It has now been confirmed by the Experts in their best "you don't know what you're talking about" rebuttals, that since the word "housing" does not appear anywhere in their charter, DevCorp has nothing to do with residential housing issues. We don't know whose responsibility it is, but rest assured it isn't theirs.
Forgive my confusion because we do seem to be getting mixed messages lately. DevCorp has been sending out promotional material advertising condominium opportunities outside Rogers Park and just the other day, a sign promoting the same appeared above the doorway to DevCorp's office.
But being the inquisitive type, I'm still bothered by the apparent contradiction of our only entity for community development turning a blind eye to housing issues, not just NOH, but in the entire ward.
When DevCorp developed the Gateway Mall, a Rogers Park version of "A Field of Dreams", they crossed their fingers and hoped that when they built it they would come. But they haven't come have they? The new businesses haven't and the new upscale shoppers in the area wave, thanks but no thanks on the way to Evanston. The only entity that rivals Dominick's anchor status is disappointment. Its' ever present and it's palpable. Why?
An inexcusable 15 year absence of a comprehensive housing and development policy NOH.
Well, if DevCorp denies responsibility for the revitalization for NOH, who's responsibility is it? Is it yours? Is it mine? Does anyone know? Does anyone have a plan? No, no one does.
There is no plan, unless you consider the acceptance of the status quo as a plan in itself, a kind of default philosophy. But just as every action has a corresponding reaction, innaction has results
too. And now, the plan that wasn't has created it's own consequences.
Wicker Park on the Lake
Because something has happened NOH during the last couple of years as people were busy doing other things. The free market has discovered NOH. Not because as one expert claims, a result of the Gateway Mall development, but despite of it.
With condo prices at overheated levels throughout the city and lakefront condo demand exceeding affordable supply, the marketplace has simply found comparative per square foot bargains NOH. This is not the result of a DevCorp developed strategy but simply the free market doing what it does best as it discovers price inefficiencies.
And so condo conversions, hundreds of them have accumulated from Bosworth to East Lake Terrace and has divided census track 101 right down the middle, socially and economically. With no development guidelines in place, the opportunity to create a mixed income community and a fair solution to the NOH problems within NOH, fades with each new condo conversion.
GENTRIFICATION, The Big Ugly that no one wants including myself, now seems inevitable. NOH is well on its way to becoming Wicker Park on the Lake, placing my neighbors to the west on unsteady ground yet again.
A Little Relevant History
"Any community that is well designed and well located, if left to the free flow of the market, will quickly lose any chance of economic diversity" said John Mcilwain, a senior fellow for housing at the Urban Land Institute in Washington.
As in all recent economically upscaled neighborhoods, the expectation of services and amenities that accompany $300K condominiums as it does in other neighborhoods, will begin to exert pressure on local leadership. The Alderman will be compelled to oblige those requests or otherwise risk alienating a whole group of new, real estate tax paying constituents who will contribute to TIF coffers. Real estate has suddenly become a valuable commodity NOH.
And on a scale of 1 to 10, what are the percentages that ANY Alderman would risk the potential political suicide of alienating those new constituents?
The answers to that question are everywhere and recent and none of the possible outcomes bode well for my neighbors to the west of Bosworth or the socal service agencies who, I believe are here on borrowed time. This is not my wish, I am simply looking at very recent history.
No one truly believed that The Mayor and the CHA would actually succeed in demolishing the projects when it was first suggested, but it happened. Owners of modest homes in newly upscaled neighborhoods like Wicker Park, never beleived they would actually need to sell their homes, simply because they could no longer afford the ever escalating real estate taxes. But they did. They had no choice. The Pacific Garden Mission, at 646 North State Street for 123 years never thought for a moment that the need for the services they offered could change. But it did. As owners of the property, they considered themselves safe and continued resisting the "suggestions" from The Mayor, Alderman Natarus and others to rethink their position. But they held fast and were eventually brought, not to the negotiating table, but to the "this is what your'e going to do" table. They were moved and they were stunned. They were moved to nicer digs but they were moved, nonetheless. The mere threat of Eminent Domain, the politicians' new best friend in the ruthless, real estate commodity game, convinces everyone eventually.
Vacuum of Leadership
The issues NOH are complex. It's a geographically, self contained island of despair and a destination of last resort for displaced residents of demolished CHA projects. NOH is also home to slumlords who don't care about the neighborhood and criminals who work the neighborhood. And hidden in the shadows, living as quietly as possible are lots and lots of good people who need a break and an even chance at a better life in a revitalized neighborhood.
NOH is a smorgasbord of problems with a menu no on wants to order from.
When DevCorp was established and it came time to hash out their mission and write their charter, the language was very specific in it's vagueness. In fact the language is so loose, Devcorp could sell umbrellas during a rainy rush hour and still be within the mandate of "improving the business climate" in Rogers Park. The charter purposely excludes any mention of anything residential. Why? Because if Devcorp did residential that would mean they would have to deal with NOH.
And No One wanted to touch the issues North of Howard because No One wanted to risk their political or personal reputation trying to solve these difficult issues.
So in the room, everyone took a furtive glance at the menu and shook their heads. No slumlords or racially sensitive issues for me thanks, I'll just have a small salad. And so the charter was written to reflect that fear and set into motion, 15 years of absentee policy NOH. And so the Experts were right about DevCorp not doing residential. I just happen to disagree with the decision.
As just plain people like you and I, the likelihood is better than 50/50 that we would have asked for the small salad too, instead of the whole enchilada NOH sampler plate. The problem is that you and I are not the hand picked or elected leaders of our neighborhood. We might not have taken the risk and chosen to confront the NOH dilemma, but someone had to.
We expect our elected leadership to have the vision, explain the vision and point us in the right direction. For 15 years we've been pointed every which way but NOH. We expect our elected leadership to have the courage to confront difficult issues, not ignore them for 15 years until the problem becomes more complex.
And now it is more complex because the blind eye policy vacuum has created Wicker Park on the Lake. And this "accidental" result is the direct result of not having a comprehensive development policy for NOH. These same unintended results will be happening all over our ward if the pace of development continues without a plan.
Oh, but the Experts will come out of the woodwork and say that I've gotten exactly what I've been asking for. The economic imbalance is beginning to shift and we'll soon see investor confidence NOH and the services and amenities will be there soon.
And I say, this condo conversion process has been happening for a few years now and we've lost stores on Howard Street in the interim. I say, I've never wanted an upscaled neighborhood that would put my good, law abiding neighbors to the west on shaky ground. I say, the social service agencies will be needed to help transition my neighbors if a plan ever takes shape. I say, NOH has the same difficult issues it's always had and NOTHING has been solved. I say, as I have for some time now, that Howard Street and Gateway Mall will continue to suffer until the issues here are solved.
We're All in the Same Boat
In my recent essays, I have suggested a mixed income solution for NOH as a fair compromise to those problems we face here. These suggestions were made not because I want my neighbors to the west removed as claimed by the experts, but because I want the good, decent and hardworking neighbors included. The calls for a mixed income compromise NOH, were in the context of a "NOH only" solution. But the recent conversion of all available rental apartments to condominiums NOH, has now limited that as a possibility. I was simply hoping that we could solve our own problems NOH by ourselves with our own housing resources and I'm no longer sure that we can.
I'm not sure if anyone knows and that uncertainty is not an isolated NOH issue, it is the core of a wardwide problem. No one knows.
And so I will ask the question again. When the political pressure starts to build for services and amenities NOH, what will happen?
I think I can reasonably project how the knee jerk argument will play out since I have a little experience in that "misunderstanding and assumption"department. At first, there will be polite discussion that will quickly disintegrate into frustration and animosity, as it always does. Then, the battle lines will be drawn down the middle of Bosworth and the awful and divisive"us versus them" talk will begin on both sides of the aisle as it has everywhere else. We can get ahead of this inevitability for once and we should. We need to, because there is no "us versus them" reality. The truth is we are all in the same boat, in the same neighborhood, in the same ward, facing the same problem. The consequences to each of us might be different, but the problem is a shared one.
And that problem is an inexcuseable, 15 year absense of a comprehensive development and housing policy in Rogers Park.
We are all on shaky ground. We are all feeling a little unstable because none of us knows what the future will bring. We all wonder what will become of our neighborhoods and our own particular blocks because of all the helter skelter development.
We have no idea what's going on unless you include the dog and pony shows that get passed off as "community input. " We arrive, if we are lucky enough to be notified in time, and are asked to make architectural, aesthetic, density and economic impact decisions in 20 minutes based on a rendering that gets spit out of a printer from an architect who hasn't visited the site and whose design only shows his building as if it were floating in free space.
This is not urban planning. This is a very risky game of adult hide and seek and without a comprehensive plan, our whole ward will evolve into Wicker Park on the Lake. With DevCorp out of the picture,the only entity between us and the next wrecking ball is the Aldermans office.
And in all due respect, these myriad development and housing issues are much too complex for the current hit or miss policy he is asking us to accept. We need a plan. Am I the only person who feels this way?
Stop the Development. We Need a Plan.
We are all affected by the uncontrolled development in our ward and the tax giveaways that are now surfacing as a result of The Devon/Sheridan TIF. Do we really understand the full impact that all of these proposals are going to have on our lives, our property values, our taxes, our businesses, all of our neighbors, our children and our neighborhood?
No we don't but we should. We must know. We deserve to know.
We need to regain control of our neighborhood and our lives before Rogers Park turns into a place we no longer recognize. We need to decide our fate instead of being shocked 18 months later, as just happened when our neighbors were informed that a building they believed was included in a downsizing proposal, was not. We need to retain the social and economic diversity of the neighborhood we are proud to call home. We need to make certain that a reasonable proportion of affordable rental units are either built or maintained so that there is a place for those who can't buy, to still live in Rogers Park. We need to confront the difficult issues NOH in an atmosphere of trust and fairness without resorting to the knee jerk and divisive racial accusations that no longer have a place in the discussion.
We need to enlist the help of urban planning experts such as www.cnu.org, whose organization just moved to Chicago or www.civiceconomics.com, who assisted Andersonville www.andersonvillestudy.com in their study of Clark Street or www.corcoranjennison.com all of whom have extensive knowledge in this field of study. We don't need to look any further than Edgewater to see how planning and controlled development might work for Rogers Park. We need to use the research that the Rogers Park Conservancy has done and we need to incorporate a lakefront plan as part of a comprehensive, development solution because if we don't, a plan will be given to us that won't resemble anything we want. We need to understand what everyone needs and wants so that we can work towards a fair solution for our entire ward. We need to be conciliatory during this process and understand that we all might not get exactly we want.
We need to show the city and the rest of the country how a community that speaks the most languages, can all come together to speak the same language. The language of cooperation.
Neighbors, we need a breather. We need a comprehensive development plan for Rogers Park.
I'm not an expert and this is no publicity stunt because the issues are much bigger than any of us individually. I am simply a father who is worried that the neighborhood he decided to move into 6 years ago to raise his daughter, is suddenly looking quite different today. I am a neighbor who's concerned that myself and a lot of my neighbors, might not be able to afford to live in Rogers Park anymore. I worry that with the consequences of the helter skelter development that is occuring and endangering our architectural heritage, I might not want to live in Rogers Park any more.
Does anyone else feel this way?
Because if you do, I will offer a plan for us to regain some control over our neighborhood in the good, old fashioned Rogers Park tradition. Stay tuned or contact me.