Friday, June 29, 2007

Maintaining urban blight – Commercial Neglect at Damen and Rogers.

The condition of the Damen/Rogers commercial strip shows how Alderman Joseph Moore and his 49th Ward staff and volunteers seem like inept bureaucrats. The Alderman's office has been on notice for many years about 7308 N. Rogers. This dilapidated commercial area sits less than a block from the Pottawatomie Park Playground. What kind of an example does this streetscape offer to our children, the community, or visitors? It is definitely a poor benchmark for a future Alderman.

If there is no ordinance defining commercial blight, then Chicago Aldermen should enact one. If violations persist, then Aldermen are obligated to better manage and work with city services to overcome neglect. They can encourage citations to eliminate these neighborhood challenges. Alderman Moore can encourage Ward groups to embarrass landlords. He can issue PSAs to try to ‘bring in’ the media. Eventually, the Law Department can condemn and encourage eminent domain and forfeiture against reckless or negligent land owners. After years in office, both Aldermen Moore and Stone should act together to condemn a land trust; they can overcome commercial urban blight like that at Damen and Rogers. Chicago has a Law Department and Moore once worked in it.

Faded pepto bismol pink paneling hangs precariously from loosening screws. The decaying wood fa├žade with jutting a la carte nails remain despite the Jamaican restaurant’s demise nearly two decades ago. BTU is knotted and hanging between warped and inoperable water stained wooden shutters and rotting window panes. White paint flakes detach into the wind. Pedestrians pass within inches of the edifice on the adjoining sidewalk. Someone recently dumped a computer desk on the weed infested squares that surround the rotting facade. The pink walls are occasionally touched up with ‘Graffiti buster white’ square accents.

The telephone number 773-851-4365 glares at the street as if to taunt neighbors to complain. This is a disconnected Nextel number. Another exchange, 773-539-4287, claims to be the number of the management company that orchestrates this opus of urban blight. The phone number rings, but there is no voice mail to leave a message. The management and owner seem to have little interest in seriously attracting long or short term tenants.

I believe that there is a mentality in the 49th Ward Offices that forces residents to endure real estate blight and mismanagement. We are now in our third year of numerous complaints; Alderman Moore’s staff continues to provide ‘lip service’ and vague claims of action through Cosgrove, Land, and Company. This dilapidated store front at Damen and Rogers remains in my neighborhood along with the Pulse ER and van Storage facility just west. 7308 is just one example of horrendously unmaintained real estate that is tolerated by Alderman Moore, City Services and questionable political and union leadership. Yes, civil servants are unionized, but should do their jobs out of committment, not because a union steward told them so.

Some of us get reasonably upset at inattentive civil servants and politicians, when we live in neglected neighborhoods. Those landlords who are responsible cannot remain ‘bulletproof’ from municipal prosecution and condemnation. A local bar called “The Ho” graces the east end of the Damen/Rogers strip. The bar is barely a quarter block from the Pottawatomie Park Playground. The bar’s next door Laundromat hosts dim flickering fluorescent lighting and a dank atmosphere to encourage laundry day procrastination. Of course, the rest of the strip is vacant other than Summit Grocery Store which features cigarettes and lotto tickets. What appears to be a struggling Jamaican diner is just north on Damen. Yet, even that storefront has been the host to many unsuccessful restaurants in need of an anchor business.

We don’t need ‘blue lights,’ we need someone who cares whether it is our alderman or a landlord it makes no difference. Alderman Moore may have ‘cared,’ but he seems more interested in promoting McDonalds or Starbucks. Of course, he has attacked geese husbandry and big retailers that flourish outside Chicago, but ignores the calling to revive neglected 49th Ward neighborhoods.

Rogers Park land banking and arguably predatory businesses are often undertaken by those with little personal stake in a ward. The owners, often suburbanites, ask for unreasonable rent, interest, or retail prices, which causes Class D properties to further decay. He, perhaps she, may let this commercial property at Damen and Rogers further disintegrate. The now polluted, but once distinct art deco store front has an artificial seediness that distracts and depresses ward locals.

Summit Grocery deserves a better home, but its landlord has little interest in cleaning off the peeling Jamaican National Crest that crowns its store front. Rather than encourage the tenant to comment about the inconsiderate landlord, effective pressure from City Services seems conspicuous by its absence. The City is without an reasonable agenda to eliminate urban blight or encourage whistle blowers. I await Alderman Moore’s campaign posters ‘wheat pasted’ onto the fading pink paneled wall during the next run off. Perhaps, the unnamed owner has already made a Moore campaign contribution.

This cityscape does not foster a feeling of safety among those who visit or pass by. You have to live in the area and think that you know Rogers and Damen like the back of your hand to spend evenings on these sidewalks. They say that if you act like you belong and ignore those you do not know, people leave you alone. However, if you walk like you just entered the Green Zone in Baghdad, then you invite curiosity, anywhere, and look like you belong in the suburbs. I see people pass this place in suits, which seems out of place, to some, but they live in the area, as well. When a commercial nuisance is this ‘out of place,’ it raises attention and scorn towards those elected officials that we end up supporting with taxes and votes.

Yet, if commercial property is neglected in Rogers Park, people shop elsewhere, which included the nearby Evanston Target. If Moore was so concerned about the Targets, Walmarts, and Sam’s in Evanston and Niles, then he would create enterprise zones and ensure that these zones were reasonably developed with businesses that neighbors will use. Moore seems to coddle those who prefer to pay into his campaign, even outsiders. Maybe, he believes that the locals fear a new alderman more than their inattentive incumbent. Moore, do your job, so that we can appreciate why you should to be our Alderman. Otherwise, go back to private practice, because your advocacy and legal prowess is not working with us.

Again, Alderman Moore et. al., if you really care about making life better for those in the forty-ninth ward, then start with those things that you can control, rather than being controlled by those things that are out of control. There is no excuse for inaction over long periods of time. There is no need to get upset with your neighbors and ignore them. As it is said, think globally, act locally.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

History that Cannot be Remembered


Some of us want to preserve the thoughts and concerns of a moment. We want to wake up that which is alert and coherent from within, now. We also want to record others, whose memories both positive and negative require attention. We want to present what we think before we cease to think.


Living and sharing time with those who struggle to communicate with Alzheimers is both challenging and disappointing. You want to encourage that one profound sentence that usually ends up, unarticulated. For the last ten years, I experienced a grandmother with self assurance devolve until her passing this evening. Alzheimers stole her memory and her loss of function followed.


Time spent with those who cannot speak, but seem to visually recall a momentary recollection of life through photographs has its rewards. The afflicted may regress into a shell of oblivion, but we need to make a connection and remove that person from the doldrums. When few others are paying attention, you have their attention and in that fleeting moment, there is appreciation, clarity, and purpose. It is subtle and certain, yet limited.


The physicians claim that all memory is lost with Alzheimers. The ability to eat, speak and remember are eventually forgotten, so that skills must be re-learned on a daily basis. If true, then memories seem temporarily revived just as the ability to swallow. I spent those visits showing my grandmother the photographs that she kept until she had no other choice but to leave her home. She had to be observed to keep her alive and out of harms way.

She told us about getting disoriented and seeking refuge in someone else's home. We heard about her episode with Miami's Finest, which led to the loss of her drivers license. We recalled as she began to do a few things out of kindness or desperation in an effort to seek some sort of recall or perhaps more visits. There was resistence to diagnosis. We remember the flood and the impact of her recognition of not knowing or sensing responsibility.
As time passed, she could not be left alone unless it was a safe environment free of too many obstacles. The physical manifestations that may have been unique to her struggle with Alzheimers became obvious and were accommodated, even if seemingly awkward to some.


Of course, we make decisions and each brings both opportunities and costs. Some of us spend so much time away that we forget that there is sense in our elders, even if it is limited. The feeling left after loss can be sudden and at times seem unforgiving. Yet, I spent hours scanning the images of her life, printing those images, and making them a more permanent part of my family history. I used those photos to refresh her memory by showing them to those amused pair of eyes that expressed both appreciation and animation.


I planned on bringing more items that might assist her in these last days. The menu from a spa that she used to keep healthy might have surprised her. Perhaps, a few items that might send her senses some isolated memory trapped in the tumbleweeds of congealed matter that we are led to believe once housed the images of her life.


I was not expecting a call, nor notice that it would end, so suddenly. The condition becomes so entrapped in your expectation that you know what to expect and continue to anticipate it. Yet, when life becomes lost, it almost appears as if those who are confused depend upon daily reassurance and without it, there is a lose of interest.


I don't know what to make out of Alzheimers, only that it takes lives in a manner that robs us of our need to know. We want to know more, but are grasping at the mind of someone who is incapable of remembering life, yet continues to exist. You speak, stare, revive, but cannot get the response or information out. You become their hard drive and if they can boot you up, you give their minds a thought or two.


I couldn't take photographs, because it wasn't what I wanted to remember. She could no longer remember how she took care of herself. Yet, I visited, saw, and spoke, so it seems like in doing so, this was the image of that person in those final days.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Dog Doo dilemma Down Ridge Boulevard


The dog poop must be picked up or you unleash the beasts within us. I have never gone for the simple draconian fix, because the consequences often seem like overkill. Banning people from pooches due to a few irresponsible twits or a stray mutt serves no purpose. However, anyone who claims that their dog will not do what in life it is compelled to do on or off leash is either naive or used to the smelly stuff evacuating from their namesake.


Nevertheless, if you criminalize all who create, cook, keep, or co-exist in a manner that unintentionally disrespects one's neighbors, you usually do another wrong. Our 49th Ward political mindset is ban first, foogetabout asking questions later. Those who offend us the most are likely not paying attention to these neighborhood news or special interest stories.


Well, I like to cut the lawn every once in a while. I also like to walk on it, when it is thick enough. Sometimes, to get to my car, I need to step on someone's lawn to safely get the kids into their seat. I may pick up the soccer or base ball that has been thrown or left in the front yard. When I do, my hope is that the neighbors who own canines will have a bit of sensitivity for the above experiences. Dog doo has consequences and can delay and deny some of the most simple pleasures and responsibilities with stinking consequences.


The impression that results in the aftermath of clean up is not necessarily pro-pup. This mindset is not only left on the sole, but on the mind and the olfactory sense. In a nutshell, we look forward to more responsible dog owners. What does this mean?


If you see dog doo in your neighbors yard, don't feel sorry for him and waltz away with Zsa Zsa in tow. There are certain tools at your immediate disposal to care for your collie. These items may have been meant for your molly, I know, but you may be able to make those of us with simple minds and messy sneakers forget that one event. Your sensitivity in picking up after the pooch may prevent event number two or three or four of the summer.


Now, I understand, that I may be asking too much of those who have more challenged gag reflexes, but think about how it feels for us, absent of dog. Sometimes, the grass grows high and the poop gets covered. Sometimes, we are focusing on the kids and our ability to fixate on the Keds are limited. In those moments of distraction before agony, we hope that your foresight and eyesight may give us the hindsight to enjoy our neighbors with dogs. Yes, dogs are capable of being one of man's best friend, but this is not always an easy sell to your neighbors.


We appreciate those who maybe more sensitive and provide support. We hope that RP dog owners will find a way to convey their appreciation of the above impression to the less sensitive dog owners on Ridge Boulevard. Otherwise, maybe Moore can force dogs to learn to do the doo doo in the kitty litter.