An empty parcel of land in eastern Pilsen, sitting between Metra and freight tracks and 18th Street, draws little attention to itself—but for some residents, the site has become a battleground for the future of the neighborhood. The luxury developer that owns the land, Property Markets Group (PMG), recently announced big plans for a 465-unit apartment complex on the site called “ParkWorks.”
Murmurs and greetings circulated through the wood-paneled meeting room of Bryn Mawr Community Church as one hundred South Shore residents settled in for the monthly 5th Ward meeting on May 23.
John Doe is a Black, male teenager from North Lawndale. He is in the Chicago Police Department (CPD)’s controversial gang affiliation database. He has a petty rap sheet, with four drug-related arrests in four years. He was recently beaten up, though has never been arrested for a violent crime or gun violence, and has never been shot. There are 240 other “gang affiliated” people in the city of Chicago with similar profiles, who have been the victims of at least one assault recently and have as many or more narcotics arrests as John. But among these people, John Doe stands out— he has been given a perfect score by the CPD’s Strategic Subject List.
The National Teachers Academy (NTA), a neighborhood school on the Near South Side, is “one of the premier facilities in the school system,” one University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) expert said. Its teachers have received city and state awards. It outperforms most schools in the country for reading and most Chicago public schools for attendance, and it’s improving at above-average speed.
Parks are for people,” Frances Vandervoort told me. A board member and Committee Chairman of the Hyde Park Historical Society, she holds a similar position on the Jackson Park Advisory Council (JPAC), a watchdog organization for the South Side park of the same name. That’s what I’ve come to talk with Vandervoort about: the changes that will soon come to Jackson Park. The first signs of these changes are visible even today—a nonprofit called Project 120 Chicago, in partnership with the Chicago Park District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), has partially underwritten a series of revitalization projects taking place in the park since 2013. These are forerunners of more significant changes to come: the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) is slotted to open in Jackson Park in 2021, and the Tiger Woods–designed revitalization of the Jackson Park and South Shore Golf Courses—which will combine them into one PGA-grade course, and will be financed through a public-private partnership—is expected to be completed by 2020. Both projects have been sources of controversy.
On Tuesday, April 11, a chemical spill was discovered at the U.S. Steel plant in Portage, Indiana, twenty miles down the coast of Lake Michigan from Chicago. A pipe failure caused the chemical to spill into the Burns Waterway, which feeds into Lake Michigan, at a distance of one hundred yards from the shore. Several beaches along the Indiana shore were closed, and officials warned South Side residents to avoid the lakeshore before tests could occur. While testing by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Chicago Department of Water Management later revealed that chemical levels in Lake Michigan’s waters were well below federal safety standards, the spill elicited a strong reaction from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who criticized U.S. Steel for its “careless conduct.”
In mid-March, the New York Times published a warm profile of Theaster Gates’s new exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., describing his creations as “monumental structures that echo abstract canvases elsewhere in the institution, but are embedded with unsung stories of black laborers and entrepreneurs.” Part of the piece also detailed how Gates’s Rebuild Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims at neighborhood and community revitalization through arts-related projects, had acquired the dismantled pieces of the gazebo in Cleveland where twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was killed by a police officer in November 2014. Rebuild would use the pieces, the article said, to create a memorial for Rice later this year at the Stony Island Arts Bank, the organization’s South Shore home and exhibition space.
In the airy hall of the South Shore Cultural Center (SSCC), the audience screamed with excitement when former president Barack Obama walked in with the first renderings of the planned Obama Presidential Center (OPC) in Jackson Park on May 3. The OPC is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for investment in the South Side—and the audience had reason to be excited, as the former president, with his usual charisma, introduced a “transformational” plan that’s supposed to revitalize the nearby neighborhoods with employment, training, and business opportunities.
Two months ago, Englewood thirteen-year-old Tamya Fultz sparked a media flurry when she won first place in the Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) Academic Chess South Conference Playoffs, earning the epithet “Chess Queen of the South” from her math teacher and chess coach, Earle STEM Elementary School’s Joseph Ocol.
Last week the New York Times came to Chicago to host a two-hour conversation about the city’s gun violence crisis. The event, “Chicago at a Crossroads,” was announced as an attempt to “work to turn the tide of violence” by “exploring realistic, promising strategies” and starting “provocative discussions.” It was produced in collaboration with the University of Chicago Crime Lab, which works with the Chicago Police Department to study patterns in the city’s violence though data analysis, and sponsored by, among other entities, Chase Bank. “Too many people are dying in Chicago. Let’s change that,” John Eligon, one of the Times reporters who hosted the conversation, wrote on Twitter in advance of the event.