When Northwestern professor and lifelong Rogers Park resident Bill Savage entered the University Christian Ministry’s large sitting room Thursday, he didn’t shy away from asking a tough question.
“When you guys decide where to live after you graduate, are you going to be a gentrifier?” he asked.
Though Savage has lived in Rogers Park his entire life, he said that when he made the switch from renting to owning, he wondered about his choice’s impact on rent in the area.
“I made a joke with some friends, like, ‘Am I gentrifying Rogers Park?’” Savage said.
Thirty students packed into the room to listen to Savage speak at a Northwestern Neighbor2Neighbor Justice Talks event on gentrification. The initiative partners with Rogers Park schools and community centers in an effort to connect the university with the historically marginalized area north of Howard Street.
Savage also pointed at schools like Loyola University, located in Rogers Park, as common drivers of gentrification. The university replaced a strip of local businesses, like the Granada Theatre and a used book store with its massive 16-story retail, office, residential and parking complex, known as the Granada Center.
“You always name things after what you destroy,” Savage said, referring to the center’s name.
Development in the area made him feel like his neighborhood was being taken away, he said, despite not being a property-owner at the time.
Savage cautioned students to do their research before settling into a new neighborhood, telling attendees to look for higher proportions of units for rent versus for sale and multi-unit homes instead of single-family ones.
“Gentrification comes with buyers, driving up renters,” he said.
Local shops with five to 10 years in business were another good sign, representing a stable neighborhood that a broke college student wouldn’t be able to interrupt.
Savage suggested that once students move in, they get to know their new neighbors.
“A lot of gentrification is about the lack of individual relationship with the place,” said Savage. “You [can’t] want to live in a neighborhood full of diversity and full of different kinds of people and interesting history, but then want them all to be like you.”
Savage himself name-dropped fixtures of Rogers Park, ranging from street corners to specific people, like the men around Howard Station that drink beer in the mornings, and the one-legged man who hangs out by Caribbean American Bakery. Knowing intimate details like these about a place can help residents become part of a tight-knit community.
SESP junior Lillian Guo said that Savage’s analysis of Rogers Park made her consider her own role in gentrification.
“That’s something that as college students, we all grapple with, thinking about ‘Where can I go someday?’” she said. “I have to think more deeply about what are the issues with that, before I make those choices.”