July 9, 2009
This morning I parked (way out) at 61st and Dorchester across the street from the Experimental Station. If you’re only a casual visitor to Hyde Park, you probably haven’t noticed the Experimental Station and its adjoining garden: it’s hidden between the UofC Press building and the Andrew Carnegie School. Even when I had friends working there, it took me a while before I finally visited, and I had assumed it was a dreamily ideological but probably ill-run not-for-profit boutique. In fact, I was wrong. It’s a rather impressively run organization that is doing a lot of trench work in building community relationships between Hyde Park and Woodlawn, our neighborhood to the south. (The resident cafe, Backstory, also serves a killer baked tofu sandwich… and I hate tofu.) As for the community garden, it has always resided on unused University land while the University has generously looked the other way. Now, however, the construction of the new Chicago Theological Seminary (instigated, by unfortunate-but-narratively-apt coincidence, because it was displaced by the new Milton Friedman Institute) has necessitated that the garden and its topsoil be moved. Both the University and the garden organizers have been remarkably civil in their negotiations; for a sampling of the arguments, check out the defenses by Jamie Kalven and also Hyde Park Progress.
The 61st Street garden is but one manifestation of the tensions between the UofC and the Woodlawn neighborhood. If the name “Woodlawn” sounds familiar to general theatergoers, it’s because Woodlawn also happens to be the setting of Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun and the later musical adaptation Raisin that Charlie directed for Court in 2006. In that play, one social issue at stake is the resistance the Younger family encounters as they attempt to move from the predominately black neighborhood of Woodlawn to the white neighborhood of Clybourne Park (a fictional neighborhood, although there does exist a public park, Clybourn Park, near Steppenwolf Theatre Company). Today, the urban flux has been reversed: urban gentrification is actually stalking the Woodlawn neighborhood, threatening to dislocate low-income residents (like the fictional Youngers) who may be out-priced by rising rent costs. The University, whose South Campus building initiative will bring new buildings like a dorm and the Logan Center for Creative and Performing Arts right up to the neighborhood line, is in danger of dislocating residents of Woodlawn. The University knows this, and it knows its own history of building at the expense of its own community, and my sense is that their outreach people are doing the best they can to figure out how the University can be a positive agent for the surrounding communities. In many ways the University already is, by the job opportunities it creates: the UofC is, in fact, the largest employer on the South Side of Chicago. On the other hand, this article in the Chicago Maroon about the buying of undervalued property in Woodlawn may be a good predictor of what the next ten years will look like for 61st Street.
As someone who tends to be a “free market apologist” (the curse of a UofC degree?), I have a good faith hope that the University will be able to grow and develop concurrently with Woodlawn without indirectly harming it. Similarly, Court Theatre hopes to benefit from the University’s growth, but it happens to serve audience members from both Hyde Park and Woodlawn who may not be happy to see the UofC roll further south. In our own relationship to our South Side communities, we have to be conscious of the urban transformation in which we are, in part, implicated.
For a more thoroughly researched article giving the overview of the South Campus situation, you might check out “Crossing the Line” at the Chicago Weekly. It gives a sense of the long but not-forgotten history of the University’s neighborhood relations.
July 7, 2009
Another year, another South Side transit proposal.
The Chicago Tribune has a story about the Gold Line that would serve South Side neighborhoods in the event of a Chicago 2016 Olympics. The Gold Line is not to be confused with the Gray Line, an older proposal to build a CTA train on the Metra Electric lakeshore corridor.
Hyde Park’s lack of transit is a chronic pain for the neighborhood and the university, even though the CTA Green Line, Red Line, and Metra Electric hit pretty close. Court Theatre is exactly one mile from the Garfield Green Line stop, but my sense is that most of our patrons from the North Side drive here. The Gold Line would clearly be a boon for Court, but I doubt that anyone here is holding their breath.
Still, what a glorious dream: