Lying Liars in Oak Park

January 29, 2007 Chicago Buildings, Economics, Historic Districts Comments Off on Lying Liars in Oak Park 313

Next week – February 9 – a business group is hosting a breakfast about preservation and development in Oak Park. They are doing their level best to prove Santayana right – namely – forget history and be condemned to repeat it.

2004: Crandall Arambula do a downtown plan for Oak Park that calls for widespread demolition. People are mad.

Spring 2005: The ruling party is voted out of office for the first time in 50 years. Because of the bad plan. Westgate (a street in downtown Oak Park) makes Landmarks Illinois’ Most Endangered List.

Fall 2005: A broad community group redoes the plan for downtown Oak Park and their “consensus plan” recommends demolition of the Colt Building (see the picture) in order to save the other buildings on Westgate. Continue Reading

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“Right” Zoning

October 16, 2006 Chicago Buildings, Economics, Historic Districts Comments Off on “Right” Zoning 303

Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago spoke to my Preservation Planning class today and introduced them to an excellent phrase: “Right” zoning. This is more accurate than “downzoning” which is a phrase commonly used to describe what happens when a local alderman or city decides to reduce the allowable density in a district.

The recent book on the history of Chicago zoning describes the “downzoning” of the lakefront communities of Gold Coast and Lincoln Park in the 1970s and 1980s, which often followed landmarking of the area. Real estate expert Jared Shlaes opposed the downzoning in a 1980 report, and the book now judges that Shlaes was probably on the wrong side of history. Continue Reading

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Behind The Scenes

October 12, 2006 Chicago Buildings, Historic Districts Comments (0) 373

They are pounding huge caissons into the sidewalk (?) just outside our building as they continue work on The Legacy – a 70-plus story tower they are building next door to our building. I’m trying to suss the structural reason for caissons out there – maybe to transfer loads since they are saving the facades of three landmark district buildings. I was chatting with Mark Igleski about the facades, since his firm is working on them, and he noted that even though the facades date from 1870s – 1970s, the buildings behind are ALL 1870s.

You don’t get buildings older than 1872 in downtown Chicago because it all burned down in 1871. They often have cast iron structural columns, the predecessors to the famous Chicago School steel frame skyscraper of the 1880s. Continue Reading

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River Forest

July 14, 2006 Chicago Buildings, Historic Districts Comments (0) 315

I guess River Forest hasn’t had enough teardowns yet because the Trustees are pretty uncomfortable with the idea of a preservation ordinance. The proposed ordinance is the typical weenie milquetoast kind that places like Kenilworth or River Forest propose. While it allows designation of landmarks, it requires owner consent, which sort of defeats the purpose. The owners who would consent are not the ones causing the trouble.

What River Forest leaders fear is the idea of a preservation ordinance, not the reality of one. Reality is much more everyday, like the familiar experiences of thousands of communities that have had such ordinances for decades.

You also hear a lot about private property rights. This is an idea too, with no foothold in reality. It is a Karl Rove issue: sounds good; seems important; has absolutely no impact on your daily life. Continue Reading

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Jane Jacobs Dead

April 27, 2006 Historic Districts, History, Sustainability, Technology, Vision and Style Comments (0) 441

Jane Jacobs, whose 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities whupped the ass of the architectural and planning establishment, has died. Jacobs wrote until the end of her life, just a week before her 90th birthday, but that first book was the barn-burner. “A city cannot be a work of art.” She said, and italicized it to make sure we got the point. The city is organic, said Jacobs. You can’t plan it.

Jacobs emerged as a community activist who took down (an already wounded) Robert Moses and launched the concept that neighbors had a right to say how their neighborhood looked and what should go in it. A fifty-year history of urban planning as an elite, expert enterprise ended on Hudson Street in Greenwich Village when Jacobs systematically disemboweled the “Radiant Garden City” of Howard, Burnham, LeCorbusier and Moses.

A housewife and mother who pulled apart the metalogic of urban planning. She wasn’t just against urban renewal – she understood it better than its proponents. My favorite part of Death and Life –which I assigned in my seminar this semester – is near the end when she exposes the pseudo-science of urban planning. Twenty years earlier Sigfried Giedion’s Space, Time and Architecture had trumpeted modern architecture and planning as an expression of the new Einsteinian understanding of space and time. Jacobs exposed this as a rank falsehood. Continue Reading

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Home Economics

March 20, 2006 Economics, Historic Districts Comments Off on Home Economics 372

In the last month I have read two articles both titled “Home Economics” and both might be said to be profiles of anti-landmarks persons. The first was in Chicago magazine and profiled a local lawyer who helped quash landmark designation in the Sheffield/De Paul neighborhood. Her argument was that designation would hurt property values and cause all sorts of expenses for homeowners.

The other “Home Economics” profile was of economist Ed Glaeser in the New York Times, and he said just the opposite.

On Thursday the Wall Street Journal published an article about the proliferation of local historic districts driven by residents’ desire to raise their property values. That counters our Chicago attorney-cum-economist, but it supports Glaeser. Continue Reading

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Endangered by Poverty and Wealth

March 7, 2006 Economics, Historic Districts, Vision and Style Comments Off on Endangered by Poverty and Wealth 338

Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois released its 10 Most list last Wednesday in Springfield. That is, Ten Most Endangered Buildings in the state. The ones in Chicago are particularly evocative because of what they share: deteriorating inner-city neighborhoods. In the west side’s North Lawndale neighborhood, the “most endangered” was not a building but a bunch of buildings stretching along Douglas Boulevard, massive former synagogues and schools. The threat is basically the weight of poverty and disinvestment multiplied by years.

North Lawndale was featured in a 1987 Chicago Tribune series as the most impoverished neighborhood in the city. My wife Felicity Rich photographed the buildings for the AIA Guide to Chicago in 1992 because most of the photographers didn’t want to go there. Continue Reading

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Lazy Money

January 30, 2006 Economics, Historic Districts Comments (0) 485

My student Dorothy Bobco wrote me a marvelous note the other day about “lazy money”. Here is a quote:

“I think I have figured out why people get so upset when they think their property values are going down. They are losing free money, lazy money. You can buy a house and do nothing and the value will probably go up. If anything happens that changes that, they lose money that they did not have to work for. That is what makes them mad, losing money they did not have to work for. It is laziness and greed that drives the real estate market. ” Continue Reading

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Historic Districts

January 29, 2006 Economics, Historic Districts Comments (0) 386

We are starting a class on Historic Districts tomorrow – looking at how they evolved and what motivates people to designate their community as an historic district. Historic districts are a fascinating combination of two postwar movements – the broadened historic preservation movement, which was inching beyond associative and architectural history to start looking at the state of cities, towns and rural places in a bigger way; and the community planning movement, which was trying to wrest control over development decision-making from the urban experts who began to radically refashion cities after World War II.

We will be looking at a lot of different cities and districts and I hope that the students help me to understand the whys of the historic district, especially why people choose it – or fight it. For those ideological free market types, historic districts are a bit more fair than traditional individual landmarks, because they put a whole area – or “market” – under the same set of rules, as opposed to individual landmarks, which are seen to be at a development disadvantage from their neighbors. Yet historic districts are also mechanisms for community empowerment, allowing a group to control the form of its environment in a manner more precise – and perhaps less predictable – than zoning, which regulates use and density. Continue Reading

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Sprawl

November 9, 2005 Economics, Historic Districts, Sustainability Comments Off on Sprawl 403

UIC Professor Robert Bruegmann’s new book: Sprawl: A Compact History (U of C Press) is out, and it is a stunner. Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago alerted me to its imminent appearance, although having worked with Bruegmann as my dissertation advisor over the last few years I knew it was on the way.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has made sprawl a celebrated cause for preservationists for the last decade. Sprawl hurts historic communities and must be stopped. It is something everyone seems to agree on.

Bruegmann’s new book has his typically contrarian take on popular progressive issues: He seems to like sprawl and believes that most people like it in practice, even if they dislike the idea of it.

Heresy! How can I read such filth! Continue Reading

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