In Chicago, The 606 trail has been a bless­ing and a prob­lem

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - FRONT PAGE - Aamer Mad­hani @AamerIS­mad USA TO­DAY

WEEK­END SPE­CIAL This is an edi­tion of USA TO­DAY avail­able to sub­scribers as an e-News­pa­per ev­ery Satur­day and Sun­day. It con­tains the lat­est de­vel­op­ments in News, Money, Life and Sports along with the best of USA TO­DAY’s re­port­ing, pho­tog­ra­phy and graph­ics. Ex­panded con­tent from USA TO­DAY can be found at our web­site, us­ato­, on our free apps for Ap­ple and An­droid de­vices, and in print Mon­day through Fri­day. CHICAGO By many mea­sures, the ef­fort to con­vert old el­e­vated rail­way on Chicago’s North­west Side into a sig­na­ture park has been a smash­ing suc­cess.

The 2.7-mile re­cre­ation trail, known as The 606 and built on old Chicago & Pa­cific Rail­road line, has been praised as a model use of pub­lic space since it opened two years ago. It’s reg­u­larly packed with bik­ers, jog­gers and walk­ers.

Art in­stal­la­tions and eclec­tic pro­gram­ming — in­clud­ing evening stargaz­ing ses­sions, AfroLatin mu­sic and dance demon­stra­tions and pup­pet shows — have helped make the lin­ear park a tourist des­ti­na­tion.

The 606’s charms not­with­stand­ing, some res­i­dents along the west­ern por­tion of the trail say the re­cre­ational space has been both a bless­ing and curse. It brought much-needed green space in a part of Chicago that lacked it, but it’s also driv­ing up prop­erty val­ues and rent prices in their once-af­ford­able neigh­bor­hood.

“I miss my neigh­bor­hood; I miss my neigh­bors; I miss my lo­cal stores,” said Ali­cia Avila, who had rented near the west­ern edge of the trail for 11 years but moved to a cheaper Chicago sub­urb this month be­cause of the ris­ing hous­ing costs that have fol­lowed the trail, which takes its name from the Chicago ZIP code pre­fix.

“I know gen­tri­fi­ca­tion is go­ing to hap­pen, but it should hap­pen in a re­spon­si­ble way so that peo­ple who have been here for many years can co-in­habit the same space.”

Call it the green­ing neigh­bor­hood co­nun­drum. The para­dox that Chicago faces with its new gem is play­ing out in other big cities around the na­tion. They’re find­ing it’s dif­fi­cult to add mar­quee park space on derelict tracks and bridges in low-in­come areas while also keep­ing hous­ing prices in check for long­time res­i­dents.

Now, de­sign­ers and city of­fi­cials seek­ing to cre­ate re­cre­ational space on aban­doned in­dus­trial eye­sores are rec­og­niz­ing — be­lat­edly, in some cases — their chicken-and-egg quandary: How do you add green space in lower-in­come areas with­out in­evitably set­ting those pop­u­la­tions up to be dis­placed by more well-heeled neigh­bors look­ing to en­joy the ameni­ties?

“This is­sue calls for cross-sec­tor col­lab­o­ra­tion,” said Adrian Benepe, direc­tor of city park de­vel­op­ment at The Trust for Pub­lic Land, the San Fran­cisco-based non-profit that worked with Chicago of­fi­cials on The 606. “It’s not enough to say you’re go­ing to build a park and stick your head in the sand and say, ‘We only care about the park. We don’t care what else might be go­ing on.’ ”

At­lanta Mayor Kasim Reed an­nounced plans for a new fund in April to help res­i­dents liv­ing near parts of At­lanta’s BeltLine whose tax bills are ris­ing as the city re­builds the old rail­way into a multi-use trail.

In Wash­ing­ton, D.C., or­ga­niz­ers of the 11th Street Bridge Park, a $45 mil­lion pro­posal to trans­form a dor­mant bridge into re­cre­ational space, have drawn up an “eq­ui­table de­vel­op­ment plan” that sets goals for af­ford­able hous­ing and job cre­ation for res­i­dents in a low-in­come neigh­bor­hood that would be af­fected by the project. The non-profit Lo­cal Ini­tia­tives Sup­port Corp. has com­mit­ted to spend $50 mil­lion to sup­port groups pro­vid­ing af­ford­able hous­ing, early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion, food sup­port and other ser­vices around the park.

The founders of the High Line in New York City — the bal­ly­hooed 1.45-mile trail built on aban­doned rail­way on the lower West Side that was the fore­run­ner to The 606 and sim­i­lar “rails to trail” projects — last year launched the High Line Net­work, a con­sor­tium that in­cludes rep­re­sen­ta­tives from 19 adap­tive re­use park projects across North Amer­ica to help share lessons learned.

The High Line, which opened in 2009, saw prop­erty val­ues spike 103% for real es­tate within a five-minute walk from the trail be­tween 2003 and 2011, ac­cord­ing to city gov­ern­ment data.

The daz­zling park, which has drawn more than 20 mil­lion vis­i­tors since July 2014, has been crit­i­cized for be­com­ing a tourist mag­net rather than a neigh­bor­hood amenity. A 2016 study by Queens Col­lege po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Alex Re­ichl also found that fewer than 7% of High Line users were black or Latino — a strik­ing ob­ser­va­tion con­sid­er­ing the trail was built near two pub­lic hous­ing com­plexes with large black and Latino pop­u­la­tions.

“I want to make sure other peo­ple don’t make the mis­takes we did and learn how to deal with these is­sues,” Robert Ham­mond, co-founder of the High Line, told the web­site City Lab ear­lier this year. “We cer­tainly don’t have all the an­swers.”

In Chicago, three city coun­cil mem­bers last month pro­posed a pi­lot or­di­nance that would re­quire de­vel­op­ers to pay as much as a $650,000 fee if they want to de­mol­ish and re­place hab­it­able hous­ing near parts of The 606 trail.

The monies col­lected for the pro­posed Chicago pro­gram would go into an af­ford­able hous­ing trust, which would help home­own­ers pay for prop­erty taxes and needed home re­pairs. The or­di­nance ap­pears to face an up­hill bat­tle to pas­sage.

“One of the is­sues that the city gov­ern­ment and fun­ders should have fore­seen is the ac­cel­er­ated gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, the ac­cel­er­ated in­creases in prop­erty val­ues and taxes that we could have pro­grammed for at the time,” said Juan Carlos Linares, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of LUCHA, a Chicago af­ford­able-hous­ing group that has backed the pro­posed or­di­nance.

While real es­tate val­ues in the neigh­bor­hoods around the trail have been ris­ing for years, hous­ing prices have risen sharply along the west­ern seg­ment of the trail that cuts through Hum­boldt Park and Lo­gan Square neigh­bor­hoods — areas that his­tor­i­cally have had large Latino pop­u­la­tions and, un­til re­cently, plenty of rea­son­ably priced hous­ing.

The 606 has had more mod­est im­pact on the al­ready-gen­tri­fied neigh­bor­hoods on its eastern edge, but real es­tate prices on the once-af­ford­able west­ern side have sky­rock­eted by 48.2% since ground was bro­ken on the trail in 2013 and rose 9.4% dur­ing the first year the trail was open, ac­cord­ing to a Novem­ber 2016 re­port from the In­sti­tute of Hous­ing Stud­ies at DePaul Uni­ver­sity.

In the six years prior to The 606 open­ing, be­tween 15% and 19% of sin­gle-fam­ily home sales went to in­vestors and de­vel­op­ers. In 2015, the year the trail opened, the fig­ure reached 21%, and in the first quar­ter of 2016, it was al­most 31%, the study found.

“It’s much more dif­fi­cult to take ac­tion retroac­tively,” said Ge­off Smith, the lead au­thor of the DePaul study. “It’s a lot more ex­pen­sive and com­pli­cated to in­ter­vene after the fact.”

Aides to Mayor Rahm Emanuel say his ad­min­is­tra­tion has worked to main­tain af­ford­able hous­ing along The 606 cor­ri­dor and help keep long­time res­i­dents in the neigh­bor­hood.

In 2016 the city cre­ated a $1 mil­lion for­giv­able loan pro­gram for lower-in­come home­own­ers on the west­ern edge of The 606 to help them pay for needed ex­te­rior re­pairs as well as elec­tri­cal, plumb­ing and heat­ing fixes on their homes.

John Gra­ham, 57, has mixed feel­ings about the changes that have come with the trail.

Gra­ham, a plumber, bought his home for $50,000 a stone’s throw from the trail in 1991, when the area was over­whelmed by vi­o­lent gang-fu­eled crime and he strug­gled to find a bank that would write him a mort­gage.

Gra­ham op­poses a city coun­cil pro­posal that could block him and his neigh­bors from try­ing to cash out now. Yet he sounded doubt­ful he would pur­sue such a deal if he could get one.

“I had talked to my wife about sell­ing our house to a de­vel­oper or even go­ing in on a deal where we would de­velop it our­selves and be part­ners,” Gra­ham said. “My wife’s re­ac­tion was shock and hor­ror. She said, ‘How could you even think about do­ing that to our neigh­bors?’ ”


Juan Carlos Linares, shown with his chil­dren, Amaru and Maya, is ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of LUCHA, a Chicago group that backs an or­di­nance that would make it costly for de­vel­op­ers to tear down homes near The 606 trail.

John Gra­ham, a 57year-old plumber, bought his home for $50,000 in 1992 in what was once a crime-rid­den neigh­bor­hood near The 606 trail. The trail has im­proved the neigh­bor­hood, but new de­vel­op­ment is mak­ing it un­af­ford­able for his neigh­bors.


The 606, the Bloom­ing­dale line trail. By many mea­sures, an ef­fort to con­vert derelict el­e­vated rail­way on Chicago’s North­west Side into a stun­ning lin­ear park has been a smash­ing suc­cess. Yet many res­i­dents at one end of the trail are grum­bling.

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