A reprise of 2006 Holiday column I wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times on the upcoming aldermanic elections. I think this column is still evergreen. At the time it wasn’t so simple to embed video in your blog and it was impossible at the Sun-Times. But today it’s simple to embed all kinds of multimedia with one click on your WordPress blog. Happy Christmas to all of us!
By Sally Duros
Real Estate Editor
This season’s favorite movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” combines real estate with holiday warm fuzzies, providing a maximum optical view of the love affair our culture has with homeownership. The film pits evil banker Potter against do-gooder building-and-loan president George Bailey, but it leaves out the one obvious player — the politician, specifically in Chicago, the alderman.
For a time I lived in what was to me an urban Bedford Falls. It was a great block, with wooden houses and picket fences that the neighbors coffee-klatched across. The trees flowered in the spring scattering their psychedelic seeds low over the sidewalks. The historic, 100-year old florist shop on the next block was a great place to go in February and take in the fragrant humid air to remind yourself what spring was like. Up the street at the corner was an old theater building housing a neighborhood coffee shop and one of Chicago’s most innovative theater companies. Not too far from that was the perfect combination for urban renters of breakfast place with laundramat next door.
Blocks from the lake and L
We were blocks from Lake Michigan and blocks from the L. Oh yes, adding ambiance was the cozy ivy-walled baseball stadium just a few steps away. On a summer day, with the windows open, you could hear the crowd sounds when something good –or more often something bad — happened.
A friend of mine said that the neighborhood was a respectable Bohemian slum, the kind famous for attracting over-educated and underperforming creative types.
A walk up the street
Then one day, a developer took a walk up my Bedford Falls block, and went door to door offering hundreds of thousands of dollars to the owner of each building. The wooden houses came down in clusters of three, and cement block buildings arose in groups of six. We neighbors held a block-long group moving sale, but we were scattered afterward. I stayed in the neighborhood, but missed my charming old apartment.
The character of the neighborhood changed then. The people who were buying the new condominiums were young and new to Chicago, and they had different interests and tastes. The theater company sold the building on the corner, and the coffee shop closed. The florist was converted into a condo, too, and over time, the little neighborhood shops closed to be replaced by large restaurants and bars that catered to the crowds of baseball fans.
One day, when a drunken woman staggered wildly into me nearly knocking me down and into a tangled swarm of honking cars, I understood.
I was in Pottersville.
My neighborhood’s transformation from Bedford Falls to Pottersville is a spectacular example of the kind of change that occurred in pockets on a daily basis all over Chicago during the last decade.
The good and bad of change
The change had its good points. The homeowners who took the cash for their old buildings benefited from their lifelong investments in a neighborhood that had seen its ups and downs. When the new condominiums sprung up, thousands of renters became homeowners, fattening Chicago’s property tax rolls by millions of dollars.
The change also had its bad points. Teardowns occurred, and new developments arrived pell-mell with little or no regard for traffic and pedestrian patterns, and character of housing. The faces of this city downtown and in the neighborhoods are forever changed.
There was no plan.
Developers, like Old Man Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” sniffed out the money to be made, disregarding what it would do to the place that thousands of people already called home. And to help their plans go through, they enlisted the zoning help of their aldermen.
In the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey is saved from ruin by the collective action of his friends who are connected to each other by George’s good deeds. In the upcoming show called the Chicago Aldermanic election, scheduled to debut at your local precinct
Feb. 27 Feb. 22, good and bad deeds and their effect on neighborhood character will be remembered and judged by the collective action of the voters.
For some aldermen, it’s sure to be a tear jerker.
HOLIDAY FILMS WHERE REAL ESTATE PLAYS THE LEAD
Today’sThe 2006 blockbuster starring Jude Law, Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet and Jack Black where we learn bottled-up Americans stress out in their ostentatious gadget-filled McMansions while Brits know how to cry, read books and act like real people in their fairytale country cottages. Love comes to all real estate owners.
“Bells of St. Mary’s”
Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman and a convent full of nuns convince a developer to change his mind about building an office building and instead substitute a grade school. Couldn’t see Donald Trump doing this.
We watch an office building blow up as Christmas carols play in the background.
The movie that started a worldwide holiday chain.
Real estate used for destructive purposes — see “Die Hard” above.
“Meet Me in St. Louis”
The movie that introduced “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” A father wants to relocate his family to New York. Relocation was never portrayed so wrenchingly.
“Miracle on 34th Street”
Macy’s vs. Gimbles. Retail real estate rivalry at its most heart warming.
“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”
Our vocabulary received a new word, “Griswold,” to denote someone who over-decorates their house for Christmas.
“The Bishop’s Wife”
A widow who is building a new cathedral in honor of her husband is driving the pastor nuts with her never-ending insistence on perfection.