Last month I quietly released the conclusion of my GO URBAN project at the Regional Neighborhood Network Conference that was being held in Peoria. As one of the presenters of this 3-day affair, I figured it was a fitting conclusion to something I had spent 6 months of thought, mental anguish, numerous band-aids, and more ounces of sweat than you can measure. For a house I bid on in December 2012, this by no means was your standard flip.
Roughly a year ago, I found myself in a position of wondering whether or not I wanted to stay in Peoria. We had been here for just a year and a half, and I had pursued many involvements that I thought had a chance at making an impact here in Central Illinois, but nothing was making any visible difference. For someone who likes seeing his work progress and amount to something at the end of the day, I had never come across a situation like this.
After organizing my thoughts through this blog and putting my ideas on paper, I had talked about things for far too long. I moved here to be a part of the rebuilding process that needs to take place in Peoria, but I was still sitting on the sidelines. At the time I placed the bid on the house that would end up being the focal point of many months to come, I was filled with endless hopes that something more would eventually come from it.
When I launched my campaign on Indiegogo, it was in part to raise awareness, another part to raise money for renovations, but in general, it was to gather a group of like-minded people to get something of a movement started. Peoria has its problems. Most people generally turn a blind eye to the real issues that it can’t seem to get past. We’d rather continue to tell ourselves everything is fine and dandy, and that things resemble that image of 1964 we all remember so vividly.
And that’s where I jumped on stage to show how fucking disgusting and repulsive the current conditions in today’s housing market are. No apologies for language, Peoria is a real shithole in places. It’s also a bounty of opportunity and where a lot of future potential lies. For a city so rich with history, it takes a massive crap all over it. Sprawl is so rampant and so unnecessary, it has weakened and diminished far too many neighborhoods to name in one sentence. Priorities are so mixed-up and upside-down it makes it hard to determine what to do first and where it even makes sense to spend money.
The fact that it has come to this point is what gives me the confidence to say what needs to be said, but also gave me the courage to move forward with something that at the time was a significant risk to me. As I released the project, posted blogs, had friends and members of the media over to see the house in its wretched state, I knew in my head what it would look like all along.
Questions of if it would be possible, whether someone would want to live in it, or what the final bill would be were constantly a topic of interest. To be fair, I didn’t know exactly how much it would cost. I didn’t know who would live in it, but knew someone would. Would it be possible? Failure to me wasn’t an option. The worst case scenario, even if I didn’t hit my fundraising goal of $5,000, I was going to find a way to get it done. This wasn’t my first renovation, but it was the first of this nature and of a house of this age.
Sometimes it’s a calm craziness in one’s mind that allows them to see what others can’t see. In order to do something that others may not believe in, someone has to take lead. To be honest, others have inhabited the area that I see so much potential in, they’re the real pioneers. There are others who have renovated houses, advocated for change, and have had decades of tenacity, fighting battles revolving around their neighborhoods. I just choose to raise a cloud of dust when I did it. It’s in a place that is overlooked, often forgotten, and seems to be paralyzed by the inability to change, I thought that just the action of beginning the conversation would be a fresh start.
The question I get asked from everyone is, “Was it worth it?” Well, I can’t say yes or no because to me, this won’t be finished for a long time. The house, sure, it’s renovated. See the before pictures here. Did I go over budget? After someone broke in and stole pipe and wire, that was an immediate $5,000 of licensed plumbers and electricians in the red. My campaign was a loss before it even started, so yes, I went over budget. You can be the judge if it looks up to par after all said and done. Without further adieu, here is what you have waited for…
The most important thing I learned is not about getting the house sold, but finding the right person to call it home. This is a very fragile neighborhood, and so it takes people who are able to stabilize a place that is constantly influx. After speaking to Kathy, one of the best neighbors I have had in the more than 8 cities I’ve lived, I asked if she knew anyone she’d liked to have as a neighbor. She mentioned her daughter was looking for a house and she would like her to be closer to Mom. This took me adjusting my expectations for the project and realizing that if I am to be the one to usher in a new code, that even I have to be flexible.
At the end of the day, the house is fixed, there will be a future tenant, my network of people went from a relatively small one to one that is filled with like-minded people looking to make a difference, and maybe there might be some doors opening in the future. As far as the future of Peoria goes, it’s still very much unwritten, but if you know me, there will be another project in the near future to keep an eye out for. Stay Tuned…
Thank you to many contributors of my GO URBAN campaign. Thanks to Deverman Advertising for putting together a video on a shoestring budget. Thanks to Justin Ricke down in sunny Tampa for designing the official GO URBAN shirt. Big thanks to Startup Peoria for jumping on my bandwagon in the early times.
Additional thanks to those local businesses who helped with putting a finishing touch on the project:
Jim Behm Plumbing
Cronkhite Home Solutions
Kelly Seed & Hardware
Sheridan Lumber Yard
…and to all the great finds at the Old House Society.