An Amazon Warehouse & Quantum Computing Venture: the economic jolt Humboldt Park never asked for.

Chicago can be likened to a city of neighborhoods — it’s the city that feels like a bunch of small towns. Even at our worst (and let’s be real, things haven’t been great for many people living in the distant neighborhoods within the city for a long time)…we pull it together and figure it out. As the old saying goes, Chicago’s a “city that works.” Humboldt Park is the epitome of a classic Chicago neighborhood. It’s a stronghold Puerto Rican enclave — it’s been that way since the 1970s. True to form, the neighborhood has gentrified a bit over the years — I can’t say that I’m not quite close to that gentrified neighborhood myself. But the level of gentrification varies depending on the will of the people living within the confines of the areas, and the longtime residents, much like those of Pilsen and Little Village on the Southwest of Chicago, fight every day to maintain their enclave within this city that belongs to ALL who live here. Not unfamiliar with the woes of gentrification, privatization, and global capital, Humboldt Park lost all of their elementary schools during the Rahm Emanuel days and has seen property values continuously increase on the East side of the park. Having said that, the community, overall, has stayed relatively true to its’ Puerto Rican culture. Can we all agree that maybe, just maybe, another venture capital project isn’t what’s needed to improve this neighborhood? I’m not going to parrot the talking points that I, myself, have grown tired of hearing — as the rest of us are.

Frankly, Humboldt Park’s Puerto Rican population has been slowly leaving since 2010 — due to a number of factors that I mentioned above. Slow but steady gentrification crept into the East Side of the park, while the West Side still has a substantial Puerto Rican population. Before the 1970s, the neighborhood had a large Polish, Jewish, and at its’ very beginning, Scandinavian population way back in the day. My point? It’s changed over time, for manufactured and natural reasons, but overall — it’s maintained its’ character as a classic Chicago neighborhood. Dive bars, vast green spaces, beautiful architecture, locally-owned shops and restaurants keep people here, even gunshot-filled nights become more and more prevalent in the pendulum known as life in the city. Some years are great, some years…not so much. Humboldt Park’s definitely seen rougher days, but I fear that people who have settled in the neighborhood will soon be priced out after our friendly neighbors are fully moved in.

Division Street — Humboldt Park — Chicago, IL

If I sound like I’m complaining, it’s because I am. “Don’t you want the city to improve? Don’t you want people to have access to jobs and housing and food?” Of course. Frankly, I’m done entertaining the question when I bring up an uncomfortable topic to many of my fellow Chicagoans, comfortably observing the west side’s activity as if they’re not living near what was once Cabrini Green. It’s all love, of course, but the irony and hypocrisy never ceases to amaze me.

You cannot throw money at a “problem” without including the people who live in the neighborhood. An “INVEST SOUTH/WEST” program by Lori Lightfoot means nothing to me when the only businesses profiting from the millions of dollars given out under the guise of “equity.” This isn’t some hit piece on Lori Lightfoot, I promise (I’ve got countless articles complaining about her…but I’m sure all of you knew this already). I’ve just had it with these programs that funnel in millions and millions of global capital that RARELY meets the needs of the local population. This isn’t a new subject — nothing I’m discussing is novel — but that’s just it: why do we continue to pretend that elected officials have the best interests of the locals in mind, when year after year, the have’s keep on having, and the have-not’s are left with Section 8 vouchers on the other side of the city after they’ve been priced out of a home they’ve owned for years?

INVEST SOUTH/WEST

https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/sites/invest_sw/home.html

I want to make something clear — one more time. I am NOT opposed to funding for neighborhoods that have been ignored for decades. My issue, rather, is with the funding sources, the capital backing, and the people coming into town under the guise of helping the locals. I’m all for new faces, but based on what I’ve seen in every area of the city I call home, no one who lives in these neighborhoods really benefits from the changes. They’re always priced out. I fear the same fate for Humboldt Park, Austin (a neighborhood on the West Side that’s near and dear to me — my grandmother’s birthplace and home for 18 years), North Lawndale, New City, Englewood, Auburn Gresham, Roseland, Bronzeville, South Shore (right next to the home of the new Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park), and South Chicago.

Source: INVEST SOUTH/WEST
Source: INVEST SOUTH/WEST

Interestingly enough, the areas shaded in pink are the only housing renewal zones throughout the entire neighborhood. The yellow-shaded area is the economic corridor — with a small area surrounding it that provides for housing. Residents realized, after it was too late, that most of the redevelopment funds weren’t actually going towards direct resources for the people within the neighborhood — they were for “reclaimed spaces” (I’ve yet to see any, community programming, public art, and enhanced landscapes — those were the chosen “enhancements.”)

Source: INVEST SOUTH/WEST

The results? (Red arrow points to K-Town, a small neighborhood within the West Side of Chicago — it’s seen better days, but it’s not a neighborhood you just move into without introducing yourself….unless you’re a venture capitalist or angel investor, of course.

This all, of course, is right alongside the $95M police training academy built along the 4400 block of W. Chicago Ave. in Garfield Park. While the outrage on behalf of the city’s loudest activists has long since passed, the overall narrative here is: “Hey! We’re redoing the neighborhood, once again. Don’t look at the other neighborhoods we’ve gentrified, this time will be different. This time, it’ll be inclusive for all of you locals…and your property taxes won’t go up a dime.” Fast forward two or three years later, and the politicians always come back to remind us how the private sector is “widening the gap” — and the accountability really never becomes evident to the people who deserve answers for where the hell their neighborhood went.

CEO and co-founder, Nick Farina, a Barrington native (that’s a suburb, for those of you who don’t know), returns to the state from East Lansing, IL, where he co-founded the company (largely in-part with the help of Michigan State University). Rather than moving in closer to Argonne National Labs or Fermilab, this “angel and high-net-worth family investor” backed company is thrilled to move into their $50 million redeveloped block of warehouses (backed by billionaire Joe Mansueto, founder of Morningstar Inc., an investment management group). I can’t say that I’m angry at Mansueto…or Farina — after all, they’re likely just pursuing what they feel is the best way they can contribute to the world. But — I’m sorry — I just don’t see a Barrington, IL native as someone who can lead Humboldt Park into a new era of prosperity given his background. Am I willing to be wrong? Of course! Who knows, maybe the community will open their arms to him — but something tells me I’m not wrong. Furthermore, something tells me the Amazon warehouse located next door won’t be a favorite of the locals, either.

Bluntly speaking, Nick — take your quantum computing and go play somewhere else. We don’t want you here. You don’t understand the city — and that’s okay — but leave it to the people who have put their blood, sweat, and tears into the homes they’ve worked their whole lives for. You claim to be bringing the company to Chicago in hopes of retaining local talent — that’s great. Let me know how many neighborhood kids are lining up to go into quantum computing with a staff capacity of about 10 people. It doesn’t sound like this is a locally-minded project. I’m not saying that locals can’t also thrive in quantum computing — but when you grow up in a city that sometime doesn’t love you back, you’re just trying to get through the day — a career in quantum computing is a lofty goal, but something tells me resources might be better spent on an elementary school or two to replace what Rahm Emanuel closed down.

Does Nicholas Farina know what the communities “in need,” need? Possibly — but in the off chance you ever see this Nick, here’s a few points to start:

  • The neighborhood needs an elementary school. Rahm Emanuel closed all of them down.
  • The neighborhood needs a few less shot spotter sensors and cameras — it needs even less gunshots and murders. You have any idea how to fix that?
  • The neighborhood needs to feel like they’ve got a stable home…like they’re not always having to wonder whether they can afford to live in their own homes a year from now
  • The neighborhood needs its’ locally-owned, family-run businesses to stay in business. That requires a local government who fosters an EQUAL playing field when it comes to who thrives and who fails in the city of Chicago. Can you provide that for the people, Nick? And lastly…

The neighborhood does not need a member of the World Economic Forum’s Quantum Computing Governance Project (“a global multi-stakeholder initiative to create an ethical framework enabling the responsible design and adoption of quantum computing”) — WE DON’T NEED YOU. There’s nothing locally-minded or locally-focused about this crowd — mark my words.

I realize I’m likely being a little hard on the guy (he probably means well…I can’t imagine a guy at only 35 has the same level of plans that someone like Michael Bloomberg might have…but who knows), and throwing years of frustration — on behalf of all of my neighbors in Chicago at him, but I’ve grown quite impatient with the venture-capital finance bros who became best friends with the computer nerds. I think both groups have a place in the world — I’m just a bit terrified of the merger that I’ve seen explode over the last few few years between the two groups. I admire the optimism and eye for growth — but from the school of thought where we take a step back — for a moment — and reflect before acting. The world in which we live today, however, has no time for reflection.

Look — I’m hardly against business — in fact, I come from a small town where family-owned businesses were the lifeblood of the town up until the 70s and 80s. My grandfather owned a small business for years — a discount warehouse store that I never experienced, personally, but Wonderland sounded as amazing as the name itself. It was a pillar in multiple communities with various stores throughout the Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan area. Wonderland was a mainstay in the community — it saw the riots of the 60s and the abysmal recovery that followed in the years after…but it was a constant reminder to those in the community — regardless of what happens, the pillars of a neighborhood are what make it feel like “home.” Sadly, like many other mom-and-pop stores, the 80s brought big business — and K-Mart shut down Wonderland forever. My father owns his own small business…and I ultimately hope to run my own some day as well. The problem isn’t the fact that angel investors are out in the world, looking for unicorn companies to invest in. Frankly, I find their visionary outlook fascinating…many of them are wicked smart. Yet the smartest people, I’ve come to find, understand the basics when it comes to giving people what they want.

The people of Chicago, Illinois want their city to love them back, flaws and all. The people of Chicago want to enjoy the city’s finest restaurants, bars, and clubs in River North and the West Loop. The people of Chicago want the South Side Irish Parade, the late night cruises down Lakeshore Drive, the hot summer nights at Wrigley Field or Comiskey Park (sorry, it’s never going to be Guaranteed Rate Field for me). We want Italian Ice on Taylor Street, tamales and elotes from the little ladies on 18th street in Pilsen, Tavern-style pizza from [insert your favorite spot here], and lots and lots of Chicago-style hot dogs. We want the late-night dive bar that’s nestled far off the beaten path. From Rainbow Beach to Hollywood Beach and everything in between, we want those summer days that seem like they’ll never end — just walking around the city, enjoying the neighborhoods, dodging a bullet or two, and living life without feeling like every single one of us is being pushed out.

The people of Chicago want to stop hearing about our neighbors being killed, day after day. We want to know that our kids can walk to school without getting hit by a stray bullet or two. We want the police to take care of the people within the neighborhood — help when needed, but only to that extent. We want our public housing to be a little better quality than what’s been thrown at the most vulnerable people over the years. I don’t want to hear another word from the Mayor Lightfoot or Governor Pritzker about “justice’ and “equity” — it’s lip service. When you cannot acknowledge the fact that more kids have died from gunshot wounds in the middle of a pandemic that’s killed so many people — we’ve got serious problems. We spend hours and hours listening to elected officials and bureaucratic zombies telling us why we’ll just have to pay a little more to ensure that we don’t lose the abysmal social services that are left to the public.

You know what this city really needs? To utilize the talent — the generations of Chicagoans who’ve put their entire life into being a part of the “city that works” — this city needs the input from the people who live here — to make the decisions on what’s best for their own lives, their families’ lives, and their neighbors lives. Don’t bring in another angel investor — go to the 77 neighborhoods of Chicago — truly, go IN and TALK to people — let them take part in rebuilding this city. Without them…all you have is another cold, heartless, repurposed warehouse with pool tables, beer taps for employees, and another neighborhood ripped from its’ roots — transformed into another cookie cutter version of what the elites like to call, “a revitalized city.”

Til next time,

-Aly

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312 • chicago, il

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Aly Alexandra

Aly Alexandra

312 • chicago, il

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