Gentrification literature focuses on a causes and consequences framework, with the displacement of residents being its key tenet. But what happens when private capital suddenly saturates a space that was never meant for residential functions? In this research paper, I explore the processes that drove growth and transformation in Chicago’s West Loop, transforming the neighborhood from a once desolate meatpacking district that solely served industrial purposes into Chicago’s consumption destination, where major streets are lined with high-end restaurants, retail, hotels, and Fortune 500 companies. Through in-depth interviews with West Loop stakeholders and participation in community meetings, I discover a tension between two groups of people who disagree on the extent that gentrification defines West Loop’s transformation. The first group of people do not believe the West Loop gentrified because there was nothing and no one to displace. The second group of people believe that West Loop has and continues to gentrify because there are people still being driven out by sky-rocketing property values and taxes. I theorize that the West Loop’s development was precedent on processual commercialization, instead of an explicit causes and consequences framework of gentrification. In my analysis, I discover that rapid commercialization in a space not originally meant for residential functions results in population transience and inadequate public resources and physical infrastructure to support the increasing residential density. Consequently, West Loop is increasingly resembling a consumption destination where community building capacities are limited.




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