More of the South Side

Jackson Park, the second largest park in Chicago, has trails, woods, a golf course, and the Museum of Science and Industry. Jackson Park is primarily interesting to me as the site of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, which drew about 27 million people. The Exposition was a celebration of Chicago, America, progress, technology, and the Western imperialist project of bringing the whole world under its knowledge and control. It was a pioneering moment in the construction of consumer capitalism, and at the same time a symbolic rejection of the instability and social conflict caused by capitalism and urbanization. It was a magnificent feat of engineering and a model of state social control. It ended with the assassination of the mayor of Chicago, in the midst of the greatest depression the world had seen or would see until 1929, and its remaining physical structures were destroyed in the fires (both literal and figurative) of labor unrest, in the guise of the great Pullman strike. Is there any more perfect confluence of meaning in the experience of modernity?

The Robert Taylor Homes represent another experience of modernity, that of the black underclass. Taylor Homes, a 2-block wide, 2-mile long stretch of highrises along State between Pershing and 54th, was one of the worst housing projects in the country before being mostly demolished in the last 10 years, to be replaced someday with mixed-income units. Only one building still stands, the rest of the site is empty lots.

Douglas is a neighborhood along the lake bordered by Grand Boulevard and Oakland. I went there to see the tomb of Stephan Douglas and the 20-ft tall column with a statue of Douglas on top. Douglas's estate used to be there, and during the civil war it was turned into a huge POW camp whose squalid conditions killed many of the inmates by sickness. Here's some weird trivia: the explorer/imperialist Henry Morton Stanley, before his famous expeditions in Africa (including finding Dr Livingstone), fought for the Confederates, was imprisoned at Camp Douglas, then fought for the Union.

Illinois Institute of Technology. The campus was designed by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe but to be honest I wasn't too impressed.

Back of the Yards is where most of the stockyard workers lived and also where Saul Alinsky did his early organizing. Not much to see, just freight container lots and rundown houses.

Englewood is one of the most violent neighborhoods in the city, and (of course) one of the poorest. So poor that the best thing that's happened to it recently is that a non-unionized grocery store opened - the first grocery store in 10 years. 1200 people applied for the 217 jobs. Not much to see, but Marquette's bike lanes make for a nice ride.

Kenwood, the neighborhood immediately north of Hyde Park. Lots of old mansions, it's a nice place just to look around. The architecture of Louis Farrakhan's place at Woodlawn and 49th is particularly interesting.

South Chicago Av to the East Side and on to the great state of Indiana. Yes, Chicago does have an East Side, it's south of 95th and east of the Calumet River on the lettered avenues near the Indiana border. No, Indiana is not a great state. It's a wasteland of highways, factories, gas stations, liquor stores, and a casino - at least that's what's in the tiny part I ventured into.

Actually the East Side trip is one of the better rides I've had in awhile. South Chicago Av runs diagonal between Marquette (67th) and 95th. It's sort of an economically depressed version of Elston, with good bike lanes, warehouses and stores, and not too much traffic. So it wasn't a very interesting stretch, but it's about as good as bike riding qua riding gets in Chicago off the Lakeshore Trail. A short way south of 95th is the Burnham Greenway, a pleasant ride off the streets that runs all the way to 123rd (a proposed extension would take it into the suburbs).

Calumet Park is nice, and gives a good view of the industrial shore of Indiana. I kind of like looking at industry, there's this feeling of something more real there than in the image-saturated world of surfaces that typifies consumer capitalism. Of course the feeling is probably no more objectively valid than the romanticization of "nature" that developed following industrialization, once people were removed from nature.

The bike route north paralleling the lake from Calumet Park to where the Lakeshore Trail picks up again at 71st is pretty relaxed, even tho bike lanes don't start again till 83rd and South Shore. Traffic is pretty sparse since on your right is some of what's left of Chicago's industrial facilities. The fact that all of Chicago's factories are concentrated in the poorest parts of the city is pretty good evidence that actually living with industry is different from how nostalgia might imagine it to be.


Initial South Side explorations

In the last two weeks I've put over 100 miles on the new bike in various trips thru the South Side. In my two years in Rogers Park I got to know the North Side pretty well, but aside from a handful of trips to Chinatown and Hyde Park, I never went south. Since the South Side amounts to half the city of Chicago, I guess I actually did get my wish of going to grad school in a new city. Of course, this city is characterized by poverty and violence and, because Chicago is one of the country's most segregated cities, racial tension whenever I venture out of mostly-white Hyde Park.

But as I'm finding out first-hand, the South Side is anything but the undifferentiated wasteland of despair that popular caricatures would have it be. Hyde Park, of course, is the most obvious complication. Bordered on three sides (the fourth being the lake) by four of Chicago's five poorest neighborhoods, which are all almost completely black, Hyde Park is fairly integrated, stable, and well-off.

That's not to set up an invidious comparison between Hyde Park and its poorer neighbors, or to impute deserved success for HP and deserved failure for the black parts of town. I've been doing some reading on the South Side, but Hyde Park's relationship with (responsibility for?) the segregation and poverty of most of the rest of the South Side remain unclear to me.

Here's some other places I've been thru:

Lakeshore Trail north to the Loop and south to 73rd. The lakeshore parks on the South Side are definitely not as nice as those on the North Side, but they're still well-maintained and get a lot of use, and the bike trail is outstanding until 71st, when it turns into sidewalk but is still pretty usable.

Garfield Blvd (55th) west to Western. As part of my ongoing war of attrition with Comcast, I biked out to their South Side store, waited in line for 40 minutes, then picked up some stuff that, once I started installing the modem, I realized I didn't actually need. The highlights of this trip were seeing the Fireball Faith church (Garfield 2 blocks west of Racine), whose sign features a large red fireball, and finding out that Western is exactly the same at Garfield as it is 5-15 miles north: auto dealers, gas stations, strip malls, and fast food places. Ah Western, my bitter enemy. I've often wondered if we'll preserve Western after the revolution as a reminder of the dark times we will have turned our backs on.

South Shore (the neighborhood south of Jackson Park). I biked down to the closest Jewel in the vain hope that I could pay less than $5 for a tiny container of spices. On a different trip I saw Mosque Maryam (Mosque No. 2), headquarters of the Nation of Islam. South Shore is certainly not prospering, but it does seem to be doing better than some other neighborhoods. Thru tireless efforts, 5th ward alderman Leslie Hairston has gotten a Starbucks to open, and - now that the living wage ordinance is overturned - has a promise from Target to open a new store. I've been thinking a lot lately about an alternative model for economically depressed urban areas to follow, rather than mindlessly pursuing chain stores and consumerism - a path that in addition to being undesirable on its own terms could also end up in gentrification. Any suggestions? I haven't come up with anything good.

King Dr between South Loop and Garfield. Beautiful old mansions and some of the remaining housing projects in the gentrifying Bronzeville neighborhood, center of the historic black community in Chicago. Good bike lanes but an alarming number of condos going up.

Chinatown. A good place to eat a meal and buy groceries. I went to back to 老四川/Lao Sichuan (Szechwan?) for the first time since getting back to the States, and I can now confirm that it has the best Chinese food in Chicago. On the issue of groceries, I'm finding that one of the biggest drawbacks about the South Side is the lack of ethnic grocery stores. Even in rather remote Rogers Park, I had Devon (Indian), Argyle (Vietnamese, Chinese), Albany Park (Middle Eastern), Chicago Food Corp. (Korean), and many Mexican groceries all within 7 miles. Hyde Park's Co-op Market is great and very convenient for me, but is way more expensive than the ethnic groceries and has fewer specialty products.

Halsted from 51st to Diversey. Halsted is pretty bike-friendly, and one of the most interesting streets in the city. I started out with a visit to where the Union Stockyards once operated, between 47th and 39th, Halsted and Ashland (one square mile). Only a gate that marked where the animal pens started is left of the operation that once killed and processed 80 percent of the animals eaten in America. The innovations in animal "disassembly" made at the Stockyards paved the way for such key manifestations of modernity as the Fordist assembly line and the Nazi death camps. Seeing the site of the stockyards is, indeed, like visiting Auschwitz, except no sign of the machines of torture and death remains and neither popular memory nor the official markers of Chicago History care to describe or remember what happened there.

Further north Halsted runs thru Bridgeport, home of the Daley family and maybe the most enduring ethnic enclave in the city. Irish immigrants first settled there in the 1830s to build the canal connecting the Mississippi basin and the Great Lakes system, which began Chicago's transition from swampy backwater to great metropolis. Their descendants still live there, they still root for the White Sox (who were founded and first achieved success as the team of South Side Irish), and they still fear black folks (see here and here for violent examples). The black population of Bridgeport in 2000 was 1.2 percent, even tho Bridgeport is separated from nearly 100 percent black neighborhoods only by the Dan Ryan Expressway - which was built there with the conscious intention of keeping the neighborhood white. As I biked into the commercial strip of Bridgeport along Halsted, it felt like nothing so much as downtown Wilmette, the rich white suburb north of Chicago.

Halsted stays pretty consistently interesting north of Bridgeport. First you go thru Pilsen, the gentrifying heart of Mexican Chicago, then on to "University Village", a dystopian vision of what the city would look like if real estate developers and yuppies were starting from a blank canvas. University Village is built on the ashes of the Maxwell Street neighborhood, once the center of Jewish life in Chicago and later the birthplace of the Chicago blues. The unholy trinity of UIC, the Daley administration, and developers weren't interested in that history but they were interested in the potential property values, so they razed the old buildings and erected über-bourgie condos, townhouses, and consumption opportunities.

And it doesn't get much better continuing north thru Greektown (now nothing but some restaurants), passing close to Cabrini-Green, then into the dark heart of yuppiedom - Lincoln Park, Depaul, Lakeview. There's only a hint of redemption when you finally reach Boystown. So I guess thinking about it, Halsted is pretty dispiriting. But when you're on a bike riding in perfect fall weather, nothing seems dispiriting.


Slandered by CSI

So I googled myself for the first time in ages today. Little did I know that last year I was featured as a character on CSI:
Grissom interviews the only witnesses they have – the patients themselves. ... J— W— is next. An anti-social with constant manic and psychotic breaks, J— was convicted of multiple ritual murders involving satanic cults and the White Aryan Resistance. He's one of the most lucid patients there, but he prefers to rant about the staff's ethnicities than answer Grissom's questions.


The lightbulb revolution!!!!

(I'm cross-posting this, even tho it fits better in raze the ladder, because it's news you can use and I know there are those who avoid the political blog.)

Here's a breathless article ostensibly doing boosterism for the ultra-efficient compact flourescent lightbulb, altho doing at least as much boosterism for Wal-Mart. Even so, it does a good job driving home how amazing these lightbulbs are. They not only save electricity, reducing greenhouse gases and pollution, they also last for 5-10 years (10-40 times longer than conventional lightbulbs), saving huge amounts of energy and resources currently expended on the production, packaging, distribution, and disposal of conventional lightbulbs. And because they're more energy efficient and last so much longer, they also save the consumer quite a bit of money in reduced electricity bills and lightbulb replacement costs (GE's new packaging promises $38 in saved energy).

The main problem is that the efficient lightbulbs cost a lot more than conventional ones up-front ($3-$4 vs 30-50¢) and most people aren't aware that they'll not only help the environment but also save money by buying them. The author of the article sees Wal-Mart as the Lenin of the lightbulb revolution, both lowering prices and educating consumers thru a promotional blitz.

The writer is wide-eyed and enthusaistic in the face of Wal-Mart's attempts to portray itself as environmentally responsible. He passes on this touching story:
"Last fall," says Kerby, "we had had two hurricanes"--Katrina and Rita--"we had oil production disrupted, we had millions of people displaced in the South, and at a Friday officer's meeting not long after Katrina, Lee Scott said, 'Our customers are hurting, our customers' dollar is not going as far as it could.' He challenged everyone in the room to find relevant rollbacks, to lower the price of living and make a difference for our customers." (Wal-Mart-ers really talk that way among themselves.)
I guess the reporter knew this because Wal-Mart executives told him so?

(Kerby, a vice president and divisional merchandise manager, is the same person who at another point refers offhandedly to "Our friend Oprah".)

The writer sees Wal-Mart's massive market power, its ability to decide the rise and fall of entire industries, as unproblematic - even beneficial, given Wal-Mart's efforts to protect the environment and "make a difference for their customers". Nor does he see anything wrong with the fact that Wal-Mart's patronage will give GE a stranglehold on the efficient lightbulb industry.

He also suffers from a bit too much enthusiasm about the potential of energy efficient lightbulbs. If every American family replaced a single convential bulb with an efficient one, he writes, the energy savings could power a city of 1.5 million people. So the potential really is huge, and Wal-Mart really could be a force for good - if we look at the issue in a highly circumscribed way. Yet to pretend that solving the environmental catastrophes that consumer capitalism is crafting for us will be as easy as changing your lightbulbs (and saving money in the process!) is a bit naive. We have to consume better, but what's more important is consuming less.