Friday, November 09, 2007

That's life. This is Walgreens.

It seems like a man-bites-dog situation. The neighborhood tells a developer to go big or go home.

WalgreensThe East Village Association has been lobbying for a building at Ashland and Division that would be more of a neighborhood anchor than the chain restaurant it would replace on the southwest corner.

This week the developer presented his concession to the community: a chain drugstore.

Residents were upset. But should it surprise anyone when a large retailer and busy developer make decisions based on short-term profit? And can we blame them for not taking risks when we make it so easy to go for the quick money?

That's how Polish Broadway got paved for a Pizza Hut. And that's how the new gateway to my community is going to be a big red W under glass.

Ald. Manny Flores seemed to have a golden opportunity in reviewing the project. Here was a chance to replace a single-story billboard — a building that couldn't even be vacated till its trademark red mansard roof was papered over. As it turned out, he might as well have told the developer, "No, that's just not good enough. My constituents really want a two-story billboard."

Here was a chance to stiffen the developer's spine, to show how there were smart, profitable ways to fill a community need other than (1) drive-in retail or (2) drive-in retail plus condos, and that the perfect complement to a bank building is not precast concrete.

Instead, the Polish Triangle, one of the few public spaces on Division that hasn't been converted to a sidewalk cafe, most likely will become an arrow pointing to the snack-food aisle.

Still, I can't blame politicians when they build playlots instead of parks, or extract taller store windows as a development concession. After all, this month Flores held hearings in the ward to ask what a new library was worth to us. And we responded: Cash in at the casino. Don't raise taxes. Our kids can find books somewhere else.

Of course, the commercials are right. We don't live anywhere near Perfect. So there's Walgreens.

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