I don’t know whether or not 47th Ward alderman Gene Schulter has toiled for years as he says in your “War of Words” article (10-26-01), but I do know that it wasn’t his years of toil that created “the ‘family atmosphere’ that makes the community attractive today.” He refers to “that sense of history” that newcomers don’t have, an awareness of how apparently bad it used to be compared to how apparently wonderful it is now. Well, my family, friends, neighbors, and those we know who have lived in the 47th Ward for decades have a different sense of its history.
As far as we know, the area now encompassed by the 47th Ward, primarily the North Center and Lincoln Square neighborhoods, have been family neighborhoods since their founding. As far as we know, these have always been strong, stable neighborhoods with a long history of low crime rates, well-maintained homes, excellent schools, well-serviced parks with abundant programming, a great library, ample public transportation, and a mix of small businesses, active community organizations and churches, and concerned citizens.
The past residents–who I suspect thought of their houses first as homes rather than investments, and the neighborhood first as their community rather than real estate–are the people that actually toiled to make these neighborhoods attractive today to those who can afford the $600,000-$900,000 single-family homes that are replacing our cherished two-flats, an icon of Chicago neighborhood living. Perhaps our alderman is making the common mistake of confusing high income and upscale amenities as primary measures of a good neighborhood.
Neighborhoods, of course, are always in some state of flux, with people and businesses moving in and out. Most will attach themselves to their new surroundings and naturally want to imprint it with the things that are important to them. Just don’t tell me that these people are necessarily improving the place; for better or worse, they’re simply making it theirs.
For those of us who can no longer afford to buy and can barely afford to rent in a neighborhood we love, where we and our families have lived, toiled, and contributed for generations, the “family atmosphere” of the 47th Ward is disappearing, not arriving.