Gentrification is the process of transforming a poor, urban area by having wealthier people move into the area. Once they have moved into the area, they work on improving housing and creating new businesses. As a result, the current inhabitants of the area are displaced from their homes and community. I grew up in Chicago and saw gentrification happen all around me in many neighborhoods including Pilsen, Little Village, and Humboldt Park. For some reason I thought this wouldn’t be the case once I moved to attend the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. However, after only a couple of semesters of being on campus, I have come to the conclusion that university gentrification is also prevalent at UIUC. As a Chicana woman on campus, I have had a difficult time adjusting to the change of moving cities. More importantly, it feels as if my culture isn’t represented on campus, much less in the surrounding areas of Urbana-Champaign. It is much more evident since the University of Illinois is a predominately White institution.
The first thing that I realized was how many different options of housing I was able to see on campus. However, it was interesting to notice that the more modern apartments and condos were located in Champaign rather than Urbana. Also, most of the nicer condos were only found on Green Street in Champaign, IL. When searching for my own apartment for my Junior year, I quickly realized that the more affordable apartments were in Urbana, IL. Being a first-generation, low-income college student, I have to find the most affordable option. Which is why a student like me might not have the possibility of leasing a luxurious condominium like the ones being built all through Green Street. Most affordable housing options aren’t the best either. Think about the message that this sends to low-income college students. It’s another reminder that we don’t have the same opportunities as most of our fellow classmates.
Income & Poverty
If we compare the household income in Champaign and Urbana, we can definitely see a large difference. According to the U.S Census, the median household income in 2018 was $51,692, in comparison to the median household income of $35,820 in Urbana.**** Additionally, if we also compare the poverty rate of both cities, it was 19.2% in Champaign, and 30.8% in Urbana back in 2018. We can clearly see that the more affluent city of the two is Champaign. Additionally, the poverty rate is higher in Urbana. Therefore, it makes sense that the community is focusing on improving the housing in Champaign since it is the wealthier of the two cities. However, this affects the community in Urbana, because they continue to live in cheaper and run-down apartments.
According to the United States Census, in 2020 about 71.8% of the population is White. Meanwhile only about 13.8% are African American, 10.9% Asian, 6.3% Hispanic or Latino, and 0.4% American Indian.*** As a result, it appears that Champaign is a predominately White city. I believe it’s interesting that the more luxurious condominiums are being built in the more affluent and Whiter part of the two cities. It’s almost as if the focus is on improving the wealthier and also Whiter city. Meanwhile, the minority community in Urbana is not being invested in as much.
As mentioned in the United States Census, as of 2020 about 59.1% of the population is White. Whereas 18.9% are Asian, 17.7% African American, 6.4% Hispanic or Latino, and 0.2% American Indian.**** Therefore, Urbana is also a predominately White city as well, however it has a bit more diversity than Champaign. Also, one of the only Hispanic supermarket stores in the area, El Progreso, is in Urbana. I remember being really upset the last time I went grocery shopping at County Market, which is located in Champaign. I was so frustrated because I couldn’t find quality, authentic tortillas, El Milagro, there. For many Hispanics, this brand of tortillas is a staple food item. Not being able to find it at the nearest grocery store to campus made me feel like I didn’t belong there.
Taking a look at the demographics of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, it is apparent that it is a predominantly White institution. According to the Office of Inclusion & Intercultural Relations (2017), the total enrollment for both undergraduate and graduate students is 47,826. The enrolled student population is 20,778 (43.4%) White, 11,084 (23.1%) International, 7,171 (14.9%) Asian, 4,439 (9.3%) Hispanic, 2,499 (5.2%) African American, 1,268 (2.6%) Multiracial, 29 (0.06%) Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and 25 (0.05%) Native American/Alaska Native.* Considering these demographics, it is evident that people of color are underrepresented on campus. Thus, making it much harder for students of color to find their place on campus. More importantly, this makes it much more difficult for students of color to feel represented on campus.
The effects of the pandemic are also resulting in differences between both cities. If we look at the number of testing sites in both cities, you will quickly notice a major difference. For instance, the major testing site that most residents of the community aside from on campus locations have been the Marketplace Mall in Champaign, IL. It’s interesting to see
the institution’s role during the pandemic. As one of our writers, Jorge, mentioned, it appears that college students are more privileged in the sense that we have more testing sites available to us across campus than anyone else in the city. Additionally, poor urban planning and other institutional factors have left minority populations such as Hispanics, Latinos, and African Americans, more vulnerable to COVID-19 than our White counterparts.
However, the only testing site available to the community appears to be located in the mall of Champaign. Like I previously mentioned, Urbana has a higher population of Hispanics, Latinos, and African Americans. Therefore, it would make sense to provide Urbana with more testing locations for the minority population. However, it appears that White people in Champaign have an advantage. However, it appears that White people in Champaign have an advantage.
“Many institutions, especially those that are predominately white, boast about their commitment to diversity as a part of their mission yet contribute to this phenomenon by moving in and disrupting communities predominantly occupied by people of color.”**
We see this happening with the few COVID-19 testing sites that are available in Urbana versus Champaign. As well as, with the little to no representation for students of color on campus.
*“Demographics.” Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations, 2017, oiir.illinois.edu/about/demographics.
**Mowbray, Santana. “Fresh Talk: When Urban College Campuses Lead to Gentrification.” Hartford Courant, 4 Dec. 2019, www.courant.com/opinion/op-ed/hc-op-fresh-talk-mowbray-gentrification-1204-20191204-vknuxczcpneglgsi7xbe7jja24-story.html.
*** “U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Champaign County, Illinois.” United States Census Bureau, 2019, www.census.gov/quickfacts/champaigncountyillinois.
****“U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Urbana city, Illinois.” United States Census Bureau, 2019, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/urbanacityillinois.