LINDA BLAKLEY: Hello, everyone. I’m Linda Blakley, vice president of DePaul’s Office of Public Relations and Communications. Welcome to DePaul Download, a podcast exploring the people, faculty experts, and initiatives that set DePaul apart from the rest.
What does the perfect place to live look like to you? Is it a sleek condo on a busy city street or a big old house with a fenced in yard? Personal preferences aside, we all want to live somewhere safe. We want access to good schools. In many American cities, including Chicago, the likelihood of being able to realize these dreams depends largely on your zip code.
From neighborhood to neighborhood, sometimes from street to street, opportunity is not spread equally throughout the city.
Today, we are going to speak with two DePaul faculty members, Professor Horace Hall, who teaches in DePaul’s College of Education, and Professor John Schlichtman, who is an urban sociologist in DePaul’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.
Both are researching ways to support those most affected by inequality. Their work addresses these issues in Chicago and beyond by looking at education and gentrification. Thank you both for joining me for this conversation.
Professor Schlichtman, perhaps you can get us started with a baseline understanding of gentrification. What is it and what factors influence how a neighborhood gentrifies?
JOHN SCHLICHTMAN: It is really important to specify what some have called the rules of engagement in how we talk about gentrification. One of the key ways is to define what we’re talking about. The pope talked about gentrification of the heart, which obviously is just a huge idea, right? That is how big it can be. But when we narrow it down, there are so many different ways we can define it.
I started a hashtag called definitions of gentrification on Twitter. I believe we are up to 23. So, here is how I define gentrification. It is the reinvestment of real estate capital or real estate investment money into a disinvested, devalued, centrally located neighborhood with the purpose of creating a new residential or maybe commercial infrastructure for middle-class residents. So, that can encompass many different types of situations, but there are a few core things here.
Number one, there has to have been disinvestment and devaluing, and there is always a story behind that. So, whether you are in Sao Paolo, whether you are in Chicago, whether you are in Portland, whether you’re in Paris, what are the stories behind that disinvestment and that devaluing?
Secondly, there is, in order for there to be – there has to be a “de” but then there is a question, what is the “re?” What is the rebranding? What is the reinvention? What is the renaming that is occurring in a particular city and who is doing it? Is the mayor trying to change neighborhoods? Is it a factory of that city’s global connectedness?
I always say you know, a neighborhood in Littlerock, Arkansas, there may be a meeting in a church basement over what is going to happen in a particular neighborhood. But a neighborhood in Chicago, there might be meetings in Shanghai over what is going to happen in a particular neighborhood. That is really big. That is really important differences.
LINDA BLAKLEY: Professor Hall, let’s talk about investing in young people. Could you tell us about your work with the REAL Youth Program? What does the organization do and what neighborhoods does it primarily serve?
HORACE HALL: So, to start with the second question, the neighborhoods we primarily serve are black and Latinx communities, typically low-income working-class folks. And we have been in a number of schools because it is a school-based youth program across the city, Chicago public schools, primarily high schools, and working with young folks, males and females, and how to one, navigate, negotiate the space that they are in. Schools typically aren’t in the space that they want to be in for a number of reasons which we will probably talk about later.
As well as literacy. So, critical literacy as well as traditional literacy. So, critical literacy being how do I read the world around me, right? How do I become more adept at understanding media messages, more adept at understanding implicit messages from teachers, from my community, from the world?
And then traditional literacy which is reading, writing, and speaking. So, we have been in a number of schools where young folks at the high school level, freshman through seniors, aren’t reading past third grade. Some are set to graduate and are functioning illiterate. A way in which we do that is we have literacy teachers, coaches, graduate students from DePaul, undergraduate students from DePaul come in and work with high schoolers around both kinds of literacy.
We also do life skills education, right? So, how do I, you know, resolve conflict? How do I deal with some of the issues that are happening in my community, such as gentrification and all of the things that – all of the kind of ramifications of gentrification. A lot of it has to do with violence. A lot of it has to do with conflict. A lot of it has to do with finding a space where an individual can be safe, right?
So, really, this idea of working with young folks and helping them resolve their problems in ways that they see fit and that are within their cultural contexts.
LINDA BLAKLEY: How has gentrification specifically affected the students in your program?
HORACE HALL: So, I want to say as early as 2009, 2010, we had a number of students – we were at different schools from 2009 to 2016. But 2009, 2010, Renaissance 2010 which was Mayor Daley’s plan to save public education in the city of Chicago, right? And with that came a number of school closures that were basically suggested by the Board of Education. So, you have a hundred school closures – no, 60 to 70 school closures that were on the docket.
Over time, there were maybe 30 or 40 that eventually closed between 2004 and 2009. 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel comes along, shuts down 50 public schools, one of them being a high school, the rest of the 49 being elementary schools and so a lot of young folks were dealing with having to be shifted from one school to another school and so with that comes this idea of well, how do I get to school safely? My neighborhood school shut down. Now I have to traverse three or four blocks, a mile even, to get to another school where students may look like me but they are not acting in the best defense of me.
So, gentrification for these young folks and once again, you know, what I talk about in class is schools and society reflect each other, right? Schools are organic representations of society and so as we see neighborhoods really kind of being shut down, schools are being shut down and schools – when you shut down a school, you really kind of shut down a community as well.
And so, young folks are coming to school and the last thing on their minds is reading, writing, and arithmetic and they are thinking about ‘how do I get from point A to point B and back safely?’
LINDA BLAKLEY: Professor Schlichtman, in your book, “Gentrifier,” you tackle why so many people who say they are against gentrification actually contribute to it. Tell us what you found.
JOHN SCHLICHTMAN: So, a white resident wanting to live in an ethnically or racially diverse environment is looking for such an environment—that person may think they have great motives but if they are moving within that context, they are going to be within that structure of gentrification. An artist looking for space in a studio, if they are moving within that context, they are going to contribute to gentrification. A black or Latinx professional wanting to live in a neighborhood within a class-diverse environment of people who share their ethno-racial identity, they are going to be contributing to this structure of gentrification.
Someone who wants to live near the hottest restaurant, someone who wants to live near work. Now, we would put all of these people on a continuum of the degree to which they are gentrifiers. But our argument in the book is that they are all gentrifiers. They may be more or less good neighbors. They may be better neighbors or worse neighbors. They might be – have different effects on the contexts that they are within, but within this powder keg, within this context of gentrification, unfortunately the United States has backed itself into a corner where we have so perverted our neighborhood fabric that any investment that you throw into a dysfunctional fabric, a disjointed, disconnected fabric can potentially have negative effects.
LINDA BLAKLEY: Professor Hall, in recent years the REAL program has started focusing on college readiness. Tell us about your latest project to introduce Chicago Public School students to DePaul. What barriers do these students face and how is your work helping to break down those barriers?
HORACE HALL: So, we’ve been working with a high school in Englewood, Harper High School, and these are young folks who, for the most part, would be first-generation college students and a lot of them, and I want to go back to the – the school closings and the gentrification piece and the displacement of folks and the uprooting of people.
So, a third of the students – if we were working with 30 students, a third of them actually grew up in Englewood. Two thirds were coming outside of the community. And so, the school was new to them and so finding a space within the school where they could all connect was quite difficult.
So, there were other programs in there. BAM was one. You had a number of school created programs but REAL helped created the space where some of these young folks who weren’t from that community could come into the program and find a space for them.
And so, one of the issues that were on their minds, and these are graduating seniors and soon to be sophomores and juniors, were you know, how do I access college, particularly if I am going to be the first one in my family to do so?
And some of them were first-generation high school students, right? So, part of the program was to bring them to DePaul and run college readiness classes. So, you know, students go on tours. They go on college tours and, you know, they have that experience where they go from college to college like maybe a week-long venture. But we want to ensconce them into the DePaul community, to break down some of those barriers, to break down some of those red lines so to speak, as it were and to cross them.
And so, what was critical about having them come to DePaul and be in the space and go through these mock classes, talk to professors, talk to staff was to also know who’s got the biscuits? So, how do I access this space financially? Because it’s one thing to say well, you know, I’ll apply, right, and I can make the grades. But how do I – once I get in, how do I stay in? Right?
So, one, the finance to be here, to get in, to stay here, but also how do I negotiate this space because it is going to be very difficult for first-generation college students to come to DePaul or any university and not know how to navigate it in terms of social and cultural capital. And so, we helped to build that and construct that with them by having meetings, by having seminars, by taking them through six months – six-month programming, to have them understand that.
We had a number of students who applied from that program at Harper High School and so we continue to work with that, but once again, a lot of the efforts have to – deal with finances, right, and crossing those red and those yellow lines to get to a space like DePaul. For some of them, being on Lincoln Park campus, they had never been here before. They’d never been to Lincoln Park. So, it’s new. It’s scary. But to kind of quell some of those tensions and quell some of those fears for them was critical.
LINDA BLAKLEY: So, how do you make the DePaul students who work with the REAL program aware of gentrification and its effects?
HORACE HALL: Well, part of it is through, like, real-life experiences. So, going into places like Bronzeville, right? Going into Philips High School and noting how right across the street from Philips High School were the Ida B. Wells housing projects.
And when Daley was running for office, when Daley was in office trying to get the bid for the Olympics, those projects went down. They razed all of them and put in their wake, like $250 (million) condominiums and town homes and so really kind of getting students to journal that within the REAL program, the high school students to journal that and getting DePaul students working with them to talk about those experiences of ‘I used to live here and now I don’t,’ right? ‘This store was here and now it’s not. This was my community elementary school and now it’s shut down.’
And so, that real-life experiences, those stories, those narratives from student – from high school students to a graduate student or undergraduate student is incredibly powerful. I mean, it’s one thing to read it in a book or to go online and read it in some piece, some blog, but to have the stories coming from those who are actually living it and experiencing it for them was incredibly important.
LINDA BLAKLEY: Back to you, Professor Schlichtman. You have written about your own experiences looking for a place in Chicago for your family to live. Education and safety were two of your concerns. When it comes to safety, how do crime statistics influence how people perceive a community, both from the inside and the outside?
JOHN SCHLICHTMAN: So, I think that the perspective that I’ll come at on this response is one of perception, you know? I think so much of the way residential choices are made relates to perception.
The number of homicides in Chicago right now are considerably less than in the 1990s. You know, we had in the 500s last year. In the 90s, we were in the 600s, 700s, 800s, 900s. But yet, it wasn’t the national news story about Chicago. Michael Jordan was the national news story, you know?
I think it is the same thing for schools. The perception of school quality is much different than the actual school quality. So, I think one of the things that Mayor Lightfoot needs to work on immediately and I think she is, is changing this dialogue, highlighting school – excellent schools that people don’t know about which of course, in the context of gentrification, is always a concern because then your concern is they are going to now be an influx of pressures upon that school.
But I think we need to, as a community, manage these perceptions and manage the way that we respond to these perceptions. You know, the schools should not be making decisions based on perceptions of those schools. Neighborhood development should not be made based on perceptions of outsiders of that neighborhood so that they can attract more outsiders.
We need to have more – and I think this is what Professor Hall, kind of an umbrella of what Professor Hall was referring to – we need to have a sense of home, a sense of home that is separate from investment. The Metropolitan Planning Council just did a study on the cost of segregation. European countries, many South American countries have known for a long time that privilege in community is not just about you know, losing economic benefits and gaining social benefits. If you’ve got a dysfunctional social community, that is going to cost you economically in the future.
So, really, when we look at crime, when we look at education, we need to be calm in terms and we need to be stable and sober in terms of the time horizons that we’re looking at. The plan for transformation, renaissance, these plans are quick plans to overhaul things immediately and rip off band-aids and pull out – pull out knives that have been in the sides of communities for 30 years and just act like we just set everything straight.
We need to be much more sober about slow, steady asset-based responses to communities and not say what is the deficit of this community but what is already here that we can build upon? What is already making it a home that can make it more of a home? And is that going to attract middle-class people? Yes. But it is going to attract different types of middle-class people than just dropping a Panera Bread in the middle of the community.
So, and I think that’s – I’m hopeful in terms of this current administration and the perspective that it brings, especially our housing commission. I will give a shout to Marisa Novara. I am very excited about her tenure as housing commissioner and she actually oversaw many aspects of the cost of segregation study itself.
LINDA BLAKLEY: So, Professor Hall, can you tell us a bit about what your students are experiencing regarding safety in their neighborhoods?
HORACE HALL: Sure. So, you know, the group that I work with primarily and a big part of our program is working with adolescent black males and there was some research from the Civil Rights Project out of UCLA as well as Center for Youth Violence Prevention… that talks about black males between the ages of 15 and 17 have the highest risk of exposure to violence than any other US population. So, let’s just go back to disinvestment. So, disinvestment – a part of disinvestment is violence, right? It’s a kind of violence. But physical violence and other forms of violence also breed trauma. So, some of the young folks that I work with are experiencing high levels of trauma and it is normalized in many respects because a lot of folks are going through it. So, it’s this collective sense of you know, it looks normal but there is something not right here.
So, a lot of young folks would prefer to stay at home rather than go to school and on the way to school, stop at the bus stop and get shot. But for a lot of young folks, dropout is not an option and so it is important for them to continue to be a part of that space, but, you know, one of the things that we did within the REAL program was to create safe passages. So, let’s document how do we get to school, what are the safe routes?
For a lot of young people, those are very serious options, right? And because it could cost you your life if you take the wrong way. Example: we had a student in 2012, and this was, once again, right before the school closures under Emanuel, and his friend had passed away. He was shot on the way home. So, the next day in REAL, we hear about the story and he was well-known amongst a lot of the program members that year, and so we said, ‘let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about how are you feeling about it.’ And as opposed to kind of taking it from the perspective of or the standpoint of grieving, which I expected, their particular take on it: ‘well, he walked the wrong way. He knew better.’
Now, I imagine and I hope that they at some point do grieve, maybe by themselves or with someone more familiar with them. But in that moment, even amongst friends, they said, ‘yeah, he knew better. You know, he shouldn’t have went that way. So, that’s that.’
And so, that trauma but you also see the look in the young people’s eyes, the kind of distilled looked, almost blank look in some cases. They jump at the slightest noise. They – sometimes they alienate themselves or isolate themselves. And so, young folks are experiencing not just the trauma of gun violence and gang violence but seeing a relative, a mom, a dad, a guardian being arrested, losing their homes. You know, being harassed by not just gang members but cliques. We don’t just have gangs. We have, you know, kids who form cliques in order to protect themselves.
And so, the day to day of dealing with that, of violence on these multiple levels both symbolic and psychic and physical is real. But having a space, a cathartic space to talk about some of those things, moving beyond some of the affective and then talk about how do we change this? What do we do about this?
For the person who looks like you but it doesn’t matter that they look like you, how do we build those human connections? How do we see each other in multi-dimensional ways, as more than just abstract?
JOHN SCHLICHTMAN: I think when you talk about individual young people skipping the grieving process and there is tremendous damage in there that will come back in their 30s and in their 40s, and there is also – we’re also as a city, skipping the grieving process.
You talk about our human connection, I mean, these are our children and we are skipping the grieving process by the way we treat this information on the news, by the way that we – by the way that we handle these issues, by the way that we deal with school closings and things like the safe passages program.
So, I think individually, you know, I was in 9/11 in New York City and people were walking around with PTSD and it was just normal, and we have got a similar thing going on in Chicago. As a community, walking around with various forms of trauma and we’re going to pay for it if we don’t stop and pause and think.
LINDA BLAKLEY: So, how has witnessing this trauma influenced your latest research, Professor Hall?
HORACE HALL: Schools have become less caring spaces because of electromagnetic door locks, because of drug-sniffing dogs, because of police searches, because of x-ray scanning machines, because of scanning wands and police officers in squad cars outside. And some high schools having their police headquarters within the school building.
So, it doesn’t become a place, to Professor Schlichtman’s point, where you can process your emotions. If anything, it is hardened. Right? Barbwire fences. Plexiglass on the – for the windows. And so, the argument that I am making in my most recent book, it’s called “Caged Youth,” is that we need to rethink and reflect on the school space to make it more welcoming, to make it more humane and to remove some of those cage contingencies because it is the perception that guides the hand of judgment.
I feel as though if you are outside of that context, we talked about context earlier, if you’re outside of that context, then that becomes the immediate kneejerk response, right? Well, violence begets violence, right? In order to harness this violence, right, we’re going to be more violent, and that seems to be the kind of, you know, the American ethos in many respects.
And it is actually counter to what we do in REAL, right? But it is also I think counter to seeing one another and treating one another as humans. And so, you know, part of the research that I’m looking at, and it goes back to 2009, so it is a historical piece, between 2009 and the school closing, so it really looks at Renaissance 2010 and how the kind of gentrification that is happening in Chicago communities impacts schools, impacts limited resources within those communities.
Folks are forced to share – are forced to move from community to community, school to school, have to share limited resources, and this creates a violent context.
LINDA BLAKLEY: I expected to learn a lot in this conversation today and you two didn’t disappoint. You are both doing so much good work to help educate not only DePaul students but the community about these issues. In one sentence, would each of you tell the everyday Chicagoan what they could do to make the city a peaceful and just place to live for everyone regardless of zip code?
JOHN SCHLICHTMAN: So, I think quite simply, you know, everything we need to really know, we learned in kindergarten, right? Speak to your neighbor, to the people on your sidewalk. Treat your neighborhood as a home. Treat the city as a whole, as different people’s home space and all of our collective home space. But also realize that that is not enough. That is the beyond kindergarten part.
We have to work for policies that create a just community fabric and that doesn’t happen by itself.
HORACE HALL: The society that we live in is so – the present society, the present atmosphere is so incredibly ultra-individualistic and we are so concerned with you’ve got to get yours, I’ve got to get mine. I think that we need to step outside of that for a moment and start to look at one another.
The folks who aren’t in your community, right, the folks who don’t look like you, to step outside of your perceptions, to step outside media misperceptions in many ways, skewed perceptions. And to find a way to come into contact with individuals and see them in their fullness.
You know, I think one way to do that is to understand that history is not a dead thing and if you – if you want to change your present, if you want to build a more equitable society, you need to know your past. I think by doing that, we can come to know ourselves more fully.
LINDA BLAKLEY: Professors Hall and Schlichtman, thank you so much for talking with me. I am Linda Blakley. Thank you for listening to this episode of DePaul Download, presented by DePaul’s Office of Public Relations and Communications.
Let’s keep the conversation going. If you have feedback for us or ideas for future podcast episodes, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And make sure you check back for future episodes featuring DePaul’s faculty experts and discussions with DePaul’s president, Dr. Gabriel Esteban. Thanks for listening.