Saturday, June 06, 2015

Urban Renewal

Chicago's version of New York City's High Line opens today, but this is not about creating park land for local residents. It does not matter that the original name for the former railroad right of way was the Bloomingdale Trail, named after the street along which the tracks ran. Bloomingdale sounded far too New York-like and you'll see references to the "606" which represents Chicago, to avoid confusion. The zip code starts with 606, you see, and this trail is going to unite neighborhoods and yada, yada, yada.

This is about the neighborhoods that are supposed to become as one. Right now, the areas in question are two, as in rich and poor.

Bucktown used to be a rough part of the city. Crime was high and the residents were barely scraping by. The homes they owned were old, having been built at the turn of the Nineteenth Century when Bucktown was a new area. Then the hipsters discovered Bucktown and it became the hot part of town, relatively inexpensive and affordable for those looking to open a boutique or a restaurant serving food not found in Lincoln Park.

Housing values went up as speculators snatched up the old homes and refurbished them. Property taxes went up as well, because it's all about the home values when figuring the bill.
After gentrification - a little whiter?

The poor had to sell because they could not afford to live in their neighborhood. Not that they were delighted at the increasing property values. They got more for their house than they would have if not for the gentrifying, but they did not want to sell and move away.

Then Wicker Park became trendy as Bucktown became too expensive, and the people who lived there for generations were forced out because they could not afford to keep their homes. Logan Square is in the process of gentrifying now, and the same thing is happening. Residents simply cannot pay the property taxes due. They don't know where to go, and they resent the fact that strangers with money are coming in and causing them misery.

The Bloomingdale Trail will unite a fourth community to this gentrifying pocket of Chicago, and the largely Hispanic population of Humboldt Park is up in arms. They know what's coming. They'll be the next to get booted out, to find something affordable in some other part of the city where the Humboldt Park gangs will have to fight the existing gangs to re-establish their turf. Who wants to put up with that?

Local aldermen talk about property tax freezes for those in danger of being exiled from the land of plenty, but it's never been done before and it likely is not legal, but talk is cheap and can get a person re-elected if enough voters believe the flurry of words.

They don't mean it.

Gentrification is good for Chicago's bottom line, and this is a time when the bottom is falling out. Hipsters taking over an area and making changes that bring in diners and other hipsters with deep pockets benefits the city with the added tax income. When they rehab the old homes and make them more valuable, property tax income goes up, and there's no voter outrage because the voters are delighted to see the value of their property investment climb. They'll turn around and flip that parcel to someone else with money, someone who wants to live in a trendy area with a nice mix of unique shops and dining experiences.

The original residents are in the way. They have to go. And the city is not sorry to see them go because money follows behind their departing moving vans.

They have no choice but to find a way to pay higher taxes if they want to stay put. Either way, the city is going to get more income that does not involve voter outrage over tax increases because property taxes are based on property values.

Urban renewal is the cleanest way for Chicago to raise taxes. If the downtrodden get trodden down a little further, it's sad but inevitable. Chalk it up to progress, but it's all about the money.

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