Friday, April 04, 2014

Confessions of a NIMBY

I'm ashamed of what I did.

I have always considered myself an urbanist. Specifically and especially an anti-car urbanist. I was proud of the fact that I did not own a car until I finally got married and had kids. Kids are the biggest excuse we tell ourselves about why we succumb to the car fetish. We are stealing time from them if we do not use a car. But I'm not ashamed of that.

I have seen cities where cars are not king. Or at least parts of cities. When I first saw the French Quarter of New Orleans I was amazed at how big it was. I had always pictured it in my mind as a single corner around the famous iron-trellised picture of Bourbon street. That it extended a mile in one direction and a mile and a quarter in the other I had not expected. Cars are allowed in the French Quarter just like cars were allowed in the Maxwell Street market of the Chicago of yore. But you only take a car if you absolutely must. Say you are an invalid and your wheel-chair is broken or the battery is dead. Or you pay really big bucks to have a house there with a parking space.

Otherwise the pedestrian is king in the French Quarter. Even bicycles must moderate their pace.

When I got to Paris, France I was amazed. The car in Paris is still overly worshiped, don't get me wrong. But in the last 15 years, I am told, there has been steady push back. First they never finished the special car speedway along the Seine. Then they took over entire lanes of many streets to convert to bus and bike only. Paris always a walkable city became even more walkable.

Amsterdam is the only city where I was anxious about all the bicyclers. There the bicycle is closest to king. Since trollies traverse the central city, with a day-pass one walks and trams it with ease.

Edgewater we are told is one of, if not the densest neighborhood in the city. The wall of highrises fronting the lake along with the corridor's four-plus-ones and bigger provide the density for a quality urban environment. It's no accident that our two Dominicks were snapped up by Mariano's and Wholefoods.

Edgewater also has the diversity a quality urban environment needs. With middle middle-class in the high-rises and lower middle-class in the corridor and upper middle-class in Lakewood-Balmoral and Edegewater Glen we make space for that diversity. We are indeed privileged to live here.

But with privilege comes responsibility. We are privileged to live so close to the lake for instance. We are privileged to have very high quality transit both in the el and the express buses on Sheridan. Some of us are even privileged to own single family homes with garages in this dense quality urban environment.

It is that last privilege that led me astray into NIMBYism. I supported and actively worked for, both as an individual and as a community leader, efforts to prevent buildings beyond four stories on the west side of Broadway between Devon and Hollywood. I was even given the chance to recognize my NIBMY status when an architect friend pointed out that narrower Paris streets commonly house six, seven and eight story buildings. In my defense I will claim that I was swept away by my desire to get along with my neighbors. Peer pressure, you know.

My own block was already protected by zoning that prevents larger than three or six flats. And across the street the zoning only allows for single family homes. But like the NRA, I likely saw encroachment of bigger buildings on the west side of Broadway as a slippery-slope to th3 taking away of my home for a high-rise. Single family homes don't kill high-rises, people kill high-rises.

There will be future fights, pitting automobilist change against pedestrianist change. Higher buildings are denser buildings. Urban culture is about density. If we did not foster urbanism there would come a time when all would be sub-urban. Don't get me wrong. I think it is important that Edgewater have a single family quarter like mine. I just need to know my place. If I don't like density, I can always move to the suburbs.

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