My family recently spent an afternoon exploring the Chicago neighborhood of Roscoe Village. My wife and I are Chicago natives who moved to Madison in 1996. We remember Roscoe Village as a vaguely hip but mostly run down area where cheap rents could still be found. Although we’re aware of the transformation many neighborhoods experienced in the last decade or so, we were still surprised by the transformation of Roscoe Village and Roscoe Street in particular.
Roscoe has become a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly street. Many diverse shops line the street. Tall trees provide shade and greenery. Old and new buildings mix together. Many people out and about.
Another big change was all the bicyclists. They seemed so in congruent from our experience. Hardly anyone rode bikes when we lived in Chicago. Now there were cyclists everywhere! More power to the Alternative Transportation Alliance (formerly Chicagoland Bicycle Federation)! As my son was quick to point out, however, hardly anyone rode helmets (so why should he have to). The ATA still has some work to do I guess.
But the biggest surprise by far were all the babies! As we sat at a sidewalk cafe at least a dozen baby-filled strollers must have passed by. We thought, what in the world?! And judging by the strollers (which have come a long way since our teen age children rode in them) and other various indicators, these were middle to upper-middle class families with housing choice. Finally my wife, never the shy one, stopped a couple and asked what the deal was. As she guessed, the couple explained that the neighborhood school has an excellent reputation.
Good schools are critical to healthy neighborhoods but I suspected something more than good education accounted for the droves of babies rolling by our table. My suspicions were confirmed when I read Back to the City in the May 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review, by Ania Wieckowski. Wieckowski describes how corporations are moving back to the city, citing United Airlines choice of central Chicago over the suburbs as one example among others. But it is not just businesses that see value in city environments.
As the article states,
To put it simply, the suburbs have lost their sheen: Both young workers and retiring Boomers are actively seeking to live in densely packed, mixed-use communities that don’t require cars—that is, cities or revitalized outskirts in which residences, shops, schools, parks, and other amenities exist close together. “In the 1950s, suburbs were the future,” says University of Michigan architecture and urban-planning professor Robert Fishman, commenting on the striking cultural shift. “The city was then seen as a dingy environment. But today it’s these urban neighborhoods that are exciting and diverse and exploding with growth.”