Gentrification with a New Generation

By Jackie Vasquez

In the center of Chicago’s Wicker Park is a gathering place known as the Polish Triangle. It’s known as the Polish Triangle because it was the center of what used to be the second largest Polish community in the United States. However, today it isn’t as prominent as it used to be in the 1980s. There is an old fountain in the center that almost forcefully spews out water and across the street there is a brand new office building which says a lot about the new generation there.

Adam Aksnowwicz, 22, is a tour guide at the Polish American museum in Wicker Park. Growing up in the suburbs, he recalls his parents taking him to the neighborhood.

“They thought it was important to hold onto Polish tradition and culture,” he said.

His father grew up in the Wicker Park area in the 1970s when, at the time a majority of the population was Polish. However, a decade passed, and small Polish businesses started to lose their Polish customers and many began to close. It was the beginning of gentrification. Larger corporations moved in to the area and a lot of the Polish residents felt that the neighborhood was losing its culture, and since the early 2000s the number of Polish families in the area is at an all time low.

Not the same can be said for 76-year-old Helena Madej, who owns Podhalanka Restaurant on Division Street in Wicker Park. Madej has lived there for close to 30 years and opened her restaurant in 1985. This was around the time when the Polish population was high. Although she catered her food mostly towards the Poles, and was upset that the numbers dropped, she noticed that more and more different kinds of people are eating at her restaurant.

“I love Wicker Park. It is very close to downtown and nice people live here.” Madej said, “ I have very nice customers. That’s why I like no change.”

Stained glass mural at the American Polish Museum

Stained glass mural at the American Polish Museum

China town

Pilsen

Advertisements