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.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why you equate private ownership of objects (such as real estate) with that of ownership of human beings (slavery). Seems like a rather odd and misguided argument in support of eminent domain.

Anonymous said...

I do not "equate" them, I merely place them within the broad category of private ownership. In the same category is the private ownership of toothbrushes. Also there is the ownership of pets, i.e. animals.

The argument is that the privilege of private ownership is not un-limited. We place limits on that privilege. Government regulations are a type of limit. You could call the ban on slavery, the ban on owning other people, a kind of government regulation.

So yes, I would be in favor of placing limits on the ownership of say real estate, property, on the shore of Lake Michigan in the city of Chicago. Likewise I would support placing limits on the ownership of "historic" real estate.

So yes again, I support eminent domain when it is governed by democratic process.

-Jeff Wegerson

Anonymous said...

Placing toothbrushes and humans under the same broad category of private ownership is very much equating the two. Maybe they shouldn't be categorized so broadly, since one group consists of inanimate objects with no inherent rights versus living people endowed with human rights.

This problem of defining things so broadly is what I feel is a major pitfall of eminent domain rulings and policies, and ultimately what leads to abuse and wildly varying definitions of it, such as Kelo v New London.

I agree with you that communities are enriched when those who choose to have voices in debates on historical preservation and the like. I, too, live in Edgewater, and so am familiar with the terrain you have a personal stake in. But democracy in these matters can be a double-edged sword because at its core, democracy is really the same thing as "majority rule." When others are using their property (without harming anyone else, mind you) in a way that is disagreeable to the majority, the majority can effectively vote away that person's private property rights. And let's not forget that the voice of the people is almost always trumped by vested special interests, in bed with governments, who can overturn private property rights with influence (again, Kelo as an example). Don't get me wrong: I'm not stating that private property should be unlimited, as your response suggests. What I do believe is that there should be restrictions on the ability of others (governments, "the people") to trample on the rights of private property owners.

Mr Wegerson, I don't know you, and so I don't know if you own property or, if you're like me, rent space. And yes, democracy can be a wonderful thing in that it allows people to be engaged in their communities. But that tricky majority rules thing can backfire. I wonder, for example, if you'd be such a strong proponent of eminent domain if that majority were to turn on you.


Todd Land

Anonymous said...


I prefer the blog software at Prairie State Blue for these kinds of discussions. I would prefer that we continue the discussion there. Indeed I have posted this discussion there (without your name) and have a long reply there.

But if not then I will simply say that I consider private property a privilege and not a right. And yes I own real estate.

Jeff Wegerson

Anonymous said...

"Historic Preservation Battle Now In Progress in Edgewater, Chicago"
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