Friday, September 23, 2005

It has recently come to my attention that one of the biggest points of contention among those folks who attend neighborhood planning meetings is that many of the long term residents of the neighborhood who own single family homes or those who were some of the first to buy condos up here is that they are concerned that the neighborhood will become overdeveloped - driving up taxes, creating a lack of affordable housing, or conversely creating a glut of affordable housing that will sit empty, etc...

Many of these arguments to slow the progress of development may be valid, but my worry is this: In a neighborhood that has been "The Next Big Thing" year after year, only to see development fall far short of projections, maybe these people are impeding the process for the wrong reasons. Maybe they don't want the population to increase because they don't want to share the parks, beaches, and parking. Maybe they they are worried their property taxes will go up. Maybe, they don't want to look at a new building filled with condo units that middle class families can actually afford to buy. I am not saying that these aren't legitimate beefs. I just want people to be honest about it.

People can be greedy and selfish sometimes, myself included. I'm not proud of it but I am not going to compound my flaws by lying and hiding behind a facade of being the social conscience of the neighborhood. If I drove, (and I know many perople up here that do) I'd probably complain about parking too. If I had a single family home with a yard, I'd probably be upset if someone built a huge development right next door. My property value might go up and I might have to pay more in taxes. It sucks. But let's face it, it's happening everywhere.

I lived in Lincoln Square for several years and when I went to buy of course I wanted to buy in the neighborhood I already called home. Problem was, once I got married and started looking, I was priced out! So we searched and searched and searched and finally found a nice place on a nice street up here that we could afford. When I see other buildings being converted and hear people complaining about gentrification and development, I am torn. I was priced out of my neighborhood and here I am doing the same thing to folks even less fortunate than myself. It makes me feel guilty sometimes but hopefully with sound planning we can preserve a diverse community here in Rogers Park.

We need development here. Before any development had taken place back in the early and mid 90s I lived on Eastlake Terrace between Howard and Rogers. I was harassed by gang bangers and drug dealers were everywhere. I had to drive everywhere I went. I would never have considered buying back then. Thanks to some folks more adventurous than myself who did choose to buy here and renovate and develop, things have changed for the better. Now some of those same folks want it to stop. They probably feel entitled a bit since they weathered the rougher days. I can understand that, I felt that way when I left Lincoln Square.

What I am trying to say is this: Change is sometimes painful. Noone will argue that, but change is also the only thing that is going to make this neighborhood a better place to live. If you want less crime, increase the number of home OWNERS who have a vested interest in the property and will call the police on drug dealers and taggers. If you want more police, increase population density a bit and we will get more officers to patrol the streets. If you want more shops in the vacant eye sore that is the Gateway center, attract more middle class families to the neighborhood. People don't open shops until they have done market research to see if it is lucrative to do so. Let's face it folks, it may not be the best system but it's the way the world works.

I think we need increased development that is well planned to best benefit the majority of the citizens who live here. I don't think we have to run everybody out of the nighborhood and start from scratch to do that but there are going to be challenges. We can't isolate ourselves from the rest of the city and expect city hall to take care of all our problems. They know how the system works and when the majority of the city is on board with that program they aren't going to change it for us.


nico's mom said...

Hi Michael,

I am very happy to see that you have set up this blog. I hope this will be a place where the community can strategize about what's not working, why and how to make it better. I agree with your comments about what might be stalling the kind of development that would really improve RP, but I want to add some observations about another factor that recently came to my attention. It seems that lots of the conversions happening are simply replacing one bedroom rentals with one bedroom condos. Now that's fine for single people, but as a development trend, will probably not do much to increase the stability and long term value of the neighborhood. This may seem harsh, but those small condos have such a low barrier to entry that we will probably just see a rash of forclosures in the not too distant future. It would be much better if larger apartments that could house families were being put in. There are ways to incentivize developers to do this, but it would require competent leadership on the part of ward leaders. I don't want to turn this into a Joe bashing session - that's what Craig's site is for - but it seems he is not engaged in the proactive way he should be, and that's a problem. I am trying to learn more about the dynamics of all this, and as I learn more will post anything that seems to be of interest.

Michael K said...

I agree that may be problematic. I think in some cases this could be benficial because these properties will in many cases become affordable (although certainly more pricey than prior to conversion) rentals. A glut would be problematic. The building I am in doesn't have any one bedroom units at all.

As is the case with other neighborhoods, such as Bucktown and Pilsen, there are going to be some hiccups when it comes to development. I don't think we have to worry about becoming like Lakeview (as if that were a bad word). I think a more realistic vision for our neigborhood would be something more like Wicker Park. Although it does have some extravagantly priced homes, there are still many rental properties and tons of small shops and restaurants. Though not ideal from the standpoint of crowds and a sometimes "frat-boy" atmosphere, there are lots of places that remain from it's rougher days.

nico's mom said...

I had a conversation recently with a realtor who sells a lot up here about pros and cons of buying in RP. The two things he mentioned were the lack of leadship on the part of the Alderman and the over abundance of one bedroom conversions. I think some of his argument had to do with demographics (median age and income tend to be higher for larger units) and some of it had to do with ease of entry - statistically more likely that lower priced units will forclose. I am going to follow up with this guy to see if I can get a more detailed take on his arguments. I will post anything of interest.

I don't think that RP faces a lack of rental properties any time soon. I think it is more a question of the kinds of buildings people like best are converting - like courtyard buildings, for example.

I think a lot of what freaks people out about development, especially up here is fear of the "frat boy" worldview taking over - homoginized, bland, materialistic etc. Personally, it's not my cup of tea - if all the Gap stores in the world disapeared tomorrow, I would be none the wiser. On the other hand, myths about the primacy and authenticity of roughness in cities can be pretty destructive too - isn't that just a form of "slumming"? Doesn't this impluse perpetuate some not so desirable outcomes? I mean, does the "picturesque" filthiness of the bathrooms at the cafe Ennui really make it spiritually superior to the clean ones at Intelligentsia?

RP is one of the last places in the City where "60's people" - sorry I don't know how else to call them, no offence intended - see a little vestige of their culture left, and I think they feel a little defensive about the possibility of the "frat people" taking over. But there is no real basis to fear this that I can see. I think the model that most people in RP aspire to is Andersonville, as far as I can tell. Fine by me. Wicker Park, fine by me too. I just wish the comparisons to other communities were more along the lines of what good results and ideas we could appropriate and make our own rather than just concentrating on what we don't like and don't want.

Michael K said...

Good feedback. Let me tell you a little that I know about other neighborhoods that have been through this development process and the problem with 1 bedroom conversions.

In areas like Lincoln Square and Lakeview one of the problems with 1 bedroom and even 2 bedroom units comes from the way they were converted. Often the existing floorplans of rehabbed buildings are scrapped and units that once were 1 beds with a large dining room are converted to 2 bedrooms with no dining room. master baths are added to 1 beds and the bedrooms and living rooms are cramped. I think they convert janitor's closets into studios.

These places are fine for people (many single)just coming into the buying market which is why there is such a high percentage of them here right now. And yes, young people are known for bungling financially so there will be foreclosures. The upside is that it attracts young people to the area. Once established, in come new businesses. Once that happens you'll see more families who want to live there. In the mean time, the young people will grow too big for the place they live in but may have become attached to the neighborhood. If the community has grown with them I think this will happen and you'll see them buying next door. There is a guy in my building who moved out of his unit when he bought a house down the street but does not plan to sell but rather rent the space out. He has a beautiful place and believes that by taking a loss on paying the mortgage (which will be much higher than the rent) he is making a sound investment in its future sale even though he could make a 20K profit now. He is a real estate agent. There are 5 who live in my building.

I also wanted to thank you for being one of the more level headed people who are interested in the development of the community. I like a lot of the inflammatory discussion because they are often fun, but I can only handle so much craziness.

nico's mom said...

Very interesting comments. Thanks for that insight. I hope your analysis is correct, because that would be great.

Level headed - right back at you! I know that flaming people can be fun, but I also agree that like many kinds of self indulgence, the downside is not always worth it in the long term. If we want to actually get things done, we need to keep the level of public discourse on a higher plane.

Except when it comes to Jeff O - I will take great pleasure in batting him like a pinata anytime I get the chance.

Michael K said...

Yeah. That kid is hilarious! I imagine that HE didn't buy a buiding anywhere. I think that he is a spoiled rich kid who's parents bought a building and that he is istting in a coffee house someplace drinking his fifth Americano and splitting his time between "Being and Nothingness" and ranting about how this poor old couple are failures. If I owned a nice house for 33 years and survived in the the shit hole this neighborhood was, I'd sell to the highest bidder and move to Hawaii. Especially with kids like him around.