Josh Ellis, a GSLA Board member since October, 2013, shares some thoughts on why he joined the Board, and more broadly speaking, why he engages in community life in the South Loop:
Short version of the story: Last Tuesday my wife and I bought our first home, right here in the South Loop. That’s exciting. What’s also exciting is the prospect of working with GSLA, all of our members, and the broader neighborhood, to make the South Loop a truly great neighborhood. I’m in for the long haul, and over the next few years there are going to be some big changes in the neighborhood, which is great. But rather than watch from the sidelines and simply receive/observe whatever changes the combined forces of market dynamics and city politics result in, I joined the GSLA Board so that I could help steer that change, yes, but also so that we might grow our organization’s capacity to help the community steer that change. That’s exciting too.
Long version of the story: For years I lived in Hyde Park, which is a tough neighborhood to be a new guy in. I was a graduate student at U. of Chicago, and so long as I was in school, there was a sense of community. After I graduated I continued living there, and as my connection to campus life dissipated, I began to realize how difficult it was going to be for me to really get involved. I didn’t have enough standing, I hadn’t lived there long enough, I was 30 years younger than other people at community meetings, I didn’t have kids… the list went on and on. At the same time I was working evenings in Pilsen, at a school called Poder (by day I work for the Metropolitan Planning Council), and while I like Pilsen, it was too far from the lake for me to seriously consider living there. I would ride my bike home, along 18th Street and then down the lakefront, and when I would get to the intersection of 18th and Michigan, waiting for the light to change, I would think to myself, “Wouldn’t it be nice if I just lived here?” It was closer to both of my jobs, had easy access to the lakefront, and when you’ve been working for 12 hours, a cold beer at Kroll’s is really appealing.
So I moved into 1801 S. Michigan. I have moved once since, got married at Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens, have fully embraced how easy Divvy makes my commute (yes, even during this brutal winter), and last week my wife and I bought a place at 13th and Wabash. And I joined the GSLA Board.
I’ve already alluded to the three things I love most about the South Loop.
First, access. I work in the Loop and my wife works in the suburbs. She has much easier access to the expressways than folks in many other parts of the city do, and when the schedule works, can get to Union Station pretty easily too. My commute is the stuff of humblebrag. From locking my door, checking out a Divvy, riding 1.5 miles, checking it back in, and going upstairs to the office… 15 minutes. There aren’t too many neighborhoods in Chicago that allow for that. The South Loop does.
Second, the lake. The lakefront path is obviously great for cycling, running and strolling, and if I had a boat it would be good for that too. The spring/summer/fall benefits of the lakefront don’t require much exposition. But this winter the lakefront has been awesome – seriously. I can walk out the door, cross over to the lake at 18th Street, and be snowshoeing or sledding in minutes. Minutes. It’s simply not a big deal to get out there and make the Chicago winter a fun, active, awesome thing. There aren’t too many neighborhoods in Chicago that allow for that. The South Loop does.
Third, the neighborhood is still figuring itself out. There are certainly some folks in the South Loop that have been here for a while, and places like Printer’s Row and the Prairie Avenue District have a pretty established identity. For a lot of the rest of us, the South Loop is new territory. In my mind, that’s great. Because we haven’t figured out who we are, it also means we haven’t figured out who we aren’t, and that means everybody belongs. I hope it stays that way, even while the neighborhood develops a greater sense of identity. Ideally (at least to me) that identity is inclusive, active, friendly, worldly, helpful, and focused on the future. You want jazz? We got it. You want craft beer? We will soon have it. You want to be in a running club? Done. You want to be left alone? Nobody is going to be in your face about it. You want to be engaged in the community? There are outlets for you, GSLA being one of them. We all get to be a part of defining the South Loop, and in a way that speaks to all of us. There aren’t too many neighborhoods in Chicago that allow for that. The South Loop does.
So I am excited, and I am making this my home, and working with the GSLA and all of you, we’re going to make this place an even Greater South Loop.