Hipsters on the way? Make sure we have plenty of avocados

Viewpoint: 

The commentary below represents the ideas, observations and opinions of the author.

  A panel from the Think Homewood campaign, which 
  has attracted national attention in its attempt to lure 
  young Chicago families to the village.
(Provided image)
 

I don’t think Homewood is going to become Brooklyn anytime soon.

But, judging from the reaction to the “Think Homewood” promotional campaign, you’d think the village is trying to portray itself as the next hipster paradise.
 

  Tom Houlihan
The marketing effort, unveiled a few weeks ago, employs cartoon scenarios that show young parents coping with frustrations in Chicago’s hipster enclaves, while their racially diverse counterparts in Homewood are enjoying the good life, complete with affordable homes, fine schools, park district gymnastics classes and, yes, avocados.
 
Much has been made about avocados in the cartoons that — gasp! — can reportedly be found at the Homewood farmers market.

The gall of some people! Everybody knows that all south suburban communities are to be portrayed throughout the greater Chicago area as post-apocalyptic wastelands where there is not an avocado to be found anywhere.
 
It didn’t take long for some folks to say the cartoons, which can be seen on CTA Blue Line trains through May, are wrong, wrong, wrong.
 
John Joe Schlictman, an associate professor of sociology at DePaul University, wrote in the Chicago Tribune that “Think Homewood” is “snide” and “snarky” and all about gentrification, which my dictionary defines as “the restoration or upgrading of deteriorated urban property especially by middle class affluent people, often resulting in displacement of lower income people from their neighborhoods.”
 
Sorry, but methinks the professor protests too much. For instance, he takes offense at “urban gentrifier amenities” mentioned in the cartoons.
 
“There’s ‘the artisan street fair,’ the pizza place with ‘the old oven, of course,’ the ‘rock climbing gym’ and ‘that new farm-to-table café,’” he writes. “There is only one of each of these amenities in Homewood – and the latter two are brand new. It is as if they were constructed for the sales pitch.”
 
Say what? Climb On Rock Gym has been open since 1997, which hardly makes it “brand new.” Aurelio’s, home of the legendary old oven, opened its first pizza parlor in Homewood in 1959 and now has dozens of locations in hipster communities all throughout the Chicago area. The professor needs to be a wee bit more accurate before he condemns Homewood’s modest marketing effort.
 
It is a modest campaign, costing about $20,000 for the CTA ads along with promotional “baseball cards” touting Homewood and an economic development video narrated by White Sox announcer Jason Benetti, who is an H-F High School graduate.
 
But Homewood is clearly getting its money’s worth. Besides the good professor’s diatribe, the Tribune ran a substantial news story on Homewood’s efforts. There was a story in Crain’s Chicago Business and a number of great thinkers have weighed in about the campaign on the internet. The Associated Press released a version of the story that was picked up by newspapers and broadcast outlets all across the country.
 
Personally I think it’s brilliant and just the sort of marketing outreach that our towns need to be making. I am especially impressed by Marc Alan Fishman’s graphic elements, which make the campaign unique and striking. Marc, who lives in Homewood, is an old friend of the Chronicle. Back in 2015, when we were coming out with our first print edition, Marc redesigned the Chronicle’s masthead and logo. It was a pro bono job and we have been grateful ever since.
 
If I have any complaint, it’s that I wish Flossmoor were part of the campaign. I live in Flossmoor and would like to see my community make a similar outreach to young families looking for a good place to raise their children. I think it would make a lot of sense for the H-F towns to jointly promote our communities, perhaps in partnership with the schools and park district.
 
But it’s a great start. I have no problem with mentioning avocados and kombucha if it gets the point across. Some of the online criticism I saw mentioned the vapid hipsters in “Portlandia” as being prototypes for the characters in the “Think Homewood” cartoons.
 
That’s just silly. No one is ever going to confuse our towns with Portland or Brooklyn. To be honest, our hipness quotient is not that high. But ours are towns with lots of positive energy. They are safe and stable, with schools that are truly preparing students for all the changes taking place in our world. We have excellent housing stock and, as we all know, it is not overpriced.
 
Perhaps most important, we have diverse communities where all types of people are getting along with each other. It is significant that “Think Homewood” is aimed at people who are interested in diversity. The campaign’s graphic characters are black and white and, it appears, racially mixed. For a Chicago suburb to make that kind of appeal is a very big deal.
 
I have a hard time thinking that Homewood’s campaign is really a pitch for some sort of suburban gentrification. Again, gentrification traditionally takes place in low income city neighborhoods. Homewood is neither low income nor a city neighborhood. Gentrification has taken place in numerous Chicago neighborhoods, most notably on the North Side, with the previous residents being forced to move away. Some gentrified neighborhoods have become re-segregated when that happens.
 
Homewood, and Flossmoor, will be diverse communities for years to come. There is nothing wrong with inviting young families to be part of our future, regardless of the avocado supply. It’s good to see Homewood telling the rest of Chicago that we have a great deal to offer.
 
Because we do.  
 

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