Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Historic Preservation Battle Now In Progress in Edgewater, Chicago

Historic buildings are the urban equivalent of wilderness. There is only so much and once it's gone it's gone forever.

I have become aware of two recent issues of conflict surrounding Edgewater historic preservation. A minor one on the south-west corner of Broadway and Hollywood and a major fight between the Edgewater Historic Society (EHS) and well what appear to be ideological opponents to preservation. After a meta-discussion I will give my take on these two specific fights.

I'm all for progress. Indeed I call myself a progressive.

Some buildings are ugly and boring. At least that's the subjective judgment of the moment.

And we haven't even gotten to American Hot Button issue of "private property". I do not believe in absolute private property. I believe in limits to private property. Indeed when the U.S. banned the ownership of human beings, we set the most important constitutional limit on private property. Personally I am willing to extend that limit much much further.

I believe in imminent domain. It is the rule of law that mediates disputes between community and individual claim to property. Some people today have extreme ideological beliefs as well as strong emotional attachments to a notions of private property that border on the absolute. My own extreme ideological beliefs and strong emotions tend in the opposite direction. I got over those, however, in my youth. Yes I still believe that Gates and Shell oil claim obscene and improper amounts of "private property", but I doubt that the richest person in Edgewater would raise my ire. And I would not be surprised if there is someone worth hundreds of millions of dollars in Edgewater.

But I am willing to put my money where my mouth is. As the first step in preserving buildings I am willing, with a community vote, to waive either all or any percentage of property taxes for designated buildings.

But would I be willing to donate from my own after-tax personal funds to an entity of community ownership to save such buildings? No. That's what we have governments for. That's why we have courts to decide a reasonable compensation that balances the common good and the individual good. That's why elect representatives and urge them to make the hard decisions that split community sentiment.

Remember there are three sides here: the community who lives here, who loves the historic and diverse nature of Edgewater; the current owner ready to cash out their home or business in a neighborhood where they loved experiencing, day to day, the historic and diverse nature of Edgewater; and the future profiteer (they will make a profit, no?) who will tout the very things that they will be destroying, the historical and diverse nature of Edgewater.

So our job is simple. Support preservation and let our democratic republican councils and courts make the hard decisions of what is fair. That's what you do when both sides have conflicting "rights".

I'm saving for the next post the collected emails on the subject.