By Scott Smith
Back in October, Crain’s Chicago Business published an article about how home sales in Beverly are on the rise and some of the reasons why.
Before saying more about that article, a couple of declarations are in order.
I serve on the board of the Beverly Area Planning Association (BAPA) and I’m a board member with the Southwest Chicago Diversity Collaborative (where we’re working on the launch of a spring festival that highlights the need for more bike- and pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods). I also work with the Beverly Area Arts Alliance, where I produce a live storytelling series called The Frunchroom that tells stories about the South Side that don’t always make the headlines.
Like most people, I volunteer because of a belief about where neighborhood development should and must come from: a participatory community that has a voice in our neighborhood—and city. It’s the opposite of the typical top-down, politically driven model Chicago has often embraced.
Over the past few years, I’ve watched as small businesses here have created niche communities that become economic drivers, particularly in those places that elevate artists and writers.
Crain’s Chicago Business backed up what we’ve all seen with data and reporting: At the end of September, Beverly showed “a steep increase in home sales for the year to date.” How steep? An increase of 27 percent over the same period in 2016.
The piece goes on to quote real estate agent and Morgan Park resident Francine Benson Garaffo, who says that new groups and businesses formed in the past few years have “brought a new energy into Beverly,” and highlights two new breweries and a meadery, as well as the Arts Alliance and The Frunchroom. (The Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery on the border of Beverly and Washington Heights grew out of a brewing supply store on Western Avenue.)
We have to recognize what a hard turn this was, especially when the Arts Alliance’s Art Walk and Horse Thief Hollow (one of the two breweries mentioned) debuted. At the time, there was nothing like those breweries in the neighborhood. While both were warmly embraced, Western Avenue was (and still kind of is) a haven of shot-and-a-beer joints.
And while there were some art galleries in the neighborhood, most are like the Vanderpoel Art Museum—hidden away gems, and not something the neighborhood was known for to outsiders.
The changes are due to individuals who envisioned change and put entrepreneurial thinking behind it. It wasn’t thanks to a city or the ward office. It was people—many of them volunteers—banding together in common cause who then attracted like-minded folks to follow behind them. Horse Thief begat Open Outcry and the Meadery. The Art Walk begat The Frunchroom. Et cetera.
You see this spirit of volunteerism-meets-entrepreneurialism in BAPA as well. Though it has only three full-time staff members, it has an army of volunteers, homeowners, and local businesses who make it possible to create a yearlong slate of events like the Ridge Run, the Beverly Home Tour, Bikes and Brews, and more. They’re also not afraid to take on the city and advocate for the neighborhood, like in the current campaign to save the Ridge Park fieldhouse.
The Crain’s article also had something interesting to say about public schools in our neighborhood. In an interview with a new Beverly resident, schools were cited as “the top draw.” The elementary school they moved here for is Kellogg School, a public school with CPS’s highest rating, 1+ and scores a seven out of 10 points on the Great Schools rating service.
In a time of upheaval for Chicago Public Schools (CPS), it’s worth noting that people are moving to the 19th Ward because of our public schools.
It’s great to see the neighborhood’s arts scene, new restaurants and public schools creating an atmosphere where home sales and prices are on the rise. There are two lessons here:
If you have a vision for change in your community, you and your friends have the power to make it happen.
Decisions about our communities—especially our schools—should be participatory.
During the 2019 political campaign season, I’m sure many people will want to take credit for the rise in Beverly’s sales and home prices. I just hope they’ll mention the people who actually made it happen.