LOGAN SQUARE — For years, the Megamall served as a kind of center of business and culture in Logan Square for Latino families, the dominant racial group in the neighborhood.
The sprawling former flea market is now closed and set for demolition within weeks to make way for a massive residential and retail development, which some say is symbolic of the demographic shift in the neighborhood.
In the last 15 years, Logan Square has lost more Hispanic residents than of any of the city's 77 community areas, according to U.S. Census data.
Paul Biasco talks about the latest data on a changing Logan Square.
Between 2000 and 2014, about 19,200 Hispanic residents moved out of Logan Square, a 35.6 percent decrease, according to the data.
Over that same period, the white population in the neighborhood increased by about 10,340 residents, a 47.6 percent increase.
In 2000, Hispanic residents accounted for 65 percent of the neighborhood’s 82,715 residents.
By 2014, Hispanics made up 46.8 percent of the neighborhood.
Compared to the rest of the city, only four other neighborhoods lost a larger percent of their Hispanic populations over the same time period.
Overall, the neighborhood’s total population dropped by 8,660 during that period.
The number of black residents in Logan Square also dropped from 2000 to 2014, but not nearly at the level of Hispanic residents, according to Census data.
In 2014, there were 3,934 black residents in the neighborhood, a 8.2 percent decrease from 2000.
The closure of the Megamall is the most visible and prominent example of the changes, but there are plenty of other subtler indicators that longtime residents say made them aware of the changing makeup of the neighborhood.
A ramen shop is replacing a 30-year-old Mexican restaurant, cheap housing has become increasingly difficult to find and there are perceptions that the neighborhood is safer.
“You see the changes, and it's hard to not feel upset. It’s the erasure of buildings, but it's also old memories,” said 24-year-old Lynda Lopez.
Lopez, who now lives in Hermosa, remembers visiting the Megamall as a kid and wonders now how much longer other Latino-focused businesses will be able to survive as customer bases shrink.
“It’s kind of sad you grew up somewhere and everything changes, and it's kind of like memories and being displaced in a deeper way,” she said. “Whenever I’m walking around the neighborhood, I’m thinking, 'How long is that store going to last?' It just doesn’t fit with the feel of the neighborhood anymore.”
The changing demographics of the neighborhood have also affected the congregations at numerous churches throughout Logan Square.
One century-old church with a predominantly Latino congregation, the First Evangelical Church at Kimball and Wrightwood avenues, is being transformed into a circus training center.
Emmanuel Hernandez, a 30-year-old Logan Square resident, moved out of Chicago in 2004 and returned in 2012. A lot happened in the city in his absence, especially in Humboldt Park and Logan Square, where he spent much of his youth.
In 2005, on a visit back to Chicago from Los Angeles, where he had moved, Hernandez said he saw a jogger on North Avenue.
“I’d never seen that before in my life,” he said. “I was shocked.”
Hernandez told his dad. His dad had one question: “What was she running from?”
Hernandez, who works at a pizza restaurant in Old Town, said he has been coming to grips with the changes and accepts that neighborhoods change.
Logan Square originally was predominantly Scandinavian, and the neighborhood still has a Norwegian-speaking church (one of only two in the country). Humboldt Park, similarly, has gone through a series of demographic changes.
“When we were kids, our favorite game was cops and robbers, and we would hear drive-bys,” Hernandez said. “It wasn’t so much like ‘Oh s--- there’s a drive-by.' It was ‘Oh crap, we have to go to the backyard. We can’t play in the front anymore.' Now that I’m looking back at it, it seems horrifying, but at that time that was just the way it was.”
Family, roommates and living alone
Housing in Logan Square also changed significantly between 2000 and 2014.
In 2000, 79.4 percent of all residents lived with family in the neighborhood.
By 2014, that number had fallen to about 68.7 percent, and 19.9 percent of residents lived with a roommate, up from 11.4 percent in 2000.
About 16 percent of residents in Logan Square lived alone in 2000, compared with 20.8 percent in 2014.
Displacement of families who have lived in Logan Square has become a major issue for a number of nonprofits in the neighborhood, including the Logan Square Neighborhood Association and Somos Logan Square, both of which have drawn attention to the topic through protests and other actions this year.
The groups have cited the 606, an elevated park that runs along a former rail line, as a amenity that has caused a spike in property values and taxes.
“It's very, very, very expensive to live close to the area [near the 606]. I see it — my friends are moving out of the area," 34-year-old Ana Centeno said. "I want to let everyone know. It's not only one person. It's a lot of people."
Centeno, who has two children at Mozart Elementary School, has lived in Logan Square for about six years.
Rising rents, tax hikes and changing businesses are all factors, but it is also familiarity.
“You might not be displaced by someone forcing you out, but you stop recognizing people, and you feel like there’s no stores for me anymore,” Lopez said.
Lopez said many of her friends who used to live in Logan Square are moving west, mostly to Belmont Cragin.
“For one reason or another, maybe it’s getting more expensive, or a lot of people you know are moving toward an area,” she said. “Displacement is a tricky term. You have to examine what it means and ask questions"
At the same time, there is a housing boom going on in the neighborhood, specifically on Milwaukee Avenue.
That boom includes more than 1,000 housing units, some billed as luxury units, and midrise buildings that will be the tallest in the neighborhood once complete.
The twin towers project, a 120-unit apartment building, quickly is taking shape near Fullerton and Milwaukee avenues, as well as the neighboring "L" building.
The numerous projects have produced a split in the neighborhood, with some, such as 1st Ward Ald. Proco Joe Moreno, arguing they will increase the housing supply, ease demand and stall rising rents.
Others, such as Somos Logan Square, said the high-end projects will bring higher rents and an influx of wealthier residents.
"Unless something drastic happens, I don't see how Logan Square can retain diversity racially or economically," Lopez said.
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