The recycling bins in our alley used to overflow with empty gallons of milk, water, and juice–perfect containers for starting plants. Yesterday’s four block search yielded only four, all from one house. Instead, I found plenty of cans of La Croix and craft beer–indicator species of a gentrifying (ied!) neighborhood.
The original intent of this post was to offer tips on what to look for in a winter sowing container. But sometimes we find more than we expected when lifting a lid. The stats tell us that families are being displaced from Logan Square. Longtime Latino residents are leaving, and white folks are moving in or maybe it’s more accurate to say it the other way around. The alleys show the changes. We’ve gone from distilled water for babies to fancy soda water for people who like to say pamplemousse.
It’s a serious, heart aching, complex issue, and my family is part of the tangled web.
Through his work at Bickerdike, one of Chicago’s strongest community development corporations, Michael has helped preserve and construct scores of affordable housing units within blocks of our home. We can see the solar panels from one of his award-winning projects from our kitchen window.
Peer into our kitchen window (and recycling bin), however, and you will see another part of the story. We took an affordable unit off the market when we duplexed the 1st and 2nd floors of our 3-flat. We strive to keep the 3rd floor rent stable and below the booming market rates, but our tenants have tended to be single people without children. Even if all have a low income, affordability looks different to three roommates pooling rent than a family with three children.
This is not guilty hand-wringing. Gentrification is neither 100% bad, nor 100% good.There are so many variables and I’m being simplistic and broadbrushing. For example, I am sure white folks aren’t the only ones buying La Croix at Armitage Produce. For more nuanced and action-forward information, check out the Logan Square Neighborhood Association which, like Bickerdike, does terrific housing and education work with the goal of preserving the ethnic and economic diversity of Logan Square.
Back to the alley: During a recent hunt, I saw a grizzled man with a granny cart rifling through our recycling. “Looking for cans. . . ” he said, somewhat sheepishly. I always feel a little awkward too, when I’m caught looking in someone’s garbage. I walked to my neighbor’s bin, turned around, and smiled conspiratorially: “I’m looking for plastic jugs to start seeds.” He grinned back. “I love the plants.”
Garbage to garden. It’s a small, simple act that brings joy to me and the neighbors and energizes me to take on harder, more complicated work related to the neighborhood. Dirty hands keep the sleeves rolled up!
Guilty as charged. Lots of cans in our bin for him to take.