DISCLAIMER - ChicagoNow sponsored a Blog-a-polooza Hour Challenge that I participated in. I had to write a blog post in one hour about “something in my life I once obsessed about but now rarely, if ever, think about” (Can be good or bad obsession, about a person, place or thing). Joy likes the prompts. Read this post and enjoy.
What did I obsess about - good or bad? Hmmmm...
Joy’s Back-in-the-day Obsessions
via GIPHYI used to be uber religious. Every Sunday I was there. Singing in the choir. Trying to make something of myself. You know working my way to heaven and such. When you’re the youngest person in Bible study and have no friends younger than 56 you know there’s a problem.
- Will Smith - really thought i was going to marry him. I had it all figured out at 12. Somehow I would get the money to go to one of his concerts. He would see me in the crowd and bring me backstage (yes, at 12 I was backstage groupie thot) and then he would be mesmerized by my beauty and ask me to marry him. Easy breezy. It’s as simple as that. I mean you have to admit, he was so stylish and clever on Fresh Prince. He was truly that, a fresh prince. But once he made the second Men in Black this obsession quickly faded.
- Mos Def - he was sooo super cute to me in college. He dressed well. Had an exotic look and he talked funny but in a cool way. Who’s heart wouldn’t melt at the sight of him? Then he changed his name and did the random rock band thing and had like 50 kids and 60 baby mamas and this obsession also faded into the sunset.
But then once I moved to Bronzeville, I became obsessed with something that probably had more meaning than celebrity crushes. I became obsessed with the all the empty lots that I saw all throughout my neighborhood. Now you might be wondering what I mean by empty lots. I mean like huge plots of grass where clearly a house was, or a business, or maybe even a park. And I mean the lots that are empty in Bronzeville aren’t small little plots where maybe you could start an “urban” garden. They are ginormous. Like big enough to hold a Target and it’s parking lot with no issue. Let me give you a real life example, right quick.
I mean, just imagine how much my neighborhood would flourish if these spaces were filled with something. I mean you ain’t gonna see vacant lots in Hyde Park and especially not on the Northside. This really pissed me off. Why was there no development on these lots? Why were they just left abandoned? What is the history of these empty lots? What is the city of Chicago’s role in allowing these lots to stay and fester? What used to be on these lots? Who is truly in control of these lots? Why my neighborhood?
So many unanswered questions and so little time. I constantly thought about my neighborhood and everything that we could use to make things better. In my neighborhood, we could use a Target, Walmart, Marshalls. Like they just built a Mariano’s on 39th and King Drive. Right on the side of it and in front of it are three huge empty vacant lots where other business could definitely be built.
Because this became my obsession, I literally would walk around my neighborhood with my husband and my kid in a stroller and discover the empty lots and just pretend what life would be like if I lived on the North Side were you would NEVER NEVER ever see this much emptiness. I would imagine what it would be like to walk to an Aldi’s from my house. Or walk to a nice restaurant that was actually good like them folks do on the North side. Wouldn’t it be nice?
There are vacant lots right by Mercy Hospital (2525 Michigan Ave). Why haven’t they done anything with these? There are empty lots by Mandrake Park on 39th and Cottage Grove that could literally be used to build another football field for the 2-time history-making State Championship Wendell Phillips High School football team. They could even build a soccer field or even a parking lot so that people could have a place to park when they walk to the lake. I mean - I used to live on 39th and Ellis and in the summer our street was always parked up because people were either going to the park to workout at the track or going to the lakefront. This park is literally overpopulated and used quite a lot by the neighborhood locals, high school practices, etc. Why not expand?
There are empty lots right next to beautifully renovated houses. It’s like a house and nothing and then a house house house and then nothing. Who wants to live on a block like that? It’s like those empty lots host ratapolooza every damn day. Also fiends and bums think it’s cool to post up in these lots and host the bum social hour. It makes our neighborhood unsafe truly.
I know I am just ranting about this but it truly bothers me and honestly pisses me off. One day me and my husband were driving somewhere and I randomly saw this guy. Picture below. Playing golf in one of these empty lots. I mean the lot is so damn big and empty that he is able to make it a driving range. Are any red flags going off for anyone else?
Imagine how much better our neighborhood could be if we just starting putting stuff on this stuff.
Because it started to bother me so much I started to research. No, I didn’t go to Dr. Google first like I usually do instead I went to my husband and my father-in-law which are two Chicago natives. I wanted to talk to them because it really didn’t seem to bother them as much as it bothered me and I started to talk to them and ask them questions. First I got the perspective of my father-in-law, then my husband, and last but not least beloved Dr. Google.
My Father-in-Law’s Perspective
My father-in-law had two awesome points. His first point was that the population density in the neighborhood of Bronzeville isn’t high enough to garner a need for more business and development in these empty lots. On the North Side there are a lot more people, a lot more consumers and so there is a need for a lot more businesses. It made sense. He explained that our neighborhood is kinda more similar to a suburb and is very residential. If more people began to move and live in Bronzeville more businesses and restaurants would come to Bronzeville. He explained that businesses, especially larger ones, have to know that there’s enough people in the surrounding area who are going to come regularly and spend money. No business wants to fail so they want to make sure that there are enough consistent customers that will be coming to their businesses and spending money.
His second point was that the universities on the South Side of Chicago own a lot of the property on the southside. Like I live on 32nd and Michigan. The Illinois College of Optometry is right across the street from my house and the Illinois Institute of Technology is kitty corner from my house. They literally own the land that our house was built on. So if they decide one day that they want to make our plot of land into a dorm or engineering facility they can and we can’t say nothing about it.
Also the University of Chicago owns a lot of property in Bronzeville. Maybe they have chosen not to develop in Bronzeville because they want their beloved “Hyde Park” to be the only star of the South Side. Honestly I don’t know.This was a rabbit hole that I don’t know If I was truly ready even to go down. Why are these universities only going so far? Wouldn’t it be beneficial to clean up the Bronzeville, Oakwood, and Kenwood neighborhoods with development for the sake of the University and it’s students? Recruitment and enrollment would definitely go up increasing the population density creating more businesses and making the neighborhood better. But it doesn’t come off that this is the goal of the two major universities in the Bronzeville neighborhood. Most of the students commute and do not live in the neighborhood and if they do they don’t buy within this neighborhood once they graduate. Why?
Since I didn’t have the answer I just moved on to my husband’s perspective on the vacant lots.
My Husband’s Perspective:
My husband told me that the lots are empty because it is too much work for an investor to build on this property. And of course my question was why? And he replied that the City of Chicago owns the land and since they own the land you have to follow their regulations with whatever business you choose to build on the property. What are their regulations I asked? Well he said that whatever business you build you have to hire certain percentage of people from the Bronzeville neighborhood and at a certain income range to work in your business. He explained this is because some of the land is where a lot of housing developments AKA projects used to be. So they wrote it in the property laws that you have to hire certain people at a certain income level to work at your business. Basically you have to hire the people who would’ve lived in the projects if the projects were still there. Which might not be a problem but I could see it being a problem at the same time. It’s like you would have to put more work into training Bomsheeka and them to run your business then Nelson and Shannon. This could be more of a headache for a business owner who could literally choose to build their business somewhere else without so much red tape.
He also told me that if a developer wanted to build houses or an apartment building on these vacant lots it would have to be a housing complex that had tenants that were mixed income. So the land that is owned by the city has a consent decree stating that you can only build mixed income housing on most of the lots in our neighborhood. I mean here’s a real life example. I am a CPS teacher in Englewood. I don’t want to live in the same housing complex as my students. This may sound bogus but honestly I don’t give a damn. Me and my husband worked super hard to buy the house that we live in and bought. I don’t want to share the same property with someone who didn’t have to work as hard as I did but gets to live in the same apartment or townhouse that I live in. They might not respect the property as much as I would. I mean it’s honestly unfair. They get a reward that they kind of didn’t earn. This is a big pain in the ass. It’s a very slow process that some developers just don’t want to deal with. So I see that building businesses and restaurants on these vacant lots is a harder sell then I had every imagined.
They are already taking a slight risk by building in Bronzeville because even though the crime is better than it used to be it is still there. Then on top of it they have to deal with the bureaucracy of the City of Chicago and all their red tape. I would pass too. It’s just unfortunate to me. It makes me question what does the city really want? Who do they really care about? Do they really want to make things better?
And now onto Dr. Google’s Perspective:
I researched a little bit more into the vacant lots that are residential. I know that the City of Chicago has the Large Lot Program where they literally are selling empty plots near houses for $1. You know there’s problem when they are literally clearancing land. I mean that’s super cheap. If you buy the land you just have to maintain it and your only option is to build an apartment building or a home. I guess this is a good thing for developers but you would think if you could buy land that cheap that people would be building up Bronzeville left and right. They are starting to but it isn’t fast enough. You still see tons of signs on empty lots with promises of a beautiful apartment buildings or homes but it has still never been built. There are some lots that still have promotional signs that have been there since 2010. What’s going on with this? I know some developers went bankrupt with the housing crisis but dang. You could at least take the signs down. Enough with the false promises. Stop getting my damn hopes up and just build the damn apartment. See it’s a vicious circle. Developers buy the land cuz it’s cheap. Then make promises to build apartments and stuff. Then encounter all the red tape. Then never build. Population density remains stagnant and doesn’t increase, then businesses don’t invest in the neighborhood. RESULT = Vacant lots remain empty with signs of what could’ve been built on them for years.
I can’t deny the fact that maybe the lots are empty because they literally had abandoned houses that were busted and were an eye sore to the rest of the block. I get that. Rappers rap about Trap Houses but nobody honestly wants to live next to one. So they tear them down. I read an article from DNA written by Andrea Watson titled "Southside Struggles with Abandoned Buildings:Demolish or Rehab? and it did give me a little more perspective. Some of the empty lots were abandoned homes and they were demolished for safety reasons. Drug dealers, gang members, and squatters were living in these abandoned homes. I get why the houses are being torn down but it feels like more houses are getting torn down then houses that are getting rebuilt. The bums and gang leaders still stay in the neighborhood and find somewhere else to do their dirty work. Getting rid of abandoned houses is a start but the City of Chicago is not getting to the deeper rooted issue here. Demolishing abandoned houses does increase safety but it truly is like putting a band-aid over a broken bone. What more could truly be done? What is the City of Chicago’s restoration plan?
I really don’t know. I don’t know the answer to a lot of questions that I have. But I do know talking to people and researching the vacant lots in the south side of Chicago has really opened my eyes in a lot of ways. The City of Chicago is similar to an onion. It has a whole lot of layers. A whole lot. And the truth of the matter is, is that I truly might not ever get to the bottom of this. But we all gotta start somewhere.
What do you think Chicago should do with all the empty lots on the southside? Send my thoughts in the comment section. I would love to hear from you.
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