being pushed out of the haven they’ve built. Futher, they saw what happened to all the latino residents closer to Clark Street and know exactly what is in store.

I keep wondering where it will all end up. With property rates push north from Lincoln Park, to Lakeview and now to Uptown and Evanston and Andersonville push south, there’s now where else to go but west. Will the city eventually be miles and miles off high-cost housing and businesses with all the blue-collar workers being bussed in daily? Is it good – it is bad – it just is – displaced people always find some place else to go.

6 thoughts on “Vietnamese and Yuppies Clash on Argyle Street

  1. Beastmomma

    That was an interesting post. In my limited experience and scope of knowledge about gentrifcation… I have always read/heard about it occuring between whites and blacks. The immigrant experience in this piece expanded by knowledge. I wonder how it will end up as well.

  2. Dunner

    This is simply the force of real estate in a capitalist market. Some areas get hot (for whatever reason), demand goes up, and since the supply of land can’t go up, prices for that area go up.

    I don’t think that the entire city of Chicago will soon become only high-cost housing. But with the increasing gap between rich and poor in this country, one has to wonder. The tension is building…

  3. Jake

    I’ve always wondered why Uptown — which, being along the lakefront, is such an obvious source of high tax revenue for the city — is so filled with section eight housing. It only adds to the irony that the most rundown, dangerous areas of Uptown have the most glorious old architecture. (An architect friend of mine calls all that beautiful glazed terra cotta “architectural porn.”)

    And the Argyle article yesterday floored me. If I were one of those business owners I’d be FURIOUS. The neighborhood association didn’t even try to position their opinions as rational-sounding arguments — they just complained that the burglar bars were ugly. Good thing there are no REAL problems in the world …

  4. James

    It’s a rather classist statement to assume that it’s only the whites who want a crime-free neighborhood. There are a lot of parents in the neighborhood who have little money who want the same thing. Why shouldn’t people living in poverty deserve a safer neighborhood?

    The press and a lot of guilt-ridden do-gooders want to take the easy way out and make this a war between the “have’s” and the “have not’s”. We’re talking about residents of all economic backgrounds who want the area safer. Part of that means lowering the concentration of poverty in the area because research has shown over and over again that with concentrated poverty, one has high crime. What we’re seeing are the effects of concentrated poverty.

    The never ending question is “Well where do all these poor people go if you want to lower the concentration of poverty?” Duh…. the experiment of concentrating the poor didn’t work. Why keep doing what’s not working. African-American males in Uptown have a 39% chance of graduating from high school. I’m thinking that’s a problem.

    How about the city creating incentives to build affordable housing throughout the entire city rather than neighborhoods already filled with poverty? The do-gooders who scream the loudest have been typically the same ones who live furtherest away from the problems. Interesting, don’t you think?

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