Friday, September 25, 2009

Answering the question posed by stairs to nowhere.

A few weeks ago I blogged about paved stairs in an old Indianapolis neighborhood, leading to vacant lots that serve as a reminder of the house that once stood there. Apparently Indianapolis isn’t the only city whose demolition crew decided its not worth the expense of ripping out the sidewalk when demolishing long-vacant housing.

Here is the evidence of a demolished home in the Logan Square neighborhood in Chicago, an area northwest of the Chicago Loop that has long been a working class Latino enclave. In the last decade, it has gentrified handily, due to its proximity to expensive, trendy neighborhoods such as Lakeview and Lincoln Park. And while never as devastated economically as neighborhoods further to the south, Logan Square certainly suffered a slump during Chicago’s economic nadir in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Compared to Indianapolis, this stairway to nowhere is relatively subtle. Chicago has even less topographic variety than Indianapolis (which at least enjoys a few hilly vantage points), so the elevation difference between the street and the properties that abut it only requires a single stair step. However, Chicago is far less subtle about proclaiming the lot’s vacant status.

Instead of the manicured lawns or unkempt verdure seen in Indianapolis vacant lots, this Chicago vacancy consists primarily of combed dirt with scrappy weeds growing patchily on barren soil and a tiny plot of an informal garden, collectively adorned by an ugly sign identifying the lot’s availability on the market. Perhaps this home was demolished only recently, though I see that as unlikely: a blighted home in this neighborhood would usually equate to a coveted fixer-upper to Chicago’s many urban professionals. What seems guaranteed is that it won’t be bought by a neighbor to turn into a side lot (as has happened in Indianapolis, New Orleans, and many other cities)—aside from a regulatory environment that supports continued high levels of housing density, the market would command too high of a price to let a parcel such as this simply lie fallow. Expect that, when favorable lending conditions return, this modest stairway will again lead to a house befitting the existing character of Logan Square.