People keep moving here. The cranes keep going up, neighborhoods keep changing and natives like me occasionally get turned around on streets that we could swear we knew. Was that massive apartment building always there? Wasn’t that the old gas station? The Wuv’s Hamburgers?
In a way, it’s good that these are our problems. We want to be the sort of city people want to move to. Visit a Rust Belt city where the population’s been declining for years if you want to see a different, more passive form of development. Rot and abandonment are things that develop too.
I live in Victoria Park, and I love my neighborhood. I love being able to walk to a summer concert at Holiday Park, a movie at the Gateway or an ArtWalk; I’ve lost count of how many new breweries are within an easy bike ride’s distance. But I also get that I live in a place that’s changing. My neighborhood now sits just off the downtown of a growing city. In recent years, the land across from my house has gone from older, smaller homes to construction site to tall townhomes. Things evolve. It would be shortsighted and unfair of me to celebrate the change I like – the restaurants, art and culture that come from living in that growing city – but demanding that my immediate surroundings’ more small-town charms also remain intact. We can’t demand a city at one moment and a town at another.
But there’s a difference between poorly planned, unsustainable development and any development at all. Good, sustainable development looks to find new and creative uses for existing buildings, and to put newer and better things around them. One person we feature this month is Abby Laughlin. If you’ve seen what’s been happening on NE 13th Street recently, you’ve seen some of her work. She’s the sort of developer who can imagine something fresh and creative that repurposes tired spaces with interesting new uses. If you’ve been to one of the cafes, shops or galleries along 13th, you’ve seen how that can work.
It sometimes seems like the larger development debate happens from two polar opposite positions. Either we want everything to stay the same, or we want to hand over the city to everybody who wants to move dirt and throw up any old building. The truth, of course, is in all the decisions made between those two poles. We remain a city that people want to move to, and that’s a good thing. If we’re smart about it, we can be a city that welcomes more people without losing the things that brought them here in the first place.