Monday, July 14, 2003

Chicago Beat
BILL OF GOODS: With all the hype about the All-Star Game returning to Comiskey this week (on the 70th anniversary of the game's birth across the street), I appreciated the Tribune's effort to take a look at the neighborhoods surrounding the stadium, which benefit little from having big-league baseball in their backyard. The Tribune said that only Cleveland's Jacobs Field has a higher proportion of poor neighbors than Comiskey does with the area down 35th Street between the Dan Ryan and State Street.

What was blatantly neglected until the last three grafs of the story was the fact that this stadium was sold to the public--literally: it was funded in part by tax dollars--with the promise that it would help revive the area. But the team's design for the new stadium--whose high walls close off the park to the neighborhood, and whose lease prohibits any souvenirs or food from being sold within several blocks of the park--ensured that this would not happen. It was a fraud. I covered this angle in an April interview in the Tribune with the authors of a book on Chicago stadiums and neighborhoods (more of my interview with them here in my B&C blog).

- One more thing about the All-Star Game itself. I still haven't heard a persuasive argument from those opposing the new wrinkle to the game: the winning league will have home field advantage in the World Series. Yes, this means an exhibition game will help determine who wins the championship, but how could it possibly be less sensible than the current system, by which home field advantage alternated every year with no regard to which team had the better record? Besides, with all these All-Stars on one field, why not make it count for something?

CubsWAIT TILL NEXT MONTH: The Braves roughed up the Cubs this week, and figure to do it again when the teams meet in Atlanta after the break. But if the Cubs can just hang on to .500 (which is where they are at the break, at 47-47) by the time August 3 rolls around--after a punishing stretch that also includes the Marlins, Phillies, Astros, Giants, and Diamondbacks, then they should be in good shape for the homestretch. Besides crucial division matchups with the Astros and Cardinals, and road series at Montreal and Arizona, the Dodgers are the only winning team they face the rest of the year. Maybe that will help reverse the Cubs' trend of late-season losing; if I heard right on a telecast this weekend, the Cubs have the worst August-September record in the big leagues over the last five years.

SACRILEGE: The July 4 Chicago Reader featured an alarming article on the so-called "Cathedral District," a nasty plan by a developer to mar even more of the Near North Side with condos under the guise--strangely enough--of preserving the neighborhood's character. The Fordham Company has placed lightpost banners bearing a "Cathedral District" emblem within the region bordered by State, Michigan, Chicago and Ontario (a region that has been particularly battered by condo-minded demolitions the last ten years), and is planning a high-rise condo building called "Cathedral Tower." A Fordham brochure gushes,
"A tremendous development boom is transforming this area, once a combination of vintage offices and trendy galleries, into a very desirable residential neighborhood. The surge of new residents opens an unparalleled opportunity to create a true community, one that celebrates the city's religious heritage while extending a welcoming presence to all."

Longtime resident Barton Faist gives his take on the brochure:

My first reaction is that this is not a place of history. It's a place of demolition. It's not even a cathedral district, 'cause there are only two churches--Holy Name and Saint James--actually in the cathedral district. Those other churches and synagogues [listed on the brochure] are located outside the district. They'd have to bus them in. So tell me, how do two churches in 12 square blocks make a cathedral district? Then there's that line about 'a tremendous development boom' opening 'unparalleled opportunities' to celebrate the city's religious heritage. What does a development boom have to do with celebrating religious heritages? A development boom is a euphemism for saying 'We're destroying old buildings.' What does historical demolition have to do with religion? They talk about preserving the past. Oh, they're going to put up signs to tell you what was here before they tore it down? Do they think we're stupid? And that thing about the community seders and the Christmas caroling--what a joke. They're building great high-rise fortresses. How can you go caroling there if you can't get past the doormen?

No surprise to see the 'Cathedral District' heartily endorsed by Ald. Burt Natarus, a classic Daley crony who shouldn't be allowed within 100 yards of anything resembling city business. Not only is he an obnoxious person, but when I interviewed him in January he told me that the demolition of potential landmark buildings on Division east of State to build a CVS--with a Walgreens, Jewel and Osco all within two blocks--was a triumph of our captialist system, which thrives on competition. Oh, how wonderful, now I can save 20 cents on a bag of Doritos--so to hell with history! It's not a triumph of competition, it's a triumph of monotony.

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