Monday, October 16, 2006

Divine Intersection

My Managing Broker and I were driving the streets of North Side Chicago last week when a new wrinkle in the emerging urban landscape suddenly became apparent. As we sat at a traffic signal he pointed it out; not only are most available residential corners dotted with scores of Starbucks, new first floor commercial storefronts (with condos above) and gourmet food shops, the major intersections are now developing into "Gateways" to these new Chicago neighborhoods.

These communities were ripe for gentrification when the New Construction trend started over a decade ago. A lot of the turn of the century housing stock needed razing anyway having already outlived its useful purpose. Simply put, there's not much architectual value or consumer interest in hundred year old 'lean tos' much less several city blocks of them. The demographic change was set in motion. The long time working class neighborhoods were quickly evolving into something more affluent, specifically in the corridor between Ashland and Western from Bucktown to North Center.

Fast forward to today: There are fewer and fewer residential lots available. The majority of buildings that aren't already torn down and rebuilt on have been sensibly, if not lovingly renovated. The residential streets have already turned the corner so to speak. Now the localized commercial boom is following suit.

Beautiful brick and mortar bank structures are quickly appearing where old gas stations once stood. Old Style beer gardens have been replaced by chic cafes and eateries. Renovated El stations, new black painted lamp posts and "Boulevard" status parkways with landscaped median strips seem to invite you home as you patiently wait for the traffic light to change. Even the signal itself has a new sleek design.

Check it out: Ashland and Diversey heading west...Lincoln/Belmont/Ashland in any direction...Damen and Diversey heading east...Clybourn and Fullerton...Division and Damen...Armitage and Damen and so forth..... The upscale Condominium and Single Family Homeowners are now getting what they need to insure continued appreciation and desirabilty for resale--the transition of "lower use" anchor corners into "higher and better use" development projects. Washington Mutual, Fifth Third Bank,Whole Foods--IN...BP, Vienna Beef, Currency Exchange--OUT. These newly defined areas need their own vibrant micro-economies and the tone is being set at the major intersections.

To be sure, Chicago is a very big city with literally hundreds of communities. Many of its neighborhoods have remained the same or changed very little throughout the years. There are several historic areas that do not allow for development at all. There are Chicago Bungalow neighborhoods and Landmark Districts that I don't believe will ever change. These areas have a solid base of existing dwellings and their own local economies. Change is going to happen where change is ready to happen.

So what if one day you need a change from the usual soy latte and you awake with a taste for something that isnt organically grown? You simply walk to your three car garage, jump into your Hybrid and drive two or three neighborhoods away for an RC and original Italian Beef. After all, this is the "city of neighborhoods" and that my friends, will never change.


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