Chicago couple moves into trendy West Loop area, mad when it attracts new developments and changes

This could be the cynical alternative headline one might apply to the front-page story of Friday’s Chicago Tribune Business section. Here is a quick overview of this story titled “West Loop project building discontent“:

In recent years, the West Loop has become a magnet for young professionals like Dore who like a balance between urban convenience and peaceful suburbs. But as Dore reached an empty parking lot on the southeast corner of Madison and Green streets, he glared at what he and his neighbors fear will be the end of their peaceful lifestyle — a parking lot that soon could be the site of a 22-story hotel.

“I’m just disappointed,” said Dore, who earlier this year became the reluctant leader of a group of neighbors who fought a losing battle against the high-rise. The first phase of the project, a three-story retail building anchored by a Mariano’s Fresh Market grocery store, is expected to break ground next month.

Their arguments that the project will block views, increase traffic and change the neighborhood’s dynamic have been made by residents in up-and-coming locations for years. As neighborhoods like the West Loop, the South Loop or the Near North Side grow, residents can be at odds with business owners, developers and city officials over the kind of development they want in their communities…

Dore and his wife, who moved to their three-bedroom condo in May 2009, say they are disappointed. Two years ago, they thought they had found a neighborhood close to the Loop that was also an ideal place to raise a family. Five weeks ago, their daughter, Anna, was born. But they are not sure they will stay in the West Loop.

The general argument here is not unusual: residents move into a neighborhood, whether in the city or suburb, the neighborhood starts changing, and residents are unhappy and start making NIMBY arguments. But several things struck me about this article:

1. I’m always somewhat surprised when residents act like the neighborhood can’t change. Particularly in this case, they moved into a trendy West Loop area. They like what this gentrified area has become. But other people and businesses want to move there as well. City neighborhoods often change rapidly and not only is this one trendy, it is relatively close to the Loop. Proponents of the new development suggest that the retail stores are needed and could be profitable. Did the residents really think that the neighborhood was going to be frozen in time?

1a. The site in question was formerly a parking lot. This unattractive use is preferable in a neighborhood? In many cities, parking lots are simply holding spaces until the owners can find a more profitable use. The money in parking lots is not the daily parking but rather waiting for the land to become really valuable and then selling the lot for big money.

2. The residents followed a typical path: form a community group, show up at public hearings, and let your local politicians know about your opinions. Just because their opinions were not followed doesn’t mean the system is broken.

3. At the same time, the article sounds like a classic example of the political economy model of growth. The neighborhood has succeeded to the point where bigger businesses now want to make money in the neighborhood. Politicians like these projects because they bring in more money in terms of jobs and property and sales tax revenues. I don’t know that there is much that the residents could have done to slow this down.

4. This really is written more as a human interest story rather than an overview of the development process. The perspective the newspaper readers get is that these residents have a legitimate grievance. Only later in the story do we hear the reasons why some want the new development to happen. Are we supposed to think that these city residents should be pitied because their West Loop paradise has been lost? The story could have been told in a completely different way that wouldn’t have made this one couple out to be victims. I’m kind of surprised this leads off the Business section because it really is a negative story when it could have highlighted how this neighborhood continues to thrive and attract development.

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