Close your eyes and imagine standing in the same spot 150 years ago, in the mid-nineteenth century. Chicago didn’t exist then as it does today; the city was a new invention, with its sidewalks, two-flats, and street lights that turn the sky a dusky orange. Chicago was born from its ashes, from the graveyard of the prairie. It’s easy to forget that we live with nature in the city; with every new skyscraper or pour of concrete, what’s left of the wild is further obscured. But through building our environment, we become an integral part of our ecological community. Chicago embodies the two biggest, and opposing, forces in the natural world—change and resiliency—as it grows while maintaining its essence.
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.
Alison Anastasio and Jennifer Raber, Rainbow Beach Dunes Stewards
Over the past year, the city’s Divvy bike share program—one of the largest in North America—has added over a hundred stations across the city, dozens of them on the South Side. A year ago, the last time the Weekly reported on Divvy’s service of the South Side, we found that South Siders accounted for just a twentieth of total riders. At that time, Divvy had recently announced its expansion, so there was some cause for optimism—perhaps the city would successfully replicate the dense network of popular stations in the North Side and portions of the West Side and the statistics would improve.
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.”
As part of an artistic initiative to bring more aesthetic life into the Burnham Wildlife Corridor, a series of “Gathering Spaces” were recently introduced into the long stretch of park. These five spaces— “Sankofa for the Earth,” “Sounding Bronzeville,” “Caracol,” “La Ronda Paraketa,” and “Set in Stone”—offer refuge for those who find themselves tired along their travels. An attractive getaway from the already serene landscape that envelops them, each Gathering Space has its own important backstory that connects to its creation, material, and neighborhood. Spread out between the three neighborhoods of Bronzeville, Chinatown, and Pilsen, the five Gathering Spaces were created by organizations located in their respective communities.
Traveling north on the Lakeshore Trail, you may have noticed that at around 33rd Street the manicured lawn of the surrounding grass shifts to prairie grasses and shrubs. This marks one of the borders of the Burnham Wildlife Corridor, one of the Chicago Park District’s designated natural areas.
Here’s another reason to use a pooper scooper—when fecal matter from dogs, birds, and other animals flows toward Lake Michigan, waters at the shore can become contaminated with E. coli bacteria, putting a damper on even the sunniest beach day. Seven of the ten most contaminated Chicago beaches are on the South Side, eleven years of recently released data from the Chicago Park District show. According to analysis by OpenCity software engineer Scott Beslow, some beaches in particular—63rd Street Beach, Rainbow Beach at 79th Street, and Calumet Beach—stand out, with over twenty percent of the samples taken at each beach exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) contamination standard for safe swimming water.
Wildness: Relations of People & Place is a rare bird. It’s a collection bound not by genre or intended audience, but by a singular theme: that “human and wild communities are entangled, and can work toward collective health and self-renewal.” And so, across four parts and two-dozen essays, editors Gavin Van Horn and John Hausdoerffer recast mankind as a part of nature, one of many species, hitched to everything else in the universe.