Dark Guardian, real name Chris Pollak, is a real-life superhero. Taking to the streets in homespun hero garb to fight crime, help the homeless or do other kinds of community service, he and other self-proclaimed "reals" are popping up in cities from New York to Fairbanks, Alaska, where spandex-clad Raven and her caped sidekick, Winter Knight, keep watch over dark, icy streets. Raven says she chooses to engage with her community under an alias rather than her own identity as a 26-year-old writer because it allows her to more comfortably traverse unfamiliar neighborhoods. The superheroes say their ultimate intent is to encourage people to do what Raven did: abandon their everyday routines to do good in their communities.
14 IDeas r e P o r t s F r o M C i t i e s Fa r & W i d e brieFs How Real Estate Superhero Subculture Owns Us By Alyssa Katz By Ariella Cohen It was a warmish spring alarming speed with the night and Dark Guardian help of vandalism and fires. had on his trademark The story of why historic chest-hugging motorcycle neighborhoods in the heart armor and bulletproof of Atlanta are suffering the vest. His face shining worst ravages of post-real- under the streetlamps, estate-bubble abandonment the 24-year-old strode tells a tale happening all purposefully across over the country: An over- Manhattan’s Washington saturation of new housing Square Park. When he is draining demand for the reached his target — a old. Houses less than 1,000 burly man he believed to square feet, those that be a drug dealer — he need structural work or stopped and ordered the lack central air — these are man to leave the park. everywhere in older urban “I got you on video. I neighborhoods, and too few got you on audio sell- people want to live in them. ing drugs,” barked Atlanta, a region of Dark Guardian, one of 5 million, saw 75,000 a growing movement of ILLustratIoNs BY DaVID seNIor; PHoto BY eNeas VIa fLICkr building permits in 2005 American city-dwellers The Atlanta neighbor- lives in one, it’s a homeless alone, and since 1991 had occupying territory once hoods of Adair Park and person who pried open the ranked No. 1 in the nation reserved for comic-book Capitol View, both listed plywood despite neighbors’ for new construction. creatures. on the National Register of best efforts to bolt it shut. (Today it’s at No. 4.) Most Dark Guardian, real Historic Places, are home to In places like these, for every of that growth was in the name Chris Pollak, is sturdy craftsman bungalows bold new homeowner who region’s suburbs, which a real-life superhero. and more modest workers’ swoops in on the chance to range over 10 counties. Taking to the streets housing of like vintage. buy a historic fixer-upper for By the usual measures of in homespun hero garb They sit near efficient mass the price of a Prius, three economic success, this to fight crime, help the transit in a city choked with speculators are looking to was all as it should be. homeless or do other traffic. The population is flip once property values New home construction, kinds of community growing as new migrants recover, turning banks’ as measured by the U.S. service, he and other self- seek job opportunities. Yet mortal losses into their Census New Residential proclaimed “reals” are house after house now sits own gains. Left vacant, the Construction Survey, is, as popping up in cities from boarded up. If someone houses self-destruct with any news consumer knows, continued on page 17 ideas 17 Change, it is often said, singlehandedly initiated baby boomers will be 65 brieFs is the only thing you can
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