Urban laugh track

Logan Square inversion

Logan Square once again features prominently in the national news media in the August 13, 2008 issue of The New Republic, (not sure if it’s) on newsstands now (but it’s definitely on-line). In the featured article, “Trading Places,” author Alan Ehrenhalt writes:

…The massive outward migration of the affluent that characterized the second half of the twentieth century is coming to an end.

Chicago — including specifically Logan Square — is much used as an example of demographic changes causing an inversion of the traditional American inner-city poor/outer suburb affluent, pattern of settlement.

I can’t entirely agree with the author’s characterization of Logan Square changing dramatically in just the past five years. For example, he refers to a restaurant on the square that “…attracts long lines of customers who drive in from the suburbs on weekend evenings,” which I gather is Lula Café (also see video below), but Lula has been


on the square for at least eight years, and husband and wife chefs/owners met while cooking at its predecessor, Logan Beach, which set the scene in the same location. The square itself has attracted considerable investment over the past 10-12 years, and the boulevards even longer, but our commercial corridors have not experienced much change, let alone anything near dramatic change. Ehrenhalt, though, uses Logan Square to illustrate how cities are attracting the very people that once fled to the suburbs in search of their ideal.

To describe what has happened virtually overnight in Logan Square as gentrification is to miss the point. Chicago, like much of America is rearranging itself, and the result is an entire metropolitan area that looks considerably different from what it looked like when this decade started.

There is already much on-line discussion of the article and the issue of demographic inversion — whether it even exists and, if it does, if it’s a good thing, or if it’s just a more PC term for the G-word (gentrification). If it does exist, though, I want to focus on one of the reasons Ehrenhalt highlights as to why.

“Friends” or “Father Knows Best”?

While simplistic, Ehrenhalt makes an astute observation of a correlation between the T.V. sitcoms of each generation influencing its choice about where to live. Whether we like it or not, or whether we’d like to admit it, we often shape our ideals from popular culture, and T.V. has been a powerful force in popular culture.

The generation raised on “Friends” and “Seinfeld,” singles living in apartment buildings in Manhattan, has formed a different ideal for where and how to live than the generation raised on the traditional family unit living in the white frame house on Maple Street of “Father Knows Best.” Of course there are societal changes as well, such as later marriages and smaller families, but the T.V. influence is compelling (to me).

“Will & Grace” and “Sex and the City”

The author attributes the inversion both to healthy, active, wealthy seniors choosing to live in central cities and to young adults, many raised in affluent suburbs, making different choices about where and how to live.

I’m going to make the assumption/observation that the wealthy seniors are primarily moving downtown, and the young adults are moving both downtown and to neighborhoods — like Logan Square — that they can afford. In “Sex and the City,” reality was suspended to allow Carrie to live alone in a relatively spacious apartment in Manhattan, but it was clear that for the most part Grace could not afford Manhattan but for Will’s largesse, and Monica and Rachel kept a low profile in order to maintain a deceased aunt’s apartment rent controlled.

Chicago is not Manhattan, and young adults can still afford Logan Square — especially if they live without a car in this transportation advantaged neighborhood (see Fuel-efficient neighborhoods). After all, the “Seinfeld” gang only borrowed a car on occasion, and wasn’t Carrie the only one of the girls who knew how to drive?


A conversation starter: Who’s your sitcom? What’s your ideal place to live? Did one influence the other?

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3 Responses to Urban laugh track

  1. Christopher says:

    Pop entertainment like TV reflects changes that have already occurred or are just occurring (often to writers and creators of the shows themselves), to take an example from “an earlier generation” — one of the big plot points in “I Love Lucy” was when they moved from their apartment building to a home in Connecticut. This was already late (and probably a reaction to) other shows that were exploring the topics (and comedy) of the recently suburbanized — like “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” And all of this of course is a few years behind movies that were exploring the same comedy, the classic being “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream Home.”

    To me it has a lot more to do with music, I draw a straight line from disco and punk culture in the 1970s and 1980s and rave culture in the late 1980a and 1990s to youth reimagining (and repurposing) the city and its buildings about 10 years before many of those same creatives became writers who created TV shows to match the experience they were then living. Music (and the freedom of the city, it was the somewhat lawless frontier at that point, a liminal space needed to invert the paradigms of their strictly regimented suburban up-bringins) drew young people to the city from their suburban areas to the center urban core.

    I have an old issue of UTNE reader that probably dates from 1990 about how the city reborn which points to changes that were already taking place for a decade, in some cases, at that point.

    Christopher: Music is another interesting pop culture influence. Now that you’ve brought it to my attention, I’ll be more conscious of it. Thanks, and welcome back. ~ Lynn

  2. Carter says:

    I generally can’t stand sit-coms, which may be why I like Logan Square. I’d give the Office some props, but I’m not sure that says much about me other than a bizarre sense of humor.

    Thanks for linking that, I had read the article when it was sent to me, but the comments were a better read by far. I think that author fell into the trap of looking for evidence (largely anecdotal) that supported his preconceived notions.

  3. James Liu says:

    I think Ehrenhalt wants to distinguish between the two. I’m not sure he does it so all that clearly. For one thing, gentrification is a neighborhood level phenomenon, and demographic inversion is a metropolitan-area phenomenon. But is one just the macro effect of the other? Ehrehalt wants to say no, and in a sense he’s right. But not as broadly as he’d like to think, nor with the evidence that he cites.

    James: I think you’re spot on about the neighborhood vs. region scope. Perhaps he was trying to illustrate the inversion by expanding the focus beyond the Loop to neighborhoods like University Village and Logan Square, to say it’s more than just downtown. Like gentrification, this inversion concept is complex stuff only touched upon in the article. It did get us thinking and talking. ~ Lynn

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