Everybody plays a part in their community, until it ceases to exist. Like Chicago’s summers, Wicker Park comes to an abrupt end and is followed by something cold and brutal. The communal coffee shop cease to exist and from it’s remnants spring a member’s only gym. Barber shops become spas, family flats to condominiums, rents rise while wages remain stagnant. Like the felling of a vast oak, the surrounding ecosystem relying on these structures becomes destabilized and ultimately pushed out. The displacement of the people is gradual and unplanned, but the axe that swings on the tree is deliberate and almost too swift to notice.
Kevin Coval and Langston Allston weave together the narratives of past friends, lovers and family to recreate the soul of a pre-gentrified Wicker Park. Everything Must Go gives full attention to the individuals that were disregarded throughout the neighborhood’s transformation by avoiding the hollow narrative that gentrification is an invisible economic force that just happens. Instead, the stories of the people subjected to this economic crime become the central pillars of the neighborhood.
The heroes of the story aren’t white men in capes fighting crime, rather, they’re black and brown car-fixing, tamale cooler carrying, incense selling folks who turn the neighborhood into what it is. The soul of Wicker Park is often attributed to the artists, and creatives who moved there for cheap rent, but it’s vitality and character of the working class that allowed those people to flourish.
What would the struggling artist be without the full-time waitress, part-time psychologist who shows nothing but unconditional kindness to all her customers? Who better to learn Bertrand Russell’s merits of idleness from than the tecate drinking butcher who sits on his porch, watching the world turn as he wipes the blood from his butcher’s knife? How far could you really get without the oil-covered hands of the mechanic willing to drive across the way to help you roadside at the drop of a dime?
The tantalizing tempo of Coval’s couplets and the genius graphics of Langston Allston have cemented these people in history by giving a voice to the working-class roots of Wicker Park that were ultimately torn from above.