Due to economic, demographic, and institutional conditions, Chicago is often depicted as two cities: the affluent world class city of downtown, the North, and Northwest sides and the crime-stricken, economically impoverished, and increasingly depopulated areas found on the South and West Sides. While overall shootings and homicides are down from a particularly bloody 2012, persistent gang violence is a reality in many South and West Side neighborhoods. A bit of controversy erupted last year when it was discovered that the French Foreign Ministry had been advising its citizens to avoid visiting the entire West Side and any area south of 59th Street. It is not uncommon to hear this same blanket assessment from many locals and out-of-towners. The West and far South Sides, however, are predominately made up of working individuals and families who value their communities just as any other Chicagoan. Additionally, there are a great number of existing and future destinations and community projects that are worth exploring and supporting.
One spot with considerable historical and architectural significance is the Pullman Historic District on the far South Side. The site, on the National Register of Historic Places, is located between 103rd and 115th St. east of Cottage Grove Ave. Designed as the first industrial town in the U.S., most of Pullman’s signature row houses and larger on site buildings were constructed in the early 1880s. On-going restoration has been taking place for years on many of the homes, the beautiful Hotel Florence from 1881, and the unique public space Market Square, and now a recent push to make the district Illinois’ first national park has been gaining traction. If Illinois lawmakers’ legislation to designate this portion of Pullman a national park is successful, tourism, jobs, and investment could flood the area.
Already in the pipeline, Method, a company specializing in environmentally friendly cleaning products, is constructing the world’s first LEED Platinum factory of consumer packaged goods in Pullman. The facility, which will incorporate solar panels, a wind turbine, and a green roof into the design, is scheduled to open in 2015. Method plans to hire around 100 new employees and create 17 acres of newly designated green space. The factory will be located behind a mega-development known as Pullman Park, which will include new housing, retail, a recreation center, and 10-acre park. The 174-acre site is located on and around 111th St. and the Bishop Ford Expressway.
Other notable attractions in the neighborhood are the Argus Brewery and the Pullman Alley Galleries. Housed in a historic 1906 Schlitz Brewery Company building on 11314 S. Front Ave. since 2009, Argus has been gaining recognition in Chicago’s craft scene for its quality beer and insightful tours. Back in the main residential section of the Pullman Historic District, a visitor can stumble upon art behind the attached-row homes in the Pullman Alley Galleries. Principally the work of Los Angeles transplant Ian Lantz, the alley galleries showcase his hieroglyphic inspired murals on residents’ garages.
Just across the Bishop Ford freeway to the east in the South Deering neighborhood, Big Marsh Park will become a major draw for cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts. In addition to a network of bike trails, the park will include hiking, canoeing, fishing, and a “treetop adventure course”. This park is part of a larger plan to create the largest urban park in the lower 48 states. The 140-acre Millennium Reserve will become redesigned open green space, which will host a variety of outdoor recreational activities. The reserve, part of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, will line the lakefront on the southeast expanse of the city.
Further south, some new additions will be coming to Jackson Park. The Olmstead designed park, which extends from Hyde Park to South Shore, will be gaining some redesigned green space, an amphitheater, a museum, a café, and space for exhibitions. Construction is scheduled to begin next year and be completed by 2016.
Just a few blocks away from Jackson Park in the Woodlawn neighborhood, the Experimental Station has been developing its own programs and supporting community based projects since 2006. One of these programs is Blackstone Bicycle Works at 6100 S. Blackstone Ave. Bicycle repairs are provided by mentors and youth who can participate in the Earn-a-Bike program. The Experimental Station is also responsible for the 61st Street Farmers Market, establishing EBT and LINK for purchases at farmers markets, and hosting and supporting small local businesses. One former notable onsite business was artist Theaster Gates’ Yamguchi Institute.
After leaving his studio space at the Experimental Station, Gates became internationally known for his Dorchester Projects on the 6900 block of South Dorchester in the Grand Crossing neighborhood. Comprised of formerly abandoned residential buildings and storefronts, Gates has created an eclectic, retrofitted artist village. Featured within the project are the Listening House with an extensive vinyl collection from a local shuttered record store, the Black Cinema House, which provides movie screenings and discussions, and a library of art and architecture books. A few blocks away at Stony Island Ave. and 68th St., Gates is converting a 20s era bank into the Stony Island Arts Bank. The building will house a library, soul food restaurant, and performance art space. Additionally, Gates’ non-profit is working on adapting a former public-housing complex in the neighborhood into residences for low-income families and artists.
Outside of Grand Crossing, Gates will be among several artists creating artwork for the reconstructed “L” stations between the Cermak/Chinatown and 95th Street stations. Gates’ artwork will be featured at the 95th Street station, which will be receiving the most comprehensive makeover. Another significant project in the works is the Place Project on 305 E. Garfield Blvd. in the Washington Park neighborhood. The complex will add artist residencies to those already established next door at 301 E. Garfiled, as well as space for arts education and a café on the first floor.
Another major community based development, southwest and on the other side of the Dan Ryan Expressway from these developments, is The Plant. Located at 1400 W. 46th St. in the Back of the Yards section of the New City neighborhood, the former meat processing facility has been converted into a vertical farming and food-business complex. By utilizing nearly 30 tons of food waste daily from nearby businesses, The Plant will be able to power the whole facility, equating to net-zero energy consumption. In addition to food production, an onsite brewery and shared commercial kitchen are planned. The Plant is symbolic of Chicago’s evolving green economy, as its location is within walking distance of the Union Stockyards, which provided the city with the infamous “Hog Butcher for the World” title. A number of volunteer and internship positions are available for those who are interested.
Two potential South Side projects that could bring dramatic economic activity are the reimagined South Works and Obama Presidential Library. McCaffery Interests has been developing plans to transform the 600-acre site of the former US Steel plant into mega-neighborhood featuring office buildings, beaches and a marina, housing, entertainment, and a research center. Last year an extension of South Lake Shore Drive, which is essential to access the site, was completed. Additionally, news surfaced recently that a Mariano’s grocery store could be coming to South Works at 87th and South Shore Dr. in the near future. McCaffery has also proposed the site for the Obama Presidential Library. Although New York and Hawaii have also submitted proposals, Chicago is considered by most to be the frontrunner. Other potential South Side locations for the library are the former Michael Reese Hospital site, extended lakefront land south of McCormick Place in Bronzeville, vacant land in either Woodlawn or Washington Park, and the Chicago State University campus in Roseland.
As most Chicagoans would tell you, the West Side’s most beloved attraction is the Garfield Park Conservatory. Principally designed in the early 1900s by the great landscape architect Jens Jensen, the conservatory is one of the largest in the U.S. Though the neighborhoods immediately surrounding the beautiful park and conservatory on the boulevard system have suffered from blight and violent crime, pockets of East Garfield Park have become a haven for local artists. In 2003, the Switching Station Artist Lofts were established on 15 S. Homan Avenue. The former 1906 telephone switching station was converted to affordable live/work lofts. The largest artist enclave can be found nearby on Carroll Ave. The Albany Carroll Arts Building houses more than 70 working artists, combining buildings at 3039 W. Carroll Ave. and 319 N. Albany Ave. A recent newcomer is Land and Sea Dept at 3124 W. Carroll Ave. The team behind Logan Square’s Longman & Eagle and Parson’s Chicken and Fish and Hyde Park’s The Promontory, has created an expansive creative space and music venue. Every October, Carroll Ave. design firms, production and sound studios, performance spaces, and artist studios open their doors for the East Garfield Park Art Walk.
Featured in this post are just some of the many spots that make the West and far South Sides deserving of exploration, not to mention the great BBQ restaurants, blues and jazz clubs, historic architecture, and South Side beaches. In my next posts, I will be covering the vibrancy of the closer-in South and West Side neighborhoods, such as Bronzeville, Pilsen, Little Village, Douglas Park, Chinatown, Bridgeport, and Humboldt Park.
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