Daley leaving South Loop, but legacy remains
05/25/2011 10:00 PM
There was a lot about Mayor Daley the Second I didn’t like: that he called the folks in the East Loop racists who didn’t want to see a children’s museum built in Grant Park; that he destroyed the runways in the middle of the night at Meigs Field — a truly quaint amenity in a big city — so his pals could build Olympic-sized buildings (no pun intended) in the vicinity without worrying a whit about the FAA.
I thought it was terrible that wrought iron fences sprang up around every park and empty lot in Chicago, because one of his shady associates was in the wrought iron fence business.
The last straw, of course, was when the city went broke. Especially after he sold the revenue-rich parking meters for a song and meager dollars, dollars that were promptly spent.
But there is one thing I really liked about Daley Two: He was a good neighbor.
I loved pointing out where he lived to visiting friends and family. And I felt a touch of glee when people asked me where I lived.
“Oh, the mayor’s neighborhood, huh?” they’d say.
I must admit that I have spent the last 17 years at Roosevelt and State serene and confident — knowing that the Mayor was ensconced every night at 14th and Indiana. I loved the novelty of a cop car sitting on his street — even though it would never budge for trouble elsewhere. It had one duty and one duty alone — to make sure the mayor’s townhouse was free from intruders.
Richie’s house and my house were built at the same time by the same builder. And construction guys are good gossips. A day didn’t go by that they didn’t tell me what upgrades the mayor was getting. And where. And what color. Cajoling me to get it, too.
Daley’s legacy will probably live longer within the walls of my house — because the builder convinced me to do things the way Daley did — than it will within the walls of City Hall. Although one of the things I learned was that he wasn’t paying what I was paying for the upgrades. The builder was a pal of his.
It was quite a day when neighborhood resident Mayor Daley came to the opening of Jewel 10 years ago, and we all walked around together sampling food. I remember pointing out my house through the store’s huge plate glass windows, and he said, “Oh, so you’re the one who lives there.”
When my homeowners association decided to “adopt” our street in the now defunct Adopt-A-Street program, I had the feeling we were adopting it from Richie and Maggie. Because they had so many streets, they didn’t know what to do! Like the old woman who lived in a shoe!
There were many sightings by neighbors of the mayor working out at neighborhood health clubs with his neighborhood trainer. (But never a sighting of his limo going down the street.) And many apocryphal tales of conversations on the treadmill South Loopers had with him about how to conduct the city’s business better. He even spoke a couple of times at neighborhood association meetings.
So I felt my world shake last week when the news broke that Daley — albeit no longer the mayor — would be selling his home for a cool million, and transferring his day-to-day life to a downtown condo (probably the one he bought on Garland Court several years ago but never moved into).
It’s no fun when the home turf loses its most notable notable. For many of us, we never knew the neighborhood without him. Now I know what they felt like in Bridgeport when he sold the house on Emerald Avenue to come here: abandoned and a little nervous. Could he alone be responsible for the quality of life that we take for granted in the neighborhood? And when he leaves, what if it stops?
I was telling someone recently what an embarrassment of riches we seem to have in our midst. And he said, “It’s probably because Daley lives there. His residency was the tipping point.”
And I started to think about that. Was it Daley who assured by his presence that the neighborhood would be beautiful without being plastic or Disney-like? That it would retain its history — and be clean, interesting and filled with all kinds of things to do, places to go and people to see?
Was he responsible for the diversity in the South Loop? All the new residents? The TIF money galore? And all the institutions that seem to be getting better all the time?
Did he attract Whole Foods, Best Buy, Home Depot, Starbucks, Target and the soon-to-be-opened Trader Joe’s? Was it he who brought us Dancing-in-the-Park, Columbia College’s magnificent expansion, the burgeoning of the Museum Campus — and the Ferris wheel at the South Loop end of Taste of Chicago?
Did he see to it that we have two adaptively reused historic firehouses, one a fancy restaurant and the other a soon to be an artists complex? Did he assure the excellence of the best high schools anywhere right here in the South Loop — Jones College Prep and St. Ignatius College Prep?
Were the urbanistas working overtime to impress the boss on his home turf? Did he conjure up our good parks, the giant bathroom bowl we call Soldier Field, the Roosevelt Road Bridge, the renowned sculptures dotting our landscape, the 12th Street beach, the sturdy sidewalks, flowers and trees — and the housing stock that grew like topsy?
And then there’s that impressive nature preserve that we have in the South Loop now: Northerly Island, aka Meigs Field. As mad as I was when Richie took the runways out, I admit he replaced them with the best urban oasis in the world. But then, it pays to have a thoughtful neighbor.
Hey, Rahm, let your tenant stay as long as he wants! I hear you can get a great house for a cool million! And it’s just a hop and a skip to Northerly Island!