Rising Prices in Edgewater and Andersonville? Don’t Sweat It, They Can Be Avoided

I took the news that housing prices in Edgewater and Andersonville are on the rise very personally. For awhile now those two neighborhoods have been my ideal place to live. They’re close to the ‘L’ and lake, but hold their distance from the Loop. They have an urban feel, but still you can find those resplendent, leafy residential streets lined with stately homes. And, if I stood in the middle of Clark and Foster and shouted “Are you friends with Dorothy?”, I’d be almost guaranteed at least one “yes” in response. And, most importantly, they remain remarkably affordable.

Obviously, I want none of that to change. Maintaining affordability in Edgewater/Andersonville necessitates avoiding the problems that plague other areas of the city, but also by encouraging diverse residential development. This can be a slippery slope towards varying degrees of “gentrification” however. There is ample evidence to show the former can be achieved without the latter.

There’s no need to pretend that at some point continued demand to live in Edgewater/Andersonville might push prices up forcing out people who can no longer afford the area. Indeed, based on observations of Chicago’s LGBTQ* community, the trend towards rising prices and wealthier residents is already evident. In his book “There Goes The Gayborhood?” Amin Ghaziani effectively describes a movement of LGBTQ* Chicagoans northward from Old Town to Rogers Park along the lakefront that mirrors a consistent trend: queer people move into more affordable neighborhoods investing in them before moving on to still affordable neighborhoods further north while more affluent, and often straighter, residents move into former queer enclaves.

By this anecdotal evidence, Andersonville has reached a point that is not all that dissimilar to Boystown a decade or so ago, while Rogers Park is playing the role of Andersonville in the recent past. Assuming the model outlined above holds fast, there will be a rise in the incomes and rents in Edgewater/Andersonville in the coming years like in Lakeview and parts of Lincoln Park previously; that is, if nothing is done.

So while change can’t necessarily be stopped, that doesn’t mean these neighborhoods have to become bastions of the wealthy like Wicker Park/Bucktown and Lakeview/Lincoln Park. Right now, Edgewater/Andersonville still have median household incomes and rents that are lower than the surrounding neighborhoods, this according to Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks, which uses data from 2008-2012. With average household incomes at about $37,800 annually residents only spend 20-25% of their income on rent. This is quite good, especially considering the amenities available in the neighborhood, but based on the article in question, this is what’s at risk of disappearing.

Interestingly, it’s debatable if the DNAinfo article accurately reflects changes in the affordability of Edgewater/Andersonville. While the article gives the impression that housing prices are beginning to skyrocket and will force many residents out of the neighborhood, Daniel Kay Hertz, a Senior Fellow at City Observatory and author of City Notes, thinks otherwise.

“It sounds like what they are doing is just taking the straight average of all the listed properties. But…that technique is open to really wild swings [in the market]. If you look at Zillow’s numbers for the area, which are based on a repeat-sales algorithm that takes into account the random basket of homes that happen to be for sale at any time, the increases in prices are way, way less dramatic.”

So, from another perspective this change is not as troublesome, nor reason to run for the hills. Indeed, based on my own calculations using the data from Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks, residents living at or near the average median household income could absorb about a 20% rent increase without having to dedicate more than 30% of their income to housing. This doesn’t take into account the costs of purchasing property, nor changes in income levels. What it does show though, even in a vague sense, is a little leeway many residents could probably work with.

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On first look, Edgewater and Andersonville appear to have a rich and divese housing stock, but the neighborhoods are just as threatened bz downsizing and a lack of diversity as other neighborhoods.

 

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Edgewater’s acccess to transit and the lake make it a highly atractive neighborhood.

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Andersonville has a lively and attractive commercial area, but it could use a more diverse residential mix to support it. (Source: gatewayhostels.com)

To build on the neighborhoods successes though, affordability has to be maintained. Where rents are pushing out businesses in Wicker Park and housing stock is becoming overly homogenous in Lakeview, Edgewater/Andersonville still provide housing types for a range of residents. This in turn spurs more economically sustainable neighborhood. This fits into what Hertz said makes neighborhoods affordable: “a lot of many different housing types, and a lot of subsidized housing,” as well as walkability and transit access. This is a decent description of these North Side neighborhoods.

Looking at the Institute for Housing Studies map of the Edgewater community area, there’s no indication that Edgewater/Andersonville risks developing overly homogenous housing stock, but under the right conditions, the neighborhoods could quickly get split into two worlds: high-rises east of Broadway along the lake and single-family homes west of there. Taking a closer look, the problems for the neighborhoods appear. Neither Clark Street nor Broadway, both primary commercial strips, have much in the way of housing, while much of the stock in Andersonville is either single-family units or two- or three-flats. These are easy targets for downsizing projects.

Such downsizing projects are already proving problematic in Lakeview. Lincoln Park, and Lincoln Square. There, the diversity and number of available housing units is decreasing. This not only strangles the housing market and can result in demand induced housing cost rises, but it can also harm the economic vitality of the area. Near the Southport and Paulina Brown Line stops for example, the overall number of units dropped by 2% and 4% respectively, according to Streetsblog Chicago, which simultaneously reported calls by local merchants for more social diversity in the neighborhood to support all kinds of businesses.

Building more is no clear solution. According to Hertz, the impacts of increased development at a hyper-localized level still aren’t well understood. At the very least, at a regional level, more housing does equal more affordable housing. Nonetheless, because of Edgewater/Andersoville’s demographic make-up the potential rises in rent wouldn’t be a huge shock and probably offset by other benefits stemming form more housing.

To prevent similar conversations from happening in Edgewater/Andersonville, the 46th and 48th ward aldermen, Harry Osterman and James Cappleman respectively, have to begin supporting development that diversifies the housing stock and ensures it stays large enough to stay on top of demand. This is, of course, in addition to improved transportation in the area. Fortunately, tools are in place to support the latter efforts. The city’s greatly increased Transit Oriented Development (TOD) ordinance now covers much of the north lakefront and a development plan for Broadway exists that will hopefully guide smarter planning from Foster to Devon in addition to other projects.

Unfortunately, neither alderman seems to be doing a very good job of implementing the development side of this, or at least demanding better. While Cappleman has been brining new housing to Uptown, he’s received a lot of criticism for not being supportive of sustainable housing in the area and turning a blind eye to homelessness. Osterman just seems clueless. Since he’s been alderman he’s overseen the construction of much of the same on Broadway–strip-malls–in spite of  transit access and the viability of more housing in this area. Indeed, Broadway and Clark are the two best areas in these neighborhoods to absorb new, residential rich developments.

Granted, the aldermen might not be able to do much. In my conversation with Hertz he expressed skepticism that aldermen can do all that much to impact development, especially since the development can be a purposefully slow affair conducted by the “risk averse”.

At the very least, the aldermen could be more supportive of the ideal kinds of developments and make it known that in their wards, they’re open to ways of better using available land and redeveloping sites in ways that are attune to the neighborhoods’ characteristics. What’s most important though is that residents stay aware of what’s happening around them, but also shed any potential NIMBY responses there might be to new projects in exchange for a more nuanced recognition of what needs to done to preserve the neighborhoods’ character into the coming years. What’s still so great about the far northern lakefront neighborhoods is they’re still a bit of a diamond in the rough. They can’t be preserved like a museum piece, but the tools available to allow them to sustainably change with the times.

Reflections on a Queer Bike Tour of Chicago

In a city whose gay and queer community remains decidedly concentrated within a relatively limited number of neighborhoods, it would seem unlikely a tour of that very community’s history would traverse many neighborhoods outside the current concentration on the North Side. But that’s exactly what happened when I planned a tour of this very history. The tour, which I organized for and with the help of a local Meet Up for LGBTQ* and allied urban planning professionals, students, and enthusiasts called Moxie Chicagoland, took place a few weeks ago. Focusing on the city’s pre-Stonewall queer experiences neighborhoods throughout Downtown and the near South and North Sides were explored, thus examining often overlooked histories and simultaneously forcing a discussion about myriad other relevant topics.

Because of decently strenuous overseas move and a serious case of writer’s block I’ve delayed writing about this tour (sorry, Daniel!) It was nonetheless a wonderful capstone moment to a year spent in my hometown and an opportunity to flex my still underdeveloped event organizing muscle (thank you, Daniel!) It was also a much-needed excuse to venture further onto the South Side of Chicago, which is way too overlooked by North Siders like myself.

The tour, which featured roughly 20 intrepid participants facing cold and rain, began at Washington Square Park. This Victorian pocket of green located on Clark Street fronting the Newberry Library was once a center a bohemian life in Chicago and was until the second half of the 20th century the de facto center of Chicago’s North Side queer community. From here, the tour travelled north on Clark Street passing the former site of The Gold Coast bar (owned by Chuck Renslow, the founder of International Mr. Leather) and to an apartment building on Goethe Street where a police raid of a private party hosted by a gay male couple occurred in the late 1960s.

From here the group made a consistently southward trajectory, through the Gold Coast and River North (formerly referred to as Tower Town in reference to the Water Tower and Chicago’s answer to 1920s Greenwich Village) into the Loop, which included a stop at Daley Plaza the site of many important rallies and protests by queer Chicagoans including the first Pride March, AIDS rallies, and marriage equality protests. Cutting further south still along Dearborn Street (using one of the city’s bike paths in the process) the group made its way to Dearborn Station to learn about one of Chicago’s former vice districts (and an attraction for queer men) before zigzagging to the lakefront and a photo-op at the Shedd Aquarium.

Eventually, the sun did come out and dried us off after a rainy and drizzly start to the day.

Eventually, the sun did come out and dried us off after a rainy and drizzly start to the day.

This is when the sun finally came out and the city began to dry out and warm after the frigid morning. Just in time too: from here the group sped south along the lakefront passing McCormack Place and the then soon-to-be-open Northerly Island park on our way to Bronzeville. Better known for being one of the premier African-American neighborhoods and nightlife spots in the city (and possibly the country as well), it also played host to a number of bars and clubs where queer men–those who were white and who were of color–not only met for social events, but to also practice an art that is almost exclusively synonymous with queer culture: drag.

Lots is gone in fact. The tour made one feel the impact of time and redevelopment on our visible and physical urban history (both of Chicago and queer Chicago), but also the impact of social mores on what buildings (indeed, entire neighborhoods) we preserve, especially when the decision is done explicitly. Minority communities and underprivileged communities feel the impacts of these destroyed spaces the most. This was certainly true in Bronzeville, where an entire historical neighborhood disappeared and speaks volumes about to treatment of minority communities in Chicago’s past and even into its present. Seeking out physical remnants of Chicago’s queer past, especially that which happened before 1969, offered few satisfactory moments. Most of the queer community’s physical historical evidence is gone: the Gold Coast is a condo tower now, what were once the vice districts were mostly cleared and paved, and the Coliseum, historical for more than just its queer parties, is long gone.

Chicago is fortunate though that the voices of so many of its queer residents resonate still. Chicago’s queer community, although important, can’t compete with the fame of New York’s or San Francisco’s and the solidity and centrality of its current North Side home make it seem like it was always along Halsted Street. Its overlooked, misinterpreted, and misunderstood.

It didn’t totally disappear though.

Washington Square Park is still there. There are books and TV documentaries and websites being produced about this history. And there is still room for more research. The voices of women and people of color play second fiddle to those of white gay men. Physical spaces, like the home of Henry Gerber, are finally being recognized and preserved by the city and at the national level even. Ultimately it’s not a tragic end. Nor should the results be looked at as a disappointment. Never has a history of Chicago revealed so much about its diverse and complicated past while forcing the viewer to ask as many questions about a similarly complicated present. Indeed, the tour was not merely a history of queer Chicago, rather it was a tour of Chicago’s history through a queer lens and looking through queer experiences, which are as much a part of the city’s history as those of any other group.

Chicago’s Future Pride Parade: Where will the glitter cake the streets next?

chicago-pride-parade-balloonsChicago’s gay Pride march was one of the first to occur in June 1970, a year after the Stonewall Riots broke out in New York City and sparked the contemporary gay [read: LGBTQ*] rights movement. In the 46 years since, Chicago’s Pride festivities have grown into one of the biggest and most popular in the country (2015 photos). This year’s parade, which took place in Uptown and Lakeview and centered on Boystown, is going to be examined closely by organizers and city officials to see if it should be moved to another location next year. Moving it to another part of the city will represent a radical shift in the community’s spatial relationship with the rest of the city as it breaks out into the heart of Chicago in a very visible manner. And there is good and bad to come with that.

The news broke this spring that various parties were discussing the move from Lakeview to the Loop if the crowds that descend on Boystown for the parade don’t keep themselves in check. Aldermen Tom Tunney (44th) and James Cappleman (46th) issued a joint threat statement explaining too much chaos would force a move. This is despite 55% of Lakeview residents supporting the Parade’s continued presence in Lakeview. What happens in 2016 will depend a lot on resident feedback and events that happen this year and in all likelihood the opinions of the politically connected in those two wards. As of today, 52 Pride related arrests occurred on Sunday and early Monday morning, including 2 felonies.

The move would dramatically alter how the LGBTQ* community interacts with Chicago though and the spatial role the Boystown location plays in for the community is worth serious consideration. For decades Boystown has been the focal point of Chicago’s gay community and although not as inclusive as it could be the larger LGBTQ* as a whole it is still synonymous with the larger community in a lot of ways. The numerous bars and shops, LGBTQ* friendly businesses, and organizations in Boystown clearly demarcate this neighborhood as the “gayborhood”. The parade alone does not make Boystown what it is and probably pales in significance when the entire year-long calendar of events in the area is taken into consideration as well as official recognition on the part of the city (those rainbow columns didn’t just appear overnight). But the way the parade and Boystown relate as a community building event is important.

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The rainbow pylons in Boystown were part of a place making effort after the neighborhood was officially recognized ‘gay village’ in the United States.

Keeping the highest profile LGBTQ* event in Chicago in Boystown does a lot to maintain a sense of place for the LGBTQ* community among the city’s many neighborhoods and provides local businesses and organizations a chance to rally together and maintain relations via the organizing efforts needed to carry out such a large-scale event. It also provides people on the fringes of the community an accessible introduction to community events, but also the neighborhood itself. And of course there are the economics of holding such a large event in a neighborhood versus the Loop. People will patronize neighborhood bars, shops, and restaurants pre- and post-parade, rather than establishments in the Loop, which are frequently chains and tourist oriented. But the emotional connections to the neighborhood are worth thinking about too. Part of the joy of holding the parade in Boystown is going to the lakefront or bars post-parade or getting beads thrown on you from apartment parties above the street.

There are benefits though to moving the Pride Parade Downtown. The obvious is many Loop streets and sites (State Street or Grant Park) can handle much bigger crowds much easier than the thinner streets in Boystown. Accessibility is increased due to the proximity of so many transit options, it engages more of the city and increases the visibility of the LGBTQ* community to a larger segment of the population, and could provide an opportunity for organizers to do much more (circuit party in Millennium Park or at Soldier Field or rainbow flags on the Michigan Avenue Bridge anybody?) Ironically, a Downtown Pride Parade could follow some historically significant routes. The original Pride March in June 1970 ended at the Civic Center (now Daley Plaza) and the massive anti-Prop 8 march the took place in November 2008 occurred in the Loop and snarled traffic all day as the impromptu march moved throughout the city, including along North Michigan Avenue. And it’s not like Chicago would be unique in having its parade Downtown: NYC Pride covers a huge swatch of Midtown to Lower Manhattan and San Francisco Pride still follows Market Street from Downtown to the Castro.

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The opportunity to hang a rainbow flag on a site like the Wrigley Building like the American flag is for the 4th of July would provide a huge amount of visibility of the LGBTQ* community if Pride was moved Downtown.

This however shouldn’t be taken as a free pass to move the parade without deeply thinking about the impacts a move will have, especially taken into historical context for the parade’s inflated crowds the last few years. The decision where to locate the next Pride Parade should of course be done in a way that recognizes the pressures of hosting such a large event in the neighborhoods, but not in a way that ignores the significance of creating and supporting an urban space that has relevance and meaning for the LGBTQ* community as well.

While controlling the size of the parade itself and making sure the organizational structures to maintain control and sanitation during and after the parade play big roles in the determination of where to locate the Pride Parade, taking pressure off Boystown stands apart as a major deciding factor. Event organizers and local leaders would be wise to think about the “gay” geography of Chicago though when thinking about where to host the parade. Keeping events in the neighborhoods should remain the primary goal so as not to move all the benefits of such an event to the already burgeoning Loop. Increasingly Andersonville, Uptown, and Rogers Park are rising as secondary gayborhoods on the North Side and figuring out how to bring them into the fold of summer long LGBTQ* events, especially surrounding the Pride Parade, should be part of this future planning.

As should looking back at an increasingly visible LGBTQ* history.

The recent decision by SCOTUS resulting in the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage will fundamentally change the conversation on LGBTQ* rights in America and Pride events nationwide. The last two Chicago Pride Parades were touted as being the largest ever in part, because the legalization of same-sex marriage in Illinois and nationally brought out extra large crowds. Now that same-sex marriage is no longer a major part of the debate the crowds may decline, because such a major rallying point has been removed. This should be taken as an opportunity to re-ignite conversations about other major issues facing the LGBTQ* community and such conversations should be incorporated into Pride events. This includes becoming more inclusive of women and trans* individuals as well as LGBTQ* people of color. The changing nature of the parade also plays into where to locate one.

In a way moving the event Downtown puts the Pride Parade on neutral ground (which is ironic considering Boystown’s status as a gayborhood), but as the time comes to reinvigorate the LGBTQ* community around other issues it seems appropriate to keep the parade on “home turf”, especially since that “home turf” desperately needs to opened up to more of the LGBTQ* community. It really raises the question of what the ultimate goal of the parade is and who it serves. If the parade is no more than a big party with a very gay theme, then moving it Downtown might be the best choice for security and crowd control, but if maintaining it is a major political event too that seeks to engage the LGBTQ* community in a way that is celebratory, but also promotes important issues, maybe keeping it in Boystown is more important so as to maintain the neighborhood as the cultural and political center of the community and really make it an annual rallying point and coalescing event at the heart of the gayborhood.

Whatever happens, if it does move Downtown, the City better start looking at ways to dye the river rainbow, so as not to be out flanked by St. Patrick’s Day.