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Radical or Pro-Parental?

By: Clare Christina

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Dykediva.com columnist Clare Christina examines the changing face of Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood:

A whole lotta fuss about a sign. Ever since A Taste of Heaven asked kids to keep it down, a lot more eyes-and pens-have been on Andersonville, Chicago’s “second” gay neighborhood. While it might not have the rainbow pillars of boystown, many lesbians and gays think of the neighborhood as a safe haven, a welcoming community, and, well, home.

But many are beginning to feel threatened by rising rent costs, swank sushi bars cropping up on every corner, and double-wide baby strollers hogging the sidewalks. Is Andersonville headed for a turf war between the dykes and the diaper set?

While many media types have seen this as a conflict between young parents and the happily childless, syndicated columnist Jennifer Vanesco of the Free Press points out that it is straight couples with young children that are moving in on the territory of “the gays and lesbians, mainly childless, who were already here.”

Diana Slickman says that when she moved to Andersonville in 1991, it “had a modest reputation as being ‘girlstown’-a lesbian enclave.” These days, she sees more gay men, as well as even more lesbians, plus a lot of straight parents. What all of them have in common, as far as she can tell, is being “young upwardly mobile people”-in other words, yuppies.

“Yuppie” is the last word Jameela Aghili, newly transplanted from Wrigleyville, would use for herself. In the six years she’s lived in Chicago, she has been interested in Andersonville but could never find the kind of break she needed. She found it last month in a basement studio off of Foster-$535 with (almost adequate) heat included. What attracted her to the neighborhood were not its boutiques, eateries, or bars: she wanted a home where she felt safe. “If you’re white and male and have money, you go to boystown,” she says. If you are a queer theater artist, you must look elsewhere.

While Aghili mostly shops at the Village Thrift and the Jewel, she appreciates that so many of the establishments seem to cater to people like her. The population, though, seems to be “mostly college kids and couples with babies-every now and then, queer girls, but I’m betting they’re in college.”

Christee Snell, executive director of the Chicago Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, sees a very close parallel to the development of the Lakeview area, which she describes as the neighborhood that went from being “Boystown” to “Strollerville” overnight.

So what in any other neighborhood would be just good old-fashioned gentrification becomes the Attack of the Breeders when applied to neighborhoods where LGBT people were the ones to “settle” a more run-down, economically weak neighborhood, buy houses, start businesses, and subsequently be run out by investors and developers. In the case of Andersonville, they’re also dealing with fugitives from boystown, gay men who can’t keep up with inflating taxes and rent in Lakeview and want in on the old-downtown charm.

There is still plenty of that charm left to defend. The latino business district at the northern end of the neighborhood still thrives, and Women and Children First continues to be a landmark of the community. Mark Walden, managing director for the Andersonville Development Corporation, hopes that by keeping affordable housing in the neighborhood, his organization can preserve the diversity that gives Andersonville its identity. Their goal is to maintain economic sustainability rather than see the neighborhood become another “hot market that will burn out.”

The Andersonville Chamber of Commerce, too, is doing what it can to keep Andersonville business local-not just because it’s quaint or cute but because a study they conducted about a year ago shows that 70% more of the money spent at a locally owned establishment stays in the neighborhood. That’s just good business.

So what’s next for Andersonville? Hamburger Mary’s, a gay-themed national chain, is set to move in where Café Boost used to be, and single girls with modest incomes are counting down what they believe to be their last couple of years before they have to move to Rogers Park. Even the New York Times recently got excited by a supposed boycott by uppity moms against a certain gay-owned bakery.

Change is inevitable, and investors with no long-term vision for the community are content to be the agents of that change if it means a quick profit. It will take the combined efforts of the community members, legislators, lobbyists, aldermen, and activists to keep the economy local and the population diverse. If you live or work in Andersonville, find out what you can do to support initiatives like Local First Chicago or the retail ordinance that would require chain stores to obtain a special permit before moving into your ‘hood.

And if you see a stroller barreling toward you, venture a peek and a smile. The child inside might be a future dyke diva!

Clare Christina has a masters in poetry and a drum machine in her bedroom. She lives in Humboldt Park with her dazzlingly cute partner and their two gorgeous cats. Email her at clare_christina@hotmail.com


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