11 February 2011

Near West

Taking a break from architectural images and the like, a little something about what goes on between the brickwork, between buildings. Social space, as the parlance has it...

photos: Lou Fourcher

Quite a nice batch of photos in this pool of street scenes from the near west side of Chicago, circa 1971. (More about the photographer here.) As the person who posted the photos remarks, the neighborhood in question has changed a lot since then -- displaced, erased, redeveloped. Of course, that's how it goes in many cities these days, especially over the past decade or so. Hell, by the time I left Chicago, there were parts of town I used to know well, but would find myself suddenly getting lost in due the disappearance of so many landmarks & whatnot.

Got me thinking about the various histories that were tied up with certain parts of the city -- especially those that surrounded downtown on the near-north,-west, and -south sides. Especially, certain shots reminded me of the movie Cornbread, Earl & Me (which was based on the 1966 novel Hog Butcher, by Chicago author Ronald Fair). Between that film, Cooley High, and Good Times, it was as if for a time in the 1970s certain parts of the city -- not too many blocks from the one pictured above -- served as an archetypal backdrop for inner city coming-of-age stories.

Plus, in the 1960s, there was the controversy surrounding the building of the UIC campus, which involved the forced uprooting and dispersal of an entire community after its residents put up a long battle against city hall. All of which provided author and social documentarian Studs Terkel with the subject for the first of his oral histories, Division Street: America. And there's historic Maxwell Street, which also fell under the path of the UIC's bulldozers while I was there.

So the whole area depicted in the pool bears only a faint resemblance to its former self -- in terms of its community and appearance. But if you travel below Cermak Road -- into the ungentrified parts of the Bronzeville community and other places thereabouts -- you find that large stretches of the southside haven't changed much over the decades, and still look a lot like this.

{And many thanks to mi amiga Jess for bringing this photopool to my attention.}

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