youth voices and gentrification

(In San Diego for the American Education Research Association) In 2005, CIRCLE was funded by the Cricket Island Foundation to make grants to youth-led teams of community researchers. We argued that research was a powerful form of civic and political action, especially when youth gave the results away to their communities. Doing research was not only good for kids; they could also produce excellent results if they used qualitative methods and local knowledge.

Applicants came from all over the country. One successful group was Cabrini Connections, a grassroots organization in Chicago’s most famous public housing project. As the youth show in this video–an outgrowth of our grant–Carbrini is famous for violence but is also a three-dimensional community and a lifelong home. It is now threatened by gentrification.

For several years, I also helped to select applicants for micro-level “citizen journalism” grants through the New Voices project. Applicants proposed to build websites or create broadcast shows about local issues. And I helped to judge the Case Foundation’s Make it Your Own Awards, which supported citizen-centered local work. In all these competitions–for grassroots or youth-led research, deliberation, or media production–a frequent theme was gentrification, and a rich source of strong applicants was Chicago.

I suppose the gentry will retreat again, now that housing prices are falling. But when the story is told of urban America from 1995-2005, an important theme will be the ways that shrinking poor neighborhoods organized to express their views, preserve their memories, and study their issues. Chicago will loom especially large in that history.