Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Why Would Anybody Live in Rogers Park?

Pictured here are a few reasons why some people like living in Rogers Park, and why we are dismayed at the elevated crime rates and continuing slumification of our neighborhood, which has evidently been designated by our local leadership as a convenient dumping ground for criminals, prostitutes, and other of the city's worst social problems.

A few people out there wonder why we Rogers Park residents who are fighting to better our neighborhood don't just move, as evidenced by the comments left on Craig Gernhart's "Broken Heart" blog recently:

"Craig: "Bitching and moaning" is the normal way Rogers Park residents communicate with each other and the outside (through their rant-ridden blogs) world. As for Commander Caluris, he may have listened patiently to all the complaints, but, as I've written many times before, he (and fellow police)secretly think you're all nuts for living in this area of the city and thinking that things will someday change.

"when I first moved to Rogers Park a number of years ago, I was introduced to a local cop. He promptly asked me: "Why in the hell would you want to live here? You know the bad guys are constantly out to get you and your belongings, right?"


"That's my point. Get real about the police having to be "professional" to your face, and what they're really thinking about you and where you're living.
Both RP apartments I lived in--east side near lake and west side near Western Ave.--were broken into."

Well, for starters, I can answer that once upon a time, some people wondered why anyone would live in Old Town. I can recall visiting that area in 1968 as a teen, and it made present-day Rogers Park look pristine compared.

Wicker Park was a dangerous slum in the 80s, and still has elevated crime rates, in addition to used tire yards; vacant, trash-filled lots; and ugly, crumbling housing stock that costs more than better stuff in Lakeview- another nabe remembered as dangerous and deteriorating in the 70s and before.

Why, indeed, would anyone want a reasonably priced, spacious and beautiful old house, condominium or rental in a neighborhood replete with a great beach, 24-hour public transportation and numerous other public and commercial amenities, as well as densely populated with mature trees, and that contains an incredible inventory of truly beautiful architecture and fine vintage housing of all types? Why would we not rather just move back to Lakeview and pay steeply elevated rents for housing that is unfit for human habitation and is the size of a walk-in closet; or just move over to the stodgy precincts of Jefferson Park or Portage Park, or for that matter, out to the land of crackerbox cul-de-sacs complete with 40-mile-per-direction commutes?

Maybe I'm baffled because Rogers Park compares so favorably in terms of appearance, architecture, and urban amenities, to certain trendy areas that have experienced popularity that seems inexplicable when you consider that these areas are almost all post-industrial slums replete with ugly, substandard housing, abandoned industrial buildings, and vacant lots. I had to go over Chicago Ave. not long ago, and spotted a home at Leavitt & Chicago belonging to a friend of a friend- a fugly, tiny little story-and-a-half box built a century ago as worker housing, that is now worth over $400K. This is just one more area that was, for many years, considered a total loss, and for the life of me, I can't figure why anybody would want to go there for anything at all- there's not a shard of decent architecture for a mile around, and I can't figure how they'll ever deal with all the Superfund cleanup sites and industrial slag and ruins left behind by departed industries. However, if this woman ever needs the police, I hope they respond promptly even though I think that entire area is one big post-industrial brown lot.

What disturbs me the most about the comments I've quoted, aside from the incredible myopia they reveal, is the attitude toward the citizens of this area: the idea that some populations of harmless people are simply not worthy of protection- that our leaders and law enforcement feel free to write off tax-paying, law-abiding citizens because they live in a particular area, or belong to a subset of the population that most people, for whatever reason, don't respect. This attitude seems to be pretty widespread across the country, and is probably the major reason that the United States is the most violent and crime-plagued of all Western nations. Crime flourishes in pockets of neglect and permissiveness, and certain parts of Rogers Park seem to have become unofficial "no enforcement" zones that are pretty much the property of the neighborhood lowlifes and criminals.

It also bothers me that we can so disregard a neighborhood where, recently, many thousands of people have committed hundreds of thousands of dollars each to developing or purchasing homes and condominiums, and that most of all contains so much that is beautiful, and irreplaceable.Moreover, this is still mostly a middle class neighborhood, and many residents have lived here and owned property for decades, and they've been relentlessly resisting the onslaught of blight and crime that has been visited on the area since the 1970s. These people buy and renovate houses and buildings, and pour their lives into improving their property and the area. We probably have more citizen participation in improvement efforts than any other north side neighborhood.

Most of the world's great cities took over a thousand years to build, and structures that date back that far are still cherished and cared for, yet Americans have built some of the most spectacular cities and most beautiful neighborhoods in the world, just to trash them in less than 75 years for tract houses built of pressboard and glue, which they will then discard in less than 30 years. We think that Rogers Park, and the city of Chicago, ought to last a little longer than that, especially since this country seems to have reached some kind of a limit in how much land we can cover with pavement and junk tract houses, how many miles we can commute each day, and how much money we really have to replace houses, neighborhoods, and cities as fast as we can tear them up.


Fargo said...

For me, it's great spaces at reasonable prices, cool people, and being near the lake and transportation. It's the most amazing example of dynamic interaction of people and groups I've ever seen anywhere.

The North Coast said...

That's what it is for me, too.

But I do most love the "dynamic interaction of groups and people", which you find only in neighborhoods like this- dense,walkable urban neighborhoods that are close to transportation, cultural institutions, and a varied commercial mix.

Lakeview still has this, and so do Edgewater and Uptown. Lincoln Park, however, is losing it, possibly because it is getting just too affluent, and therefore available only to an increasingly narrow demographic. LP was an ideal urban nabe when first I arrived here, albeit already very expensive, but it still accommodated an incredible variety of people. However, now it is getting so pricey most single people can't afford it,and neither can people in oddball occupations, and/or owners of tiny boutique-type businesses; and an absence of such people really makes a neighborhood stodgy.

Nabes in other cities, like St. Louis' Central West End, once had this quality, but have become so dangerous that fear of criminal depredation has driven people into cars, and out to the suburbs. Areas like this cannot survive broad fear and anxiety about public safety, which is why it is so important to get a handle on our safety problems around here.

The neighborhood has to LOOK interesting, too- notice that architecturally bland neighborhoods never foster the kind of mix and interaction we're talking about here, especially if they have no public spaces where people can gather and where many interesting things can take place. Areas stuffed with overly large highrise buildings, or nothing but residential, don't make it, or if there are too many big structures that turn their backs to the street.