Albany Park: Report Back on Gentrification During the Pandemic

By Com. S and Com. Jae

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the inhumanity of the capitalist-imperialist system has been on display for the whole world. In the so-called U.S., contradictions were exposed as hospitals reached capacity within weeks; mass graves juxtaposed the bourgeoisie’s unwillingness to allocate resources for people’s survival; supply lines were interrupted, leaving people with empty aisles in grocery stores; prisoners were left to suffer and die in their jail cells; the massive loss of jobs and income for families led to massive lines at food banks across the country. These were just a few examples of the crises we witnessed in the early months of the pandemic. The slow burn of the virus exposed even more contradictions between the ruling class and the people, as workers have been forced to labor for capital in order to survive, receiving no additional benefits or enhanced safety measures at their workplace, continually being harassed and punished by parasitic landlords and their lackeys in city government when they can’t make rent.

In the midst of all of this, a familiar enemy of the People continues its advance. In neighborhoods across the country, gentrification continues its assault on the poor and working class. Developers are seizing the moment through speculation on vacant properties.

As the pandemic rages on, the contradictions continue to heighten. Now in December, the end of the statewide eviction moratorium nears, opening up the floodgates for mass displacement of working class communities. In the neighborhood of Albany Park in Chicago, rents were already increasing to where the masses were just scraping by. Many are unemployed or have trouble finding work, and many are being abused by their landlords when they can’t make the rent on time through neglect of the property, illegal lock-outs, and the shutting off of utilities.

(Khepri Cafe, Bokeh, and Embody)

FTP’s struggle in Albany Park means staying with the people and keeping track of developers descending on our community. As usual, it is a comparatively small group of gentrifiers looking to exploit the neighborhood as much as they possibly can. The newest addition to the Albany Park gentrifiers club is Embody Studio on 4645 N. Kedzie Avenue. Embody is a pilates studio owned by Jennifer Thorton, a recording secretary of the petit-bourgeois organization, PEAP (People of East Albany Park) Block Club. PEAP was formed in March 2012, as gentrification in AP was reaching its first peak, “as a response to an increase in violence in our neighborhood.”

In Chicago, block clubs were originally formed by New Afrikan people in the early 1900s, during the Great Migration. By the 1990s, the Chicago Police Department had become interested in using these neighborhood structures for their version of “community policing”— one that collaborates with the state rather than functioning as a revolutionary organ. While colonized people created these structures to strengthen their own communities, colonizers co-opt and use the same structures in the latest neighborhood of their choice to get what they want. 

Gentrifying “block clubs” pair with racist neighborhood watches under the guise of violence prevention, while utilizing both the brute force of having CPD on call and the forward-facing front of new “small businesses” popping up periodically, owned as always by patronizingly benevolent gentrifiers who insist they are “from the neighborhood” and would never hurt a fly. As always, the long-time strategy of gentrification means deliberately letting neighborhoods populated by colonized people decay, followed by a wave of “revitalization” to sweep out the people, and any community structure that serves them.

As a “block club” in name alone, People of East Albany Park creates a sense of differentiation with the neighborhood as a whole (not to include the poor working masses just west of where PEAP sets their perimeters). It is a common tactic of gentrifiers to arbitrarily rename and cut the neighborhood into smaller and smaller sections as a way to encroach on the whole. We have detailed before this movement of capital from the east end of the city in effort to displace and gentrify more people to the west, in particular with the gentrification of Albany Park.

Embody Studio, along with other gentrifying businesses like Khepri Cafe and Bokeh cocktail bar, are creating a bloc for gentrifiers in Albany Park on Kedzie Ave with the help of their “block club.” They cater to the gentrifier: those who live in condos across the street and mansions in Ravenswood Manor, those moving in who can afford to pay the increasing rent, those who label the neighborhood “up and coming” and have money to spend on these businesses. The only community they foster is one that can line their pockets and look down upon those who cannot. As class partisans, our interests are the interests of the poor and working class. We say that anybody who comes into our community and sets up any type of situation that does not meet the needs of the masses, will be identified and combatted as the enemy of the people.

How does a bougie pilates studio help the community? What does it do? It allows for the neighborhood to become more palatable for settler yuppies, while hiding under the mask of providing some kind of wellness treatment for people in the community. The masses can see right through this performative bullshit. FTP cadre asked members of the neighborhood what they thought about the studio setting up in their neighborhood. The answer was unanimous: “Why would we want this?” The masses need jobs, healthcare, places for their children to play and do school work. They need good places to live where there are no parasite landlords stealing their wages. In the face of an eviction crisis and mass displacement, an expensive pilates studio is a slap in the face to all poor and working people in Albany Park.

Our suffering under capitalism, intensified bycoupled with the pandemic, is an investment opportunity for finance capital. Bourgeois politicians will not save us, not even their faux socialism. Gentrification has already displaced hundreds of families in Albany Park, and the establishment of gentrifier businesses sets the stage for a more substantial blow in the months to come. As we have noted before, these establishments encourage increased rents and pig occupation by their mere presence, embodying the same logic as the broader settler-colonial system.