ChicagoNorthwest Side

Are you ready for Humboldt Park?

by Joe Zekas on 1/9/13

The blocks just south of North Avenue east of the park in Humboldt Park have seen a great deal of new construction activity in the past ten years, both single-family homes and condominiums. It’s all been small-scale infill development.

Walk the streets, as I did last August when I took these photos, and you’ll see more vacant lots than you find in healthy areas, board-ups, and Police Observation Devices a/k/a blue light cameras.

When you venture beyond Chicago’s most stable neighborhoods your experience can vary wildly depending on the block you live on. You can be blissfully situated in a pocket of neighborly paradise – or spending your days listening to gunfire. The state of the built environment is only one of many clues to the livability of an area, and it often sends conflicting signals, as it does here. The area is in transition but its direction remains unknown.

Last week a man was found shot in the 1500 block of Talman and pronounced dead a few minutes later. If the shooting occurred on the block, it wasn’t the first. Does that make the area unlivable? Your call, not mine. I think of the upbeat homeowner I met last summer in a nearby neighborhood who loved where he lived and was pleased that “we’ve only had two shootings on the block so far this year.”

I often hear tales of home buyers flitting from one fringe area to another in search of “the best deal” in a new home. They’re typically accompanied by real estate agents who are clueless about the neighborhoods they drive through. Whether any of those buyers get a good deal strikes me as a matter of pure chance.

Are you ready for Humboldt Park? Spend a dozen evenings and weekends within the span of a few blocks in the neighborhood, walking around and talking to everyone you meet. You’ll get closer to an answer.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Alex January 9, 2013 at 9:50 AM

Joe,

Thanks for the article. I think very few people moving to neighborhoods like Humboldt are just products of an uninformed or unscrupulous agent. After all, most rent in the city prior to buying and know its reputation. More likely, people value the discount over living in a more gentrified area and are are essentially land speculating hoping to make some money on the back end.

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EHPNA January 9, 2013 at 7:13 PM

Joe,

Thank you for your article. While I understand the overall point and tenor of the message, I think the pictures and some facets of the story are grossly misrepresented.

For starters, you literally picked all or almost all the boarded up buildings in East Humboldt Park (Division to North, California to Western; or Beat 1423). You even showed a picture of the boarded up LUCHA building on Rockwell and LeMoyne that is, and has been under heavy construction. A well-funded endeavor that will modernize that building along with its twin on Evergreen and Rockwell. If you were there on a weekday, you will see that this is an active construction site.

While the pictures are glaring, they are quite a bit out of context and literally show the one corridor/corner that we have had the most issues with in a year. LeMoyne and Talman, which is primarily depicted in your photographs has been problematic for us and with the help of CPD, we are working to curb some of the loitering, nuisance, and vacant building issues we have seen here. The unfortunate shooting last week you reference took place in the same area and believe it or not, is the second homicide in EHP in 3-4 years (since 2010). You can verify this as it is public data (GIS, CLEARMap, and even the Tribune Redeye’s own disturbingly named, ‘Homicide Tracker’). The tony Old Town neighborhood has had more in the past 12 months alone just to lend some perspective. Two in 4 years is two too many but yet not as much as the perception would lead you to believe.

I would hope that in accordance with the message of your article, you’d also include other pictures of the neighborhood like the gorgeous Greystones on Maplewood, the new construction on Campbell and also Artesian, the green restorations on Evergreen, the cottages on Crystal Streets and the 4 new construction SFHs that sold immediately on Rockwell to balance out the picture. Or even the outdoor art gallery on Hirsch and Maplewood. You managed to find that one graffiti that we have been working to get removed. :)

Alex above is right, when many of us homeowners moved here 8 – 10 years ago, we did so because of the proximity to Wicker Park, the gorgeous Humboldt Park and its lagoon, and the ‘neighborhood feel’. Does it have its warts, absolutely. But is it the same place that used to be called the ‘Zone’ 20 years ago? Absolutely not and the data bares that out. East Humboldt Park is great as it is ethnically and socio-economically diverse, with neighbors who moved in yesterday, those who have lived here since the 60s, and those whose family have spanned generations in the neighborhood.

And don’t think that we are comprised of residents that are itching to get out, like my wife and I, many sold previous units and moved to more space in the same neighborhood because of the value and of course our lovely active neighbors.

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Joe Zekas January 9, 2013 at 7:27 PM

EHPNA,

Thanks for taking the time to add your balanced and informative perspective on the area.

Looking back at the time-stamp on my photos, I was there just before and after 1 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, August 3. Apart from the dumpster, I didn’t see or hear construction activity at Rockwell & LeMoyne.

When the weather improves, reach out and take me on a tour of the neighborhood. I’ll shoot video and let people see it as you see it.

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EHPNA January 9, 2013 at 9:16 PM

Thanks for the response Joe. Looking forward to your follow-up visit. The construction crew goes back and forth between Rockwell/Evergreen and Rockwell/LeMoyne. We have complained that the ‘board-ups’ have been up for too long making them look abandoned but the foreman assured us that windows will be put in by the end of this month.

I wanted to add: Keep up the good work. Your style is a ‘raw’ and honest assessment of the local real estate market….without the candy coated real-estate marketing stuff. Really well done.

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PosterBoy January 10, 2013 at 8:43 AM

“Are you ready for Humboldt Park?”

Of course we are!

I remember the same denigrating comments from the malcontents about Wicker Park/Bucktown.

Somethings never change.

@EHPNA. You’re right about Redeye’s ridiculous “homicide tracker”…it’s rather low brow. It reminds me of “homeland security” and I am sure it appeals to the same type of individuals.

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Evergreener January 10, 2013 at 10:16 AM

EHPNA-

I live in the area as well and thought the same thing looking at the photos – “but that’s boarded up because it’s being renovated!”. I also am moving from one home in the neighborhood to another with more space…not on speculation like Alex suggests, but because I’ve never lived in a neighborhood where I’ve felt more attached to my neighbors, and I really like it here. And if you took a photo of the place we just purchased, it would look like an abandoned dump too…but it’s also being renovated :)

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the urban politician January 10, 2013 at 4:53 PM

Joe,

A lot of buyers are snatching up property in “northeast” Humboldt Park. Same goes for Pilsen.

Not that this necessarily means gentrification is on its way. But many of these buildings are going to get a new lease on life. My guess is that these neighborhoods will continue to improve in upcoming decades..

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