Monday, July 31, 2006

Paradise By The Dashboard Lights and the Big Box---The Reality

From what I’ve been able to surmise Woodlawn has jack shit when it come to retail.

And no, fast food restaurants and chicken places don’t count.

Since there is no grocery store, dry cleaners, hardware store, or Laundromat within walking distance of my house, I spend 99.9% of the money I earn outside of my neighborhood.

Bus ride to Hyde Park to the Co-Op shopping center are pretty much the norm.

Note: That’s a full ten city blocks away from my home.

Quite frankly as a urban dwelling south sider, I’m lucky to have that option.

At least a grocery store, hardware store and drug store are in a tight grouping which allows me to save on time and in most cases money.

I honestly can’t think of anywhere I can do that in Woodlawn proper.

Moreover the existing retail that I’ve had the opportunity to patronize is piss poor.

The few Mom and Pop stores that managed to survive are now run by folks who live outside of the community. That in and of itself isn’t a deal breaker.

What chaps my hide is the fact that people who live outside of the community not only offer substandard goods and services but they in turn barely support the community with charitable efforts.

A for-profit business has no obligation to participate in any type of goodwill, charitable or not. Nonetheless I was always under the impression that creating goodwill often meant creating and keeping new customers.

Now I’m sure what I don’t know about the business community in Woodlawn would fill volumes. But as I’m reminded at work from time to time perception is reality. And from where I stand dusty cans of clinged peaches and rotting cabbage do not a quality store make.

Don’t even get me started on which large Chicagoland grocery store in my neighborhood just started carrying olive oil.

Moo and Oink has olive oil and you mean to tell me this particular grocer can’t get a bottle of basic olive oil on the shelves until 2006?


One of my neighbors who shops at the store on a regular basis was shocked when she didn’t have to go to another store to find her cooking staple.

So when you combine the lack of commerce, the abundance of need along with faltering competition, our little hood is ripe for a big box retailer.

After all south siders spend money too.

Oh before I forget---Paradise my friend if I didn’t have to take public transportation, trust me I wouldn’t.

The fact that I have to walk everywhere has nothing to do with being concerned about the environment or some high purpose---I simply can’t afford a car.

I’ve had enough shitty CTA service, indifferent train operators and bus drivers while rubbing elbows with shady characters to last a lifetime.

Personally if I could afford a car and driver at my beck and call you bet your boots I’d be hightailing it to Target on 87th Street in a quick hurry.


Paradise said...

I appreciate the thoughts on your post and I share most of your views.

I can't afford a car,either,and resent a society that wants to force me into one whether I can afford it or not, by a process that ends up killing our cities and pushing more people out to the suburbs, because it will never be easy to own a car in the typical densely-populated city nabe.

It appalls me that two-thirds of the jobs are now in the suburbs, often in office parks 4 miles from the nearest train line.

No wonder nobody in this country has any savings, what with running 3 and 4-car households. Never mind the waste of expensive fuel.

Were it not for the suburban sprawl development generated by the proliferation of cars, your nabe and mine wouldn't be so bereft of the retail that provides essential services and helps create a viable community.
The suburbanization of the country is what has helped make cities non-negotiable except by car.

And I absolutely cannot support a car and a condo. I can't support a car and still pay rent on a decent apt. or pay for anything else.

Now our City Council, instead of dealing with the Big Box issue in an intelligent manner, has decided to chase these stores out of the city altogether,forcing me onto a 215 bus, or at any rate depriving me of choices.All they are managing to do is force more people to DRIVE over the city line for shopping and jobs.

I don't love the places, but mainly because they tend to be city-subsidized,ugly, massively overscaled boxes with parking lots the size of some small towns that help make the city even less negotiable for non-car owners, and I'm opposed to anything that makes life more difficult for people who, for whatever reason, can't drive. I'm also opposed to Corporate Welfare like tax abatements and TIF development, which these places almost don't get built without.

However, if they build nicely scaled stores and respect the neighborhood,and pay their own way, they are way welcome here, and I'm sad that the Target will most likely not be built at Wilson Yards.

Let's hope Daley vetoes the destructive 'big box ordinance' that my own AlderMoron sponsored.

The Woodlawn Wonder said...


Always good to hear from you and I love what you're laying down but let me take it a step further.

Let's talk about the 800 pound elephant in the room that no one wants to discuss: Race.

I contend that suburban sprawl in out little corner of the world was somewhat fueled by the desire to move away from black people and other people of color.

I could go on and on but if you've been reading this blog you should have a good idea about my thoughts and feelings on the subject.

More importantly---what do you think about my theory?

Paradise said...

I believe race was a big part of the flight from the city, but I don't believe that is what started it.

The race thing is still very much with us, and you can expect to see it play a big part in the disinvestment in the suburbs that will almost surely take place in the next twenty years.

What will happen is what has happened every time a particular community goes down the tubes- all the people who can, leave, and strip the place down on their way out, leaving municipal 'scorched earth' to the hapless poor minorities left stranded in a place that all the money and jobs have fled. They then blame these minorities for the condition the place is in.

The flight to the suburbs was made caused by the mentality that has ever been prevelant in this country, that idealizes country life and exalts anti-civil individualism to a ridiculous degree. It began in the 20s, when our economic elites began to build suburban villas.

However, it did not begin among the masses of working class and middle class whites until the post-WW2 era, and would not have been possible without the democratization of car ownership.

Most of all, neither the mass suburbs nor mass auto ownership would have been possible without both cheap fuel AND massive government subsidies.

If there is no such a thing as a free lunch, then there is sure as hell no such a thing as a free parking space or free interstate highways.

People believe that the suburbanization of this country was a result of the 'free market', but if we had truly free markets, it would never have happened.

Because in a truly free market, people must pay their own costs- they can't write them off to the taxpayer.

However, our notion of a free market is that if the 'majority' wants something, why, they should get it at the expense of all the taxpayers, regardless of the costs, which means that we all pay for things that many of us cannot afford avail ourselves of even if we wanted to.

The "majority" wants interstate highways and 3500 sq ft McHouses on 4 acre lots with 3 car garages, and the "majority" wants football and softball stadiums built on your dime and mine, so this stuff is built, and you and I and every one else ends up paying for things that not only can we not afford to use, but that are intrinsically wasteful and pushing us that much closer to the end of the Age of Oil.

Believe me, if most of the middle and working class folks in suburbs like Addison and Itasca and Harvard and Willowbrook had to pay the entire cost of driving their cars on the interstates, and the costs of the additional mileage in road, pipe, and cable necessary to service low-density areas, these suburbs would not exist, and the city might still be glutted with bus lines that ran 24/7 as they almost all did circa 1950; might have more train lines running over these extremely congested north side streets, might have more densely clustered high quality retail on the south lakefront.

Most of all, if we had not spent 50 years subsidizing the most wasteful manner of life ever devised on earth- our suburban American Dream- we might not now be heading down the slope of oil depletion, and might not now be looking forward to a time when we could be hard put to it to turn on our lights and keep an elevator in a highrise running, let alone supply gas to 4-car families.