Members of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association hosted a community potluck dinner to discuss gentrification and other relevant issues in the neighborhood. In the basement of the Humboldt Park Methodist Church (2120 N. Mozart St.) on the evening of Feb. 15, residents gathered around small tables with pens, markers and a printed map of the neighborhood area in front of them. They were challenged with not only voicing their own opinions on gentrification in their neighborhood, but discussing it in small groups with their neighbors and meeting new people in the process.
The challenger and host for the evening was Daniel La Spata, 35, who has lived in Logan Square and been involved with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association for about 12 years. He is currently working toward a master’s degree in urban planning and public policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“I really want people to feel like they can share their stories and experiences and values, to really build relationships, hopefully across cultures, and help people to think critically about why development and gentrification happens in the manner that it does,” La Spata said. “Who holds the power and the influence that directs how development happens? And then what do we do as a community to counter those interests?”
In attendance at The People’s Potluck, as it was named on Facebook as well as signs outside the church, was Huu Nguyen, 39. Nguyen is on the Park Advisory Council for the Bloomingdale Trail and also works with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association. She teaches classes for children and adults on an African and Brazilian form of cultural resistance at a cultural center nonprofit she began with her partner on Kimball Avenue near the Bloomingdale Trail.
“That’s a place to really communicate these issues and a place to share information and have face-to-face dialogue about how we are affected, or how we affect, these processes,” Nguyen said. “But to do it in a way that is sharing multiple perspectives, in a way that isn’t really trying to make us agree on one perspective but really just to gain more of an understanding and to learn who our neighbors are.”
The potluck dinner, according to La Spata, was somewhat in response to a Discussion of Gentrification and Dinner with Alderman Joe Moreno, an event by Community Dining. The dinner had a $50 ticket price and was a five-minute walk down the street from the Methodist church in a private home.
Outside on the lawn at the dinner, Logan Square residents and members of SOMOS Logan Square protested the event with the alderman. SOMOS Logan Square’s “mission is to foster awareness through dialogue and action by creating community unity through weekly picnics in the Square and social media,” according to their Facebook pagee. Protesters expressed worry that at $50, residents most affected and displaced by gentrification would not be able to attend in order to discuss the topic.
Alderman Moreno said he did not know why the ticket to attend that night cost $50. Hosted by Paul Sippil of Community Dining, Alderman Moreno said that he did not set the price.
“I decided on the topic of gentrification because I’ve heard so much about it in Logan Square, and thought it would be a relevant issue to the neighborhood,” Sippil said. “I chose Alderman Moreno because I learned that he was heavily involved in the issue, and thought he would have in-depth knowledge of the subject.”
Community Dining member Liz Kersjes explained to the crowd present with Alderman Moreno that the expense for the evening came from the food provided for dinner.
“One issue that I’m very interested in that Paul shares is local, sustainably produced organic food,” Kersjes said. “That is Paul’s driving philosophy. Health through food, awareness for what we’re supporting — at this point in time, unfortunately a lot of that food comes with a higher price tag.”
At the dinner with Alderman Moreno, residents and landlords in Logan Square asked questions directly to the alderman about development in their neighborhood. One man, who had been living in the neighborhood since 1987, and a young woman, who had moved to Logan Square two years ago, expressed worry about displacement for long-time Logan Square residents. Others in the crowd had only positive things to say about Alderman Moreno.
One attendee, Raja Banerjee, attended the discussion looking to network and make connections. Banerjee lives in Rogers Park, where he volunteers with a soup kitchen at the United Church of Rogers Park. He has a master’s degree from Loyola University in urban affairs, and would like to become more involved in urban development within communities.
Sippil said that his goal with Community Dining is to gather a diverse group of people around a healthy, sustainable meal.
“Even with the $50 price tag, I try to infuse welcoming energy,” Sippil said.
Although the two dinners took place on the same evening at nearly the same time, both gathered a diverse group of Logan Square residents and others to discuss the topic of gentrification in Logan Square.
During a Q&A portion of the evening, a young man in the crowd piped up about seeing a lot of newer buildings surrounded by abandoned ones. He wants to open a salon in Logan Square, he said.
“I don’t wanna live in a neighborhood that’s dead and empty; I wanna live in the up and coming.”
“If you’re living here, you are,” Alderman Moreno said of Logan Square.