01 August 2014
  • Not My Neighborhood

  • 1

    It makes no difference that a crime has its roots in “another neighborhood,” and to suggest otherwise is to embrace an attitude that thwarts progress against violent crime. — Bill Savage, Crain’s Chicago

    In a recent opinion piece in Crain’s Chicago Business (July 28, 2014), Bill Savage gave his thoughts about the problem of being a city of neighborhoods, where shootings are everywhere else. His comments about being all one neighborhood, all one Chicago resonate with our efforts to help one of those neighborhood areas reconnect to this City of neighborhoods.

    Chicago’s West Side, much like her South Side, is a separate, disenfranchised and markedly disadvantaged group of rag-tag neighborhoods, each with their own flair, their own assets and a common set of similar problems all stemming from the lack of opportunity and the resultant high concentration of poverty. It is far too easy to see the West Side as part of someplace else altogether. Compared to the Loop or the North Shore or Lincoln Park, the West Side’s alien landscape is more akin to Afghanistan than part of a modern, wealthy, “world class” city.

    Distant Neighborhoods

    The ‘neighborhoods’ structure of Chicago has long functioned to assure comfort and support within immigrant ethnic and racial groups, cultural cohesiveness, and a strong sense of identity and pride. In many ways, Chicago’s various neighborhoods work very well, allowing her residents to identify with where they live while working where they want. Unfortunately, the benefit of a neighborhood structure breaks down when you begin to look at the economic and educational disparities between neighborhoods. While in some parts of the City, these disparities are the result of an influx of recent immigrants, on the West and South sides, the disparities are decidedly not immigrant issues. These neighborhoods are where poor persons of color live in high concentrations and have done so for generations. They are not only racially distinct, but also economically and educationally distinct from the rest of the City. They are where Chicago houses its gun violence, its drug problems, and its formerly incarcerated citizens. These disadvantaged parts of the City, while geographically relatively large, are so separate and distinct that most non-neighborhood residents of Chicago have only ever ventured into them by accident or to buy drugs.

    One Connected Chicago

    It is not enough to embrace an attitude of ‘One Chicago’ and talk about our ‘common problems of economic inequality, drugs, guns and crime’ when the problems are not at all common and not at all shared. It will take more than us thinking about One Chicago while continuing our policies of segregation and disenfranchisement and structuring our systems to assure that these ‘common problems’ most commonly occur in our disadvantaged communities of color. Our thinking about ourselves as ‘One Chicago’, as Mr. Savage advocates, has to go beyond how we think about what happens where in the City and extend to actively seeking to reintegrate our long disenfranchised neighbors through much stronger economic and social connections. If we truly want ‘One Chicago’ with the splendor of colorful neighborhoods we must be willing to make investments in those neighborhoods that have long been our dumping grounds for our poor, our crime and our persons of color.

    To learn about the level of investments that will need to be made on Chicago’s West Side, visit www.westsideforward.org.