Monday, May 14, 2007

Neighborhoods

Bronzeville

The prompt for Photo Sharks is "Neighborhood". I was full of ideas for neighborhood photos--the neighborhood bars, the banners proclaiming what neighborhood you are in or a mosaic of the above. Chicago is a city of neighborhoods for better and for worse. For better, because each neighborhood has its own character, its own particular history and architecture, and in Chicago, many of the neighborhoods are at least in part defined by ethnicity. Devon is Indian, Pilsen Hispanic, Argyle Vietnamese, and so on. The food is great too!
Of course in any big city some of the neighborhoods are almost exclusively poor and African American. This is the down side. Urban ghettos are no more desirable now than they were in the middle ages. I have taken many pictures in the local African American neighborhoods and in the course of placing my photos in a proper context have learned about the places attached to the photo. Some of what I have learned is positive. Crime rates are generally down and urban renewal is in place in some areas. Nonetheless, although I became fond of Englewood this winter due to its lovely old homes and boulevards, I decided that I was not safe in a neighborhood that has one of the highest murder rates in the state and which vies with another district for the highest crime rate.
When I moved to Chicago around 24 years ago, I was surprised to find how strictly delineated some of the neighborhoods are. There are many areas where a single street is the line of demarcation between an African American neighborhood and a white, Chinese, Hispanic or Polish neighborhood. I can only imagine what behaviors keep these lines inviolate--threats of violence, biased realtors, and just plain old fear and hatred.
I'm reminded of a story a fellow student told me years ago. We were all first year medical students back then and my friend chose to go jogging on the wrong side of one line of demarcation. He came back telling me that a little girl told him to "Get outta my neighborhood." The story was funny coming from a short Indian-American man from New York as he tried to mimic the child's south side accent but the implications were less funny. I have been told that young white people cruising through south side neighborhoods are presumed by police and locals alike to be looking for drugs. So far I haven't been pulled over by either.
One of my favorite Chicago neighborhoods is known as Bronzeville. It is just north of where I live and has some lovely old town houses, a scattering of brick and stone mansions and other architectural wonders. As the housing projects go down, urban renewal has been flourishing. New businesses are coming in, some of which are taking advantage of a rich cultural heritage. Bronzeville was a Chicago gem of the jazz/blues age. At one point, you could have heard Louis Armstrong play there. So it is good to see new life coming in although I hope the neighborhood does not lose its character with all the new construction.
As time permits, I will tell you more of my urban ramblings but this is all I have for now.

2 comments:

Self Taught Artist said...

wow, I have a cousin in englewood i think...who knew it was so dangerous. I thought it was a college burb no?
anyhow...fascinating to hear what you find when you start digging around. be safe and keep taking pictures!

angela said...

Interesting and I guess this isn't limited to Chicago...I have a sense of it when I read Sara Paretsky's novels.
The photo's great.
Angela