2006/09/25

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.

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