For our workshop this week we welcomed Dennis Mondero, Executive Director at Chinese Mutual Aid Association (CMAA) and Jenni Han, President of their Board of Directors, who shared the history of CMMA as well as some of the current work that their organization does serving the community in Uptown – north side neighborhood known as the Ellis Island of Chicago. CMAA was founded in 1982 by Vietnamese residents, and has grown to 400 members while offering multiple services and programs focused on immigrant and low-income populatoin including:
Youth development: more than 135 youth (originally designed for 35) through their development program; successfully supported by a strong network of volunteers.
Seniors: (in-home services)
Citizenship pathway training
Language services (ESL)
The conversation included some background history, culture and evolution of Uptown, including the demographic composition and change – we learned that Argyle & Broadway has been known as “Little Asia” or more casually like “the Asian ghetto”. We also discussed the more recent changes in the built environment, especially related to transportation infrastructure: Redesign of Argyle Street as the first shared street in Chicago (between Broadway and Sheridan Road); and the modernization project of the Argyle CTA Red Line station. Argyle Street renovation is also part UI Lab’s City Digital Project through sensors that monitor stormwater management and other environmental factors. Other recent projects that have added to the cultural and neighborhood life of Uptown is the Night Market on Argyle Street (started by United Uptown during the summer between July 6 – Aug 31) and Black Ensemble Theater (Clark St & Sunnyside Ave, 4450 N Clark St), also demonstrate significant investment from the non-profit organizations.
Argyle Nigh Market (Uptown United)
Argyle Shared Street (Site Design Group)
Black Ensemble Theater Company (Morris Architects Planners)
Our discussion shifted to unpacking the tensions that these investments have or are creating between residents and businesses, and the community at large. Especially the Argyle Street project process exposed tensions between SRO residents (frequent users of Argyle) and the business owners on Argyle St. because of negative perception related to loitering by visitors or patrons. Dennis mentioned about the “The Ghetto Gates” effect related to how businesses security gates were instigated as negative elements during the design/renovation process; some owners were/felt encouraged to invest in new/modern security elements and general aspects of their facilities.
Change as a overarching theme was embraced. "The make up of CMAA's Board has also evolved – currently integrated by Filipino, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese" said Jenni Han. Like in many other neighborhoods, improvements and investments to the built environment exposed tensions about affordability and gentrification process that these types of projects tend to enable or initiate. “If displacement is inevitable, how do we work to support the families we intend to serve? if the immigrant community has to move, where will they go?. In a way, that’s why we opened an office in Elgen, IL. [...] We are thinking of also serving DuPage, Skokie, Lincolnwood where other immigrant communities are concentrating.” CMAA thinks they could play a role in “slowing it down” and letting people decide when to leave instead of being evicted or priced out.
As we continue to these discussion, the participants came up with some prompts to guide our future discussions – not only for Uptown, but other neighborhood – that would help to elevate the discussion beyond a few site-specific projects.
Workshop agenda + notes here.