One Billionaire’s Attempt to Save a Neighborhood

I am not wealthy (in terms of dollars, that is, because I know I’m wealthy in terms of having people who I care about/care about me, and that I get to wake up every day and do something that I love). But I do have daydreams sometimes about what I’d do if I had lots and lots of money. Yes, I’d do all the boring stuff like pay off my loans, and pay off my parents’ mortgage, but I’d also want to use it to make some sort of difference in my community.

Which brings me to this story in Chicago Magazine about Gary Comer, the billionaire founder of the mail-order clothing empire Lands’ End, who in 1999 drove into the struggling neighborhood where he grew up on Chicago’s Far South Side, walked into Paul Revere Elementary School and asked for a tour. He then wrote the principal a check for $68,000 to fix the building’s electrical problem, and over the course of the next decade put $86 million into the neighborhood in an attempt to revitalize it.

Did Comer make a huge difference? Yes, and no. There’s still a lot of work to be done, and some of the decisions Comer and his foundation made have turned out to be wrong. But the important thing is someone cared enough to do something in the first place.

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7 Comments / Post A Comment

Billionaires have put a lot of money into fixing up the Upper East Side too, and look how that turned out.

WhyHelloThere (#1,398)

I’m sort of weirded out by how he seems not to have realized that poor people are poor. I mean, he didn’t anticipate that you aren’t going to be able to sell $280,000 houses in a neighborhood where the median household income is $21,000 a year? Or that if you charge poor kids for breaking little rules at school, some of them will be driven to drop out for the crime of forgetting to tuck in their shirts?

I dunno. You can’t really fault him for trying, but some of it seems a little blinkered.

BornSecular (#2,245)

My husband likes to play this game. “What would you do with the money if you won the Powerball?” My most recent answer was a pretty good one: I’d take the Grand Tour of Europe, like rich people used to do in the 1800s. (After I paid off all my family’s debts of course.)

ThatJenn (#916)

@BornSecular I would totally go become a philanthropist and give grants to farmers to make their farms more water-efficient so that my state’s aquifer doesn’t get sucked dry.

…but I’d also buy my dream house/land and travel. That too.

chic noir (#713)

@BornSecular pay off every debt of my close family members. Offer a scholarship at a local school. Travel and spa like crazy.

Not sure I like Larry Ellison’s answer to What Would You Do If You Were A Billionaire: buy an already populated island and declare it an experiment in sustainability.

TARDIStime (#1,633)

Buy a house of my own, buy a house for my mum, travel lots and then study whatever the hell I wanted.
Maybe grab some investment properties

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