Gentrification: Will the University of Illinois at Chicago Threaten Surrounding Communities?

Jenifer Huestis

Last Modified: April 15, 2005

Gentrification is the “ which poor and working-class neighborhoods in the inner city are refurbished by an influx of private capital and middle-class homebuyers and renters. Simultaneously a physical, economic, social and cultural phenomenon, gentrification commonly involves an invasion by higher-income groups and the replacement or displacement of many of the original occupants”(1).

Theories behind the sources of gentrification are divided into two schools of thought, production-side and consumption-side or supply-side and demand-side(2). Production-side attributes changes in a community to the work of developers, housing and land markets, the “rent-gap”, and public and private finance mechanisms. Consumption-side credits a class of people, the gentry, whose ideology, education, household characteristics, and consumption patterns cause revitalization. Some theorists recognize, and I would argree, that the two are wed. Public and private finance is necessary to alter land markets, but there is still a special class of people who desire urban locations needed to occupy redeveloped spaces (3).

The ethics of gentrification are questionable because the process often displaces current residents(4). Displacement can be physical (forced through denial of heat, repairs, and essential services) or exclusionary (voluntary vacancies caused by increased land values, rents, or renovation of property into incompatible households types like coops or condominiums) (5). Scholars disagree over the fate of displaced peoples. Some argue that housing pricesincrease, and household hardships are magnified. Others claim that displacement improves families' housing condition. Each argument is dependent on characteristics of the displaced population and the overall quality and land values of a region's housing stock.
















University of Illinois-Chicago South/East Campus Plan
(University of Illinois- Office for Facilities Planning and Programs)





Chicago West Side Developments

South Campus Development

The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) has attempted to revitalize its surrounding community for years. Their work began to show results in 2000 when wrecking crews began to tear down abandoned residential, commercial, and industrial buildings on Chicago's west side. Their completed masterpiece, The University Village (UV), is only a portion of UIC's larger South Campus project extending through the city's historic Maxwell Street community. The South Campus has been the largest venture the University has undertaken since being built in the 1960's. The project's total (to date) is about $700 million, but the City of Chicago afforded them $55 million by enacting a tax incremental financing district to offset a portion of this cost. The South Campus development created 930 residential units in the form of townhouses, lofts, apartments, and loft condos. In addition, two student dormitories (Marie Robinson and Thomas Beckham Halls) housing 755 students were constructed adjacent to 120,000 square feet of new retail space (6). UIC's recent acquisition of the former South Water Market has enabled them to the potential to build another 850 residential units named the University Commons. As of January 2004, 150 units of the University Commons development were on the market, and the other 700 units will be built and opened according to market demand (7).

University Village Interior
(UIC Office of Facilities Planning)

University Village Site Plan (Chicago Real Estate)

Roosevelt Square

In coordination with UIC's development project, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA-the city's public housing agency) has planned a new mixed income housing development to replace a set of public housing projects referred to as ABLA. This development, renamed Roosevelt Square , is one piece of CHA's larger long term Plan for Transformation. Roosevelt Square will include 1,467 public housing units (329 of which were completed as part if the 2000 redevelopment of Brooks Homes). 966 units will be priced at market value and 845 will be set aside as affordable (priced between $150,000 and $190,000). Construction began on the remaining 1138 public units began in late 2004 (8). With a decrease of affordable units many current ABLA housing residents may be displaced. To centest CHA's Plan for Transformation several residents have file a class action suit against the Chicago Housing Authority in an attempt to force “CHA to honor its stated and legal mandate to truly build a racially diverse, mixed income community.”(9)

Robinson Hall (UIC Office of Facilities Planning)

(Chicago Housing Authority-Plan For Transition)

Community Impact


Communities in the near west side of Chicago have suffered a number of blows in the last 50 years that further complicate the deindustrialization disinvestment, and white flight faced by the city as a whole. In the 1950's vacant buildings were demolished in the name of urban renewal with the promise of bigger and better development. These projects were never realized and communities were left with a sense of emptiness and abandonment that was hidden and obscured by the presence of uninhabited buildings. In 1962 the Dan Ryan Expressway (Interstate 90/94) opened after destroying the eastern edge of various ethnic communities. Simultaneously, the Harrison/Halsted area was chosen for the UIC's new location (previously located on Navy Pier). Construction of the campus demolished the majority of the vibrant Little Italy neighborhood and the eastern branch of the Maxwell Street Market. Finally, the City Hall/University coalition forced the eviction of the famous Sunday Market on Maxwell Street . Hundreds of vendors who depended financially on the well-known “Maxwell Street Market” name and history were displaced. What separates these losses from white flight, general disinvestment, and industrial decline is the public nature of these initiatives. All of the strikes against west side communities listed above were initiated by the city (10).


Historic Maxwell Street c. 1960's

Community Threats

These communities are again being threatened by a city initiative. In concert with UIC, the city is sponsoring the South Campus project. While both the University Village and the University Commons have set aside 21% and 7% of the units for affordable housing respectively, those prices range from $143,000 to $237,000. While these prices dwarf the upper limit for a UV townhouse, $707,000, they are astronomical as compared to the pricing of current local residences. While little, if any, residents were physically displaced by building the South Campus, new residents will alter the fabric of surrounding neighborhoods and cause exclusionary displacement of residents and businesses. The Maxwell Street Coalition was so concerned upon hearing UIC's plans for South Campus in 2001 that it circulated a petition demanding affordable housing and preservation of community institutions (11).

(Northern Illinois University)

Community Businesses

Pilsen, is a thriving vibrant community at risk of losing their ethnic charm and inhabitants. It is Chicago 's largest Latino immigrant entry point and the one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the city. Small business owners in Pilsen and neighboring Latino community Little Village are confident that gentrification on the west side will improve conditions and reduce crime (12). However, most small businesses in Pilsen have specialty markets that will lose demand if Latinos are priced out of the neighborhood. If there businesses do not adapt to the demand of new residents, they too will be forced out of the community. In addition, enclaves tend to become insular communities whose residents depend on the consistency of their spaces for their livelihood. If local businesses cannot compete with new firms or lose a portion of their customer base remaining residents will be left with little to stand upon. (13)

One of Pilsen's Many Murals
(Thorkild C. Bøg-Hansen, PhD)

Resurrection Project

Pilsen's successful and highly regarded community organization, The Resurrection Project, may be an agent for positive change. Their newest initiative, the Quality of Life Campaign, is composed of three sub campaigns: Viviendas Economicas Ahora, an affordable housing campaign designed to create 1000 units through leveraging $87 million in community investment, El Zocalo, a Mexican-like plaza designed to foster social and cultural opportunities for residents, and La Casa, a student dormitory for commuting Latinos to escape overcrowded homes and reside in affordable units close to universities. These projects, in combination with increased Latino populations in Chicago have the potential to deny or even counter the force of gentrification (14).

Proposed Pilsen Beautification Siteplan
(The Resurrection Project)


Numerous actors and rapid development and community changes make the West Side of Chicago's outcomes difficult to predict. Communities neighboring the South Campus development will certainly feel pressure from new affluent residents, but the work of the Resurrection Project, the support they receive from city officials, and the proposed public housing planned by the Chicago Housing Authority may help sustain complete displacement and foster a true mixed income community. This will be an interesting case to watch as it progresses. Few have made specific predictions of the west side's future, but most accounts describe gentrification as “a positive chapter in the history of urban America ” despite its flaws (15).

Proposed Pilsen Zocalo Plaza Project
(The Resurrection Project)


(1) What is Gentrification? (Very Comprehensive source of gentrification information)

(2) Muniz, Vicky, 1998. Resisting Gentrification and Displacement: Voices of Puerto Rican Women in the Barrio . Garland Publishing: New York .

(3) Cordova, Theresa. 1991. “Community Intervention Efforts to Oppose Gentrification.” In Challenging Uneven Development. Phillip W. Nyden and Wim Wiewel Eds. Rutgers University Press: New Brunswick .

(4) Blomley, .2004. Unsettling the City. Routledge: New York .

(5) Muniz, Vicky, 1998. Resisting Gentrification and Displacement: Voices of Puerto Rican Women in the Barrio . Garland Publishing: New York .

(6) O'Connell, Martha. 2000 “From This to This.” University Village .

Handley, John. “New village on campus ; A college town rises from the dust of Maxwell Street ”. Chicago Tribune .   Apr 28, 2002

Cunniff, Bill. “Fire chief, and new bride, choose hot neighborhood”   Chicago Sun - Times .   Aug 31, 2003 .

Finley, Larry. “ University Village rise on Maxwell Street Site.” Chicago Sun-Times. October 26, 2001

(7) Handley, John. “ To Market we go; Historic produce center joins the fertile fields of Near West Side housing .” .  Chicago Tribune , Feb 22, 2004

NewCastle Limited July 2003,

(8) Chicago Housing Authority

(9) National Center on Poverty Law, May 14, 2004

(10) Eastwood, Carolyn.2002. Near West Side Stories Struggles for Community in Chicago 's Maxwell Street Neighborhood. Lake Claremont Press.

(11) Open Air Market, Net July, 2001

(12) Chicago Business, February 2003,

(13) Waquant, Loic J.D. 1997. "Three Pernicious Premises in the Study of the American Ghetto. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. v.21, n.2, p.341

(14)The Resurrection Project

(15) Blomely, Nicholas. 2004. Unsettling the City . Routledge: New York .

Lampe, David. 1993. “The Role of Gentrification in Central City Revitalization.” National Civic Review . V.82, N.4, P.363.