While I work on a few other pieces, my friend Steven Vance of Streetsblog and Chicago Cityscape fame (I assume everyone reading this knows about Streetsblog; but if you’re at all interested in development, preservation, or exclusionary zoning issues, you should be following Cityscape too) pointed me to this Tribune article from 1986. The article covers the campaign to change Lincoln Park’s zoning to prevent the construction of new, relatively high-density residential buildings.
It’s notable both from a historical perspective, in that it’s a primary document from one of the most consequential eras for housing policy in the last few generations – the decision to close off the north lakefront to further development and repopulation – but also because it contributes to my collection of people being refreshingly honest about their interests in zoning fights. (Previously in this ongoing series: people who don’t care about density, but want their neighbors to be of the homeowning class, not the renting class; and people who want their neighbors to be people who can afford to pay expensive rents.)
Anyway, this time, the honesty takes this form:
“I never thought I`d say: `This is enough. Don`t let anyone else in.` But it`s become almost impossible to drive,“ said 21-year resident Marjorie- Lee Perrine at a recent public hearing on the plan.
So here we go: residents campaigned to essentially cap the population of the city’s most desirable neighborhood – ensuring, by the way, that housing prices would skyrocket, and that it would become the ghetto of the privileged that it is today – so that they could drive more comfortably.
Now, I don’t want to reject out of hand that decent driving conditions are a reasonable goal for city policy. All things being equal, I think that’s probably right: people have a perfectly legitimate interest in mobility, and they are absolutely within their rights to lobby their government to protect those interests.
The question, though, is whether it is in the interest of the city as a whole to set a legal ceiling to the population of a neighborhood that on many scales – access to jobs, good neighborhood schools, safety, access to public transit – is one of the most advantageous in the region. Is it worth protecting the ease of driving for a few tens of thousands of people – people who are among the richest in the city – if the tradeoff is a) restricting the residential mobility of nearly everyone else and b) reducing property and sales tax revenue for the city that might be used to provide amenities for all voters?
And if those are the tradeoffs – if this local decision affects nearly everyone in the metropolitan area, especially when replicated across nearly the entire North Side – why should the only people who have a say be the ones privileged enough to already live in Lincoln Park West? Why should their elected representative be the one deciding?
These are obviously, for me, rhetorical questions: my answer is that they shouldn’t. But for most people in Chicago, including most people in power, the answer is different. And I think they – everyone from neighborhood groups campaigning against new residential development to the aldermen who listen to them – need to explain why. I am not, of course, under the impression that local anti-development groups are going to change their minds. What I am asking, though, is that we as a city be honest about what the tradeoffs are to these kinds of policies – beginning with the fact that there are tradeoffs, and that “not letting anyone else in” has consequences far beyond the neighborhood being walled off from the rest of the region.