Economic development is occasionally mentioned in Weinland Park. However, the only growth industry in the neighborhood in decades past has been carryouts and social service agencies. But why? Granted it’s just as easy to take your dry cleaning to Italian Village but a few services would be nice. Having just read Off the Books by Sudhir Venkatesh, an anecdotal account of ghetto economics in Chicago it’s become apparent why there aren’t any businesses besides carryouts. They’re out there and we can’t see them.

So, after reading Off the Books your local blogger has realized that goods and services are all around but not just readily available to someone not fully engaged in the underground economy of poverty-stricken neighborhoods. In fact, everything you need is probably already out there from informal child care, car repair, drugs, food, clothing, and guns to sex, etc. Those things that are highly regulated, liquor and cigarettes are also available. Naturally, at the carryout. The only business that provides a service or product not already being served informally. Consequently, why would you need any other businesses?

In fact, not only is there an alternate economy there’s an alternate power structure that right now revitalization is poking holes in daily. It’s not something that your local blogger has ever heard mentioned although that has to be taken with a grain of salt.

Let’s explore. According to the book, social service agencies, churches, and gangs are at the top of the power structure/economy in your average urban neighborhood. Not much of a surprise except that they have completely replaced any type of civic structure in in urban neighborhoods. If you think about it any large building in Weinland Park that used to be business or school is now a social service agency or a church. Churches and social service agencies provide the conduit to the outside world as well as occasional jobs and educational services for residents who don’t actually having to engage with the world outside the neighborhood. And for many residents the world outside of Weinland Park is a foreign country.

They’re not there because the coffee is really good.

This economy swirls all about the middle class residents without much if any notice. For example, on Saturday mornings you may notice people returning from the Vineyard food pantry on 5th Avenue. Word has it that you can get $5 a bag for groceries you just received the Vineyard from the tow truck drivers  at the Shamrock Towing on Hamlet south of 5th. It’s also a good place to hustle stolen tools and such. So street cleaning and game day towing provide ample cash incentives to the local economy. So does the guy walking around all day with an extension ladder or a stereo or an armful of power tools of questionable provenance.** However, when the police come and haul the enterprising salesman/dealer/hustler away the local economy just got dinged. It’s tempting for the middle class person to think that they’ve saved someone from another day of stolen-goods- fueled-drug abuse; unless that was the rent money the police just checked into the evidence room.

So does revitalization disrupt the local underground economy?  There is ample discussion about rising property taxes displacing people. And one could suppose this is possible if and when property values ever rise. But the disruption of the local gang  or drug trade and increased law and order as the neighborhood switches power structures, from one based on locally administered brute force and violence (no snitching) to the rule of law (call the police) disrupts a lot of local people from making a living. And what happens to the local economic system as the neighborhood becomes less socially isolated and more integrated into the conventional economic structure of the city? People will need permits and licenses and be subject to increased scrutiny and regulation. This will probably displace more people than rising property taxes ever will.* Increased safety and neighborhood involvement is not conducive to many current business models in the neighborhood. Cameras on the streets are disruptive to these activities as surveillance and criminalization of the public space increases. So will people move to other neighborhoods when they are no longer able to make an informal living in Weinland Park? And for many residents the informal economy is the only option especially for those hampered with barriers caused by prior incarceration, substandard education, and social isolation. As the informal economy is displaced what happens to the social service agencies whose constituency has evaporated? Or if revitalization without gentrification, i.e  no displacement, succeeds, can  the underground economy, based in some large part on illegal activities, a lack of regulation, social isolation and informal modes of mediation, sometimes culminating in violence, continue to persist? Or do you have two economies? Coffee shops and the hustle co-existing peacefully?***

In any case when you see a coffee shop or some other new business in Weinland Park something a little different is going on.

**Real life examples

*No proof, pure conjecture on the part of your local blogger.

***Local blogger has no answer to any of these questions, so keep thinking!