Paul Boyd - Transcript

Transcript of Paul Boyd
Interviewee: Paul Boyd
Interviewer: Dorothy Nygren and Robert Remer
Place: 5358 N. Ashland Ave., Chicago, IL
Date: December 3, 2014
Transcriber: Dorothy Nygren
Time: 36:46

Copyright © 2015 Edgewater Historical Society

DN: This is Dorothy Nygren along with Bob Remer at the Edgewater Historical Society 5358 N Ashland, and today’s date is December 3, 2014. We’re interviewing one of our 2015 Living Treasures, Paul Boyd. Congratulations Paul.

PB: Thank you.

DN: We really appreciate all the work you’ve done for the Edgewater Community. We think it’s great. I’m going to start the interview by going back a little bit before you came to Edgewater because I understand from Bob that you were a Jesuit priest at one time and so obviously when you were doing that you were inspired by something important. Maybe you can talk a little bit about that and then how you translated that into your roles in Edgewater.

PB: Great. I grew up in Cincinnati and ended up in Chicago because I went into the Jesuit seminary right after high school. I finished the training…I actually set the record for leaving quickly thereafter but I finished a ten year training program with the Jesuits. This brought me to Chicago. When I left I ended up looking for work. What do I do with a degree in theology? I need to feed myself etc. I remember walking the streets of downtown Chicago and I ran into an ex-Jesuit the first day I was really looking for work. He said, “Would you like to come to the Model Cities Community Development Program?” I said, “Sure. What’s that?” He said, “We need somebody smart, who can write, be articulate, and who can help out in the city’s poverty program in developing neighborhoods and work in urban renewal programs.” I said, “Great. I‘ll take a job; that threw me right into the middle of urban planning and grant management.”

For five years I worked for the City of Chicago in the heart of the city’s community development program. I eventually became the equivalent of the Director of Housing for those programs. I also got a real estate license along the way to give me verbiage about all the stuff I was working with. A degree in theology taught me how to think but I needed some terms in the real world. I had a broker’s license. After five years I found it was getting so hard to work for the city of Chicago and I wasn’t getting the promotions I thought I had earned because I was asked to pay bribes to the ward committeeman in the 43rd Ward and being from Cincinnati I didn’t know what that meant. They asked me for $2400 for my promotion to be an assistant Director of Housing. I said ‘I’m sorry, I don’t get this.” And I walked out.

(3:00)

DN: What year was that in?

PB: That was probably 1976 or 1977.

DN: Were you a resident of Edgewater at that time?

PB: I was living in Lincoln Park. I moved to Edgewater in 1978. I bought the two flat that I currently live in, 5453 N. Wayne. I moved here because I could afford it. I went looking in Lincoln Park and realized, oh my God, even then it was an urban renewal area and it was out of my price range. I had saved enough money in five years of working to put a small down payment on a special loan program to get my junky two flat which I ended up rehabbing for the next ten years. The minute I jumped into the community I started walking around. I met Marion Volini on the next block two days after I moved in. She invited me the block party. I got to meet Marion, Ed and Virginia Marciniak. After a few hours of being at the party, she [Marion] asked me, “Oh you’re in real estate.” I’d gotten into real estate by that time trying to make a living and selling the neighborhood. “How would you like to be on the Zoning and Land Use Committee for the 48th Ward?” “Sure.” I better learn some zoning [laws, etc.] but I’m smart and I’ll figure it out. I became an assistant to Jeff Johns, who was heading the Zoning and Land Use Committee. The more I got involved with Marion and the civic and political community, I started meeting people like Bob Remer and LeRoy Blommaert and all the people involved in the Edgewater Community Council.

There was a movement afoot to kind of get some new youth into the older Edgewater Community Council. It was filled with a lot of very dedicated older people who ran a bunch of programs that appealed especially to older people. It was a regular and consistent organization, but it didn’t seem to be dealing with the issues of a declining urban neighborhood that was struggling for its own survival. Being a bit of an activist, I thought I moved into this neighborhood because I want it to be an exciting neighborhood that was worth saving and take my energy into working with that, especially with Winthrop and Kenmore I met Jack Markowski who was working on that. A group of people organized a campaign to run a new slate of candidates for the Edgewater Community Council for the 1983 term. They somehow drafted me into running for President. It turned out to be one of the most fascinating, hard working years of my life.

We managed to get the membership up by an interesting Chicago tradition of getting new members. I think we went from six hundred members to fourteen hundred members in a short period of time, mostly who voted for me and the slate of candidates that we were working for. It began a boom year and the years after that were boom years. I remember we set out a twenty-one point agenda. Now that I’m seventy I can’t remember what all the twenty-one points were. One of the first one was to clean up the office; number two was to hire a professional staff. One of the first things we did was to hire Jack Markowski and Denise de Belle to get the staff solidified; to get an office secretary in paid positions. We worked on grant management. I think we went from under $100,000 to $400,000 in grants and membership fees by the end of the year. We computerized the office. Even though I’m a Luddite in computers I recognized we needed to be computerized. We set up filing systems. We got rid of so much crap that was in that office. We painted it with grand ceremonies to get everyone involved in painting. It was a wonderful year.

(7:00)

Committees galore were set up. Bob used to chair those meetings. Every meeting was exciting; full of controversy but full of pushing for new ideas, new directions and new causes. I remember in that year things like the Edgewater Historical Society just started getting talked about. I remember sitting in a few of those meetings when it solidified. People were proposing it like, “Let’s go with that.” So the incubator of the Edgewater Community Council… in those year and the years following that the Edgewater Development Corporation…. I’m forgetting all these things. There were a few other groups in there. Care for Real was already in existence and it was flourishing at that time. Just keeping all these other organizations with the mother hen, the Edgewater Community Council, keeping them going for a vibrant civic organization. It was an exciting year. I look back at it as one of the most productive in my life. I’m always honored that even though I only spent one year at it, everyone introduces me as the ex-President of the Edgewater Community Council. I think “My God, that was 1983. It’s 2014 now.” But it was a significant year. I’m very proud of it.

DN: What compelled you to take on such a difficult and time consuming voluntary task?

(8:25)

PB: My wife asks me that a lot. (Chuckles) I guess I was an idealist; making money wasn’t that important. Ironically I was a struggling real estate agent working with a little firm in the neighborhood. I was making enough money to get by. I had lived with a vow of poverty for ten years so I really felt my values were important; what I contribute; I was used to that. Except as you try to start a family. I was helping raise Jason Cullman who was her first son and we needed money. I needed to work a real estate career into my volunteer work and buy a nice car because the one I was driving around in, which I thought was just fine, was all rusty and you could see the street through the hole in the floor! Somehow I realized my idealism won’t drive me through this. But in retrospect my involvement in the community also led me to meet a lot of people, so my real estate career took off in the years after that because people saw me as someone who cares about the community which I did. Indirectly I became their chosen broker for many years in Edgewater.

RR: Paul, before you became President you had also been active in the ECC because I remember Chairman of Planning and Development. You were involved with all the operations of the Kenmore redevelopment projects. I wonder if you could go back a couple of years. I remember when we first hired Jack Markowski to be Project Director. Could you talk about how you worked with Ed Marciniak and Jack on some of the aspects of the Kenmore projects?

(10:13)

PB: Well it was an exciting group of programs and people who were doing….the neighborhood was up for grabs. It was literally burning down. There was the arson operation. There was Operation Winthrop-Kenmore. There were surveys and all the data that that brought out about how deteriorated the housing stock was. Eighty-five percent of the housing stock on Kenmore and Winthrop between Foster and Devon was substandard by city code standards. Today we’re proud to say that more than eight-five percent of it is above standards. It’s been rehabilitated in a balanced way. The forging of housing policy, especially on Kenmore and Winthrop and its effect on the rest of the community, which as fairly healthy was really an important community dialogue. I’ll never forget when we met with McHugh-Levin Development who came in with the Habitat Corporation to do the Pines of Edgewater. What a controversy that was! People were screaming and yelling, “We’ve got to get these dependent people out of here and Section Eight is just more dependent people.” I’m looking at eighteen buildings, which are vacant, boarded up and covered with gangs and there are forty-eight other vacant buildings. We are at the bottom. We need to turn around now. If a private and public development, using Section 8, would be the nail that would solidify the foundation and build on that, I think that’s going to be a turning point in the redevelopment of the neighborhood. I’m happy to say as a realtor for the next twenty five, thirty-five years, everything turned around. Private development, private investment has complemented the still strong core of assisted housing that exists along Kenmore and Winthrop and is so well managed of the housing that is there. Most people don’t even know it’s there. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. They’re in our community that turned around. I think it was one of the major forces that turned around. I remember being threatened to be sued and that lawsuits were going to come over our backing of it. We pushed through, got that, and the neighborhood is now very different.

(12:40)

DN: Do you think that you saw from a Jesuit standpoint, from your Jesuit training, that in other words that part of being a full human being is to be of service to others and to your community and that was part of what impelled you to have the balance of various groups in the neighborhood; that they would support each other rather than just have one kind of group in the neighborhood – lower class, middle class, upper class, whatever? But that a community neighborhood needs the diversity of all kinds of all the people? I don’t know…I’m just…..

PB: The answer is yes. Obviously being a Jesuit influenced me. I was a ‘60s hippie who was idealistic as could be. But to this day I still resonate to the message, if you don’t deal with everybody in our community in a balanced way, everybody is not taken care of. I’m happy to say that Edgewater is one of the richest communities in the city; it’s one of the middle class communities in the city; it’s one of the working class communities in the city and it still has a poor community. It’s diverse; it’s integrated; it’s economically mixed all over the place. And most of it’s working quite well. I think that’s a testimony to the power of intelligent planning that takes into effect the whole range of the social spectrum. To just focus on the poor or to just focus on the gentry is misguided.

DN: I’d like to go back and ask you about your role with the Lakefront Task Force.

PB: Sure. Edgewater. The name Edge-water. We’re on the edge of the water. It struck me as attractive to come to this community, not only because it was affordable, but had this beautiful lakefront. That is its prime asset. Very early on we set up task forces. I forget what year; maybe it was ’82 or ’83. The task forces were coming out of Planning and Development for the Council [ECC]. We started focusing on the park system along the lakefront; perhaps finishing the park system north of Hollywood [Avenue]. There were debates about whether to extend Lake Shore Drive, because that was another problem. So the committee looked into the lakefront and also the traffic problem of one hundred thousand cars coming to the terminus of Lake Shore Drive and roughly scattering themselves through our community with forty to forty-five thousand going up Sheridan Road; with forty to forty–one to forty-five thousand cars going across Ridge [Avenue] and about twenty to twenty-five thousand, depending on the time of day, going up Broadway. And these issues of “Wow, we just got an expressway going in the middle of our neighborhood….” So the debate went on in those years about Lake Shore Drive and finishing that initiative to build park systems and the dunes, etc. and to continue the traffic going north, or is that a bad idea? Well, this debate went on and on. I’m happy to say that’s what we worked on in those days.

Opinions have changed over the years, but the Task Force for the Lakefront divided up into two forces. It became the task force for the lakefront development: new parkland and the task force for dealing with the interim traffic problems of dealing with one hundred thousand cars a day at the terminus of Lake Shore Drive filtering through our neighborhood from Lake Shore Drive through this day. To this day it hasn’t been solved and to this day I’ve decided it’s such a city wide issue. That’s why I’m on the Board of Directors for the Friends of the Parks because I was looking for a city wide perspective on dealing with parks. I’ve since come to the conclusion that it’s such an unpopular idea to try to sell the finishing of Lake Shore Drive that we’re just interested in a pathway to walk on; to ride your bicycle on; to go all the way up to Evanston and it’s a very good idea.

(16:42)

DN: That’s the next question I was going to ask you about: the Last Four Miles Project.

PB: Well, I’m happy to say it’s actually turning into the last three miles, or the last two and a half because on the South Side we’ve been making much more progress. The U. S. Steel site has a new development called Lakeside. They’ve dedicated a new park called Steelworkers Park that runs along the whole perimeter from 79th Street to 91st Street. It is now developed as a park which no one knows about and we’re going to start promoting that. The developer has already designated that park on the lakefront as…. It’s gone to the Park District.

(17:30)

So on the South Side we’ve picked up about a mile and a half more park. We’re thinking of renaming it the last three miles project. We’re still working on getting a big chunk of getting the Park District land next to Calumet Park from 91st to 96th Street donated to the Park District and also another piece. It’s called the Confined Disposal Facility that’s taking all the silt from the Calumet River. It’s all capped and contained. We want to build a park over it, right at the edge of the Calumet River. We’re working on getting that closed and dedicated to the Park District. From 71st to 75th Street on the South Side is controversial as north of Sheridan Road is. The people there feel the land is their land and not the public’s to go to, so they’re opposing that though everyone else in the community is interested…the same as Sheridan Road. A big debate is whether a path should go there; whether people should walk along the front of the building; whether there are any opportunities for people to enjoy the lakefront. So it’s still controversial as in the Edgewater community. The fight goes on. As Daniel Burnham says, and I’m very fond of Daniel Burnham, “Any good idea, once it is asserted, keeps asserting itself generation after generation and later generations will surprise us with what they carry out.” But a good idea doesn’t go away. It just keeps re-asserting itself til the generation that can handle it and produce it makes it happen. So I’m… at seventy years old, I’m starting to think, “We’ve got to get this done! I’m working on this since the eighties.”

DN: Yes, and I think that the park, the lake, is a public treasure that should be enjoyed by all. It’s interesting that your work is in Edgewater has taken farther afield to the entire city, from one end of it to the other. What compels you to do this kind of work? I mean, at this point in your life you’ve been successful in business; you’ve made your mark with the Edgewater Community Council but you still keep going. What is it that drives you to do that?

(19:39)

PB: I’m an idealist at the core. Something about parks…. To me, a park is the essence of democracy. When everybody who is rich, middle income, and poor can picnic side by side in the park looking out at the infinite expanses of the lake, the trees, and nature – that is equality at its best - in its most basic form. It is so enjoyable to walk through the park to see a millionaire family with their champagne glasses looking at the skyline in the park at Foster [Avenue]; and a poor family, working in a factory, with the kids and grandparents all gathered together around barbequing, and Frisbee games going on, and every different kind of racial and ethnic group; and people in burkas; all sitting in the same clump of grass; that’s an image of what we need to become. It just moves me.

DN: It moves me too, especially when I go to the Foster beach, not just visually but olfactory because you walk around and people are barbequing all kinds of different foods. Languages are being spoken….

RM: That whole strip…. One of the questions to follow on from that, one of the questions we keep asking, a kind of continual question is something that you brought up is that Edgewater is so very welcoming. It’s a theme that a lot of people point out; that they feel that Edgewater is a very welcoming community. We’re kind of wondering why. A lot of us say, “Oh we’re here because it’s a very welcoming community.” We’re still searching for why you think Edgewater is a welcoming community and what can we do to keep it that way?

(21:33)

PB: I’d like to think that when the Edgewater Community Council was a force, and now it’s not really a force any more, those values were articulated for a couple of generations. It was part of the message that went out; that we value diversity; that we value all kinds of different people living in our community and policy decisions were made on housing, on traffic, on how to develop commercial areas based on diversity. I think it’s a core value. But let me tell you a story. As a realtor I worked a lot especially in Lakewood-Balmoral. I was the predominate realtor in that area for about twenty five years. When people would come in, you could tell there was a kind of self sorting going on by the kind of people that came in. They already wanted to be in a diverse kind of community. One day a couple came in off a jet plane from Maryland, from a wealthy community in Maryland, saw my listing on Magnolia; I forget which one it was; came in fell in love with it; bought in on first sight; made a full cash offer and four or five hours later I get a call from the wife saying, “Oh we drove around the community and we saw people of color east of Broadway and riff raff everywhere. We have to cancel our contract.” I was actually happy. I realized at the moment that a self selecting process was going on; that people who value diversity tend to move to areas where they can find it. They choose to live that way and promulgate it and nourish it. That’s a big generality. But we do tend to attract people of broader interest in diversity who value that. So the market actually supports that and our property values are still strong. I think we’re the third or fourth strongest property value in the city.

DN: Paul, I think you’re right and I think that Rabbi Schalmann said it when we interviewed him two years ago that diversity is not a problem. It something that is a positive force. It’s something people seek. It’s interesting.

RR: That concept is… I like that. I like that. I think you’re right about a lot of people here….

PB: I didn’t mind losing that family.

RR: Yeah. (chuckles) I’m sure you sold it not long thereafter.

PB: Oh yes to another self selecting person who valued that.

DN: And I think that people who want to be in an urban setting, one of the things it does offer is diversity and the opportunity to engage with people who are like you but are different too and to learn from them; to share things with them.

RR: Along those lines…especially as you have the insight as an ex-President of ECC and your Jesuit background, do you still go to St. Ita’s?

(24:52)

PB: No, I never went to St. Ita’s. We’re in Saint Ita’s parish but we’re very attracted by Saint Gertrude’s. There was a priest there, Father Bill Kenneally, who I had met when I lived in Lincoln Park. With a degree in theology, I’m a little more demanding on the homilies and he’s a very intelligent man and for eighteen years he was the pastor at Saint Gertrude’s and I just gravitated to his leadership. He shared my values; my wife’s values. My wife is especially involved in that community and the diversity of that parish is just amazing; the families that you see; the adoptions; who you are sitting next to; every color under the rainbow; adopted families who may or may not be gay, whatever. It’s just a community of diversity that’s loving, caring and flourishing.

RR: Another question: what do you see as the role of all the religious institutions? There are over twenty now – in terms of their part of this community fabric of diversity, etc?

(26:05)

PB: I think that most religious traditions, and as you know Bob, ECRA [Edgewater Clergy and Rabbinical Association] founded the Edgewater Community Council and is the basis for a lot of these organizations and civic groups in this community. I think it’s the nature of religious groups that they articulate ideas and policies around values having to do with the poor in a flourishing community. What is a kingdom of people living together? It’s all part of the religious ideology and whether you’re religious or not, they’re one of the groups that articulate that so it’s very useful that they should keep organizing like that and supporting the various causes and they do come out when the time is right.

DN: They are one of the historical anchors of the community as well so the values that are articulated through them resonate throughout the community, I think.

PB: Um, hm.

DN: Do you have any other questions?

RR: No, I think he’s great. You’ll have a lot of good quotes here. (chuckles)

(27:09)

DN: I have a couple of more questions. Young people today have such busy lives and they’re also so besieged by multiple stimuli. What can we do to engage them more to be volunteers in the spirit of service to the community?

PB: That’s a very good question. I just retired from @properties where I spent…. I tried to retire when I was sixty-six and I got recruited to train the younger generation of realtors at @properties. One of the things I just hit it head on, this issue. They’re so besieged by communication methods, and systems and tools that are distracting them. They are finding it very hard to focus on things. I’m also teaching classes on how you use your media and how you shut if off; how you discipline yourself to find timemanagement to not be constantly responding to every beep and burp of your phone. When the phone [rings] turn it off and focus on accomplishing things; focus on finding out what’s going on in the world; focus on listening to people; focus on communicating in human ways, not just by text. It is a challenge. I’m still thinking of going back and teaching some more to them because I just feel I talk from another generation. We used to do things in a different way and they’re actually interested to hear how we used to communicate in the old days. They’re seeing they do not have the paradigms for how to communicate and they’re very open to mixing old fashioned methods with the new wonderful methods they have and learning how to balance it all. So how to get the youth back involved in community, it’s still a challenge. I’ve talked to a lot of young people who don’t even know who their alderman is. Let’s say a realtor asks them, “What ward are you in?” “What’s that?” “Who’s your alderman?” “I don’t know. What’s an alderman?” I think, oh my God, what are you dealing with? It’s not universal but there is a naiveté to being so lost in the world of multimedia, games, etc.

DN: I think it turns a person inward and we have to remember that we’re all members of a community. The human condition is that you do not even learn language except in the presence of another human being. So what does that tell you about the need to interact with somebody and to be part of a relationship? How do we bring that back… the focus on the individual and their wants and needs… and translate that back into the broader society? It is a challenge. I ask this question all the time.

(30:07)

PB: When you get involved you are forced to interact with people who have needs or or dealing with people who have needs that breaks you out of your little world of comfort to realize that ,”Oh!” In the 1980s there were very many poor people in Edgewater. If you didn’t walk east you wouldn’t see them. Well, if you needed to walk east you would be going to community meetings becoming involved with struggling with what’s happening on Kenmore and Winthrop. What happened? What were the social policies that lead to that? What were the planning policies? What were the housing policies? What were the zoning policies that led to that? What can we do about it so that people can have a more balanced life and that a wholesome mix of people can start coming together?

DN: The other question I would ask you is; looking back on your life, what advice would you give to younger people? I’m sorry I didn’t ask you that question in an email so you could think about it because it’s not an easy one. So if you have an answer for it, we’d like to hear it. If you don’t have an answer for it, you can always send it by email at some further point.

PB: I would say to younger people, get involved in community; show up; be present to other people that you life with; get engaged with the people on your block, the broader community and the city as a whole that you live in; then take the circle larger and larger. If we don’t do that it’s all going to get lost in la la land. In my old age I’m afraid that we are getting lost in la la land.

DN: Well I also think that, at least for me, volunteerism, giving brings me back so much, that in a certain sense it’s not altruism. It’s the highest selfishness because I get back so much myself personally from doing what I do that it becomes very self fulfilling.

RR: And she does a lot. Trust me.

(32:12)

PB: I still encourage the realtors I’m involved with to get involved, a condo meeting, a block club meeting. Just get involved. When they start doing that… the enrichment stories, how enjoyable it was, how they found a new interest. They learned new things because they got involved in a sub-committee that had to solve something real beside their own problems. In the process they also advance their business because they were engaged with the people that mattered in a community. Well then, just tell more people to do that. It’s very wholesome.

DN: That’s great. Now this is your interview. We’ve asked a lot of questions. Is there anything else that you’d like to say because this is a good chance for you to say it?

PB: I really think there’s a need for the Edgewater Community Council to resurrect itself. I do not see a strong civic organization to balance the political in this ward. I know this may be controversial but I’ve always resisted that the political should take over everything. I think there’s a need for a strong civic group that can articulate and propose and lobby, and even oppose if necessary, viewpoints that are coming from the political side. I think it’s been very cozy that so many past presidents of the Edgewater Community Council got into political life and it became a stepping stone to become an alderman, state rep[resentative] or all the different positions. I didn’t do that.

(34:10)

I always felt that it was important to for the Edgewater Community Council to be an independent voice, as independent as it could be, and not be an endorser of political reality, but that it be a proposer to political reality of what the visions of this community ought to be. So it’s very disappointing not to have an Edgewater Community Council. I understand it’s electronic somewhere and exists but I wish a younger generation would step up and refound it just like when we were young. We were young at one time. That was a youth movement. That was the thirty year olds trying to break into a grand old organization and make it relevant to the times. It’s time to do that again. What are the thirty and forty year olds doing?

DN: I think you’re right because if you look at Kenmore-Winthrop you see the same problems that existed years ago resurfacing again which means that there’s a need for a community response to it that’s not strictly a political or economic response, but needs to be a whole community engagement going on.

PB: And intelligent urban planning comes best when it comes also from the civic organizations. Urban planning done by alderman’s offices and political entities is not as powerful. It usually doesn’t get done.

RR: You’ll remember that the Edgewater Community Council and Ed Marciniak became the very first community organization in the city of Chicago to get a planning grant to do community planning. And the success of that, particularly by Jack Markowski, led to it being spread to the rest of the city and now it’s very common for community organizations and Chambers of Commerce to get grants to do planning.

(36:02)

PB: I like the idea of having a master plan for Edgewater. Well, I thought we were going to have that at the last aldermanic election. I’m not sure what happened to that. There’s no ECC to do that. That’s something that ECC ought to be doing. Where is the master plan? There are various good groups like the Edgewater Environmental and Sustainability Project is grabbing onto that. That’s where it ought to come from and propose it to the political structure.

DN: I think we’re running out of light at this point so I think we’ll stop. It’s been an excellent interview. Thank you very much.

PB: Great. Thank you.

(36:46)