The term “Chicago politics” gets bandied about whenever people complain about what they see as corruption and abuse of power.
Republicans often apply the concept to President Obama, who calls Chicago home. Earlier this year, presidential candidate Mitt Romney called one of the president’s appointments “Chicago-style politics at its worst,” and Illinois Republican Aaron Schock once described Obama’s team as “the Chicago machine apparatus.”
But what does that mean? And what are Chicago politics really like?
In collaboration with the Metropolitan Planning Council, the Morning AMp is broadcasting live from the Bronzeville Coffee and Tea House next Wednesday, June 27 from 8 to 10 am. This special show will cover the retail development of the neighborhood and feature conversations with local business owners, residents, and members of the Bronzeville Retail Initiative.
On Wednesday, June 27th, Vocalo’s Morning Amp, hosted by Molly Adams and the self-crowned “Prince of Bronzeville,” Brian Babylon, will come to you live from the Bronzeville Coffee and Tea House (528 E 43rd Street). This special Bronzeville broadcast is a collaboration with the Metropolitan Planning Council, and the Bronzeville Retail Initiative, a project of the Bronzeville Alliance.
We did a little Bronzeville Q & A with our Metro Planning pals, and this is what they had to say…
Vocalo: How do you describe Bronzeville? What are the borders, and what makes Bronzeville Bronzeville?
MPC:Many ask us these questions as we’ve worked with the Bronzeville Alliance on retail development. Bronzeville is not an officially designated Chicago neighborhood, but instead a cluster of neighborhoods. However, it is amazing how many residents, whether from Grand Boulevard, North Kenwood, Douglas, Washington Park, or Oakland identify with this important social and cultural designation and cite it as a connecting and driving force in the community. Many residents have established roots in the area because of this history and identity. In fact, as we’ve done this retail work, the vast majority of businesses owners we have met with have some tie to the community.
Essentially, Bronzeville community is the cultural hub and Black Belt of Chicago, birthing a rich array of artists and musicians and driving African American commerce for generations. Those that have worked tirelessly to recognize and designate Bronzeville as a historic area – the Black Metropolis National Heritage Area Project – define the area based on the old restrictive covenants that would simply not allow African Americans to live outside of particular boundaries, which were 18th Street on the north, 67th Street on the south, roughly the Dan Ryan Expressway on the west, and Lakeshore Drive on the east until 47th Street where it jogs over to Cottage Grove. So, as African Americans moved to Chicago in mass during the Great Migration, and through other waves, Bronzeville was the first point of entry.
However, when the restrictive covenants were lifted and African Americans, particularly those with means, had a choice of where to live, many began to migrate out. We see this outmigration continuing today not only in Bronzeville, but in other African American communities across Chicago. The 2010 US Census estimates that Chicago lost 200,000 people since 2000, 89 percent of which were African American. This has had a number of implications, including continued disinvestment in these communities.
What makes me most hopeful is the strong leadership in the area. Bronzeville has a unique, committed and energetic group of community organizations and residents dedicated to community improvements to the overall quality of life, including the celebration and fostering of arts and culture, the preservation of historic assets, the stabilization and revitalization of housing and commercial corridors, and improved connections to the beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline, downtown, and other neighborhoods.
Vocalo: Bronzeville is currently undergoing revitalization. The story of that revitalization is an important one, both in the Vocalo community and for the Metropolitan Planning Council. What would you say is helpful (and not helpful) in telling the story of redevelopment in Bronzeville?
MPC: While Bronzeville has become more income diverse, the loss of population has made it very difficult for local businesses to succeed. Some businesses have seen their clientele change dramatically over the years and some are new to the community and struggling to get the foot traffic they need to succeed. In order for retail to be successful, you need strong corridors and nodes of retail activity to build energy and attract shoppers. Today, retail in Bronzeville is simply too diffuse, making it a challenge for shoppers to find businesses and shop from one store to another. For residents new to the area, it is very difficult to know what is out there.
While we fully believe in celebrating the history of the community, when it comes to retail, you have to direct new businesses and development in a very tight geographic area in order to stabilize and grow the business community. Until the loss of population begins to reverse, the commercial corridors will not be what they were in the past, with multiple bustling and dense centers of commerce. The community can support, and businesses can survive in, one or two commercial corridors, with convenient clusters at some other major intersections. Before ever growing again, energy must be put in to stabilizing and concentrating, which is why our work has focused on developing 47th Street as a main spine of commerce and a few retail hubs near the Chicago Transit Authority Green Line and at Cottage Grove.
Vocalo: When you look at the work the community is doing in Bronzeville, what makes you excited/hopeful/impressed?
MPC: This community was one of the primary areas slated to receive direct investment as part of the 2016 Olympic bid, with both the Olympic Stadium and Olympic Village planned for the area. As such, Bronzeville was also hit the hardest by the bid’s failure, made worse by the following economic downturn. It took a while, but now we see the wheels have been set in motion again towards recovery and revitalization. Despite the pervasive economic slump, we see amazing things happening in Bronzeville.
The community is close to breaking ground on a new mixed-use development on the corner of 47th and Cottage Grove that will bring a new grocer and other commercial tenants to this important intersection. The beautifully designed 35th Street bridge is soon to start construction, providing safe and welcoming access for residents and visitors to the lake. Bronzeville has engaged and visionary developers and property owners investing in the historical identity and future of Bronzeville, restoring historic properties and working to cultivate and attract retailers that fit in with the local identity and retail needs. (Check out culinary incubator Urban Juncture, Chicago Artist Resource Bronzeville Lofts and the Quad Communities Development Corporation. Finally, local community organizations are collaborating through the Bronzeviille Alliance to address key quality of life issues, bringing needed focus and coordination in order to execute effective strategies.
Vocalo: Chicago is known as a city of neighborhoods. This can be really good for us—it allows for strong communities with unique characters to emerge, and for people to take pride in that. But, being a city of neighborhoods means we can easily get sucked into a limited view of the city and our place in it. Why does the story of Bronzeville matter to people in other neighborhoods, and to the city-at-large?
In other words, who should know about what’s happening in Bronzeville, and why?
When you compare the notable history of Bronzeville to other historic neighborhood destinations in Chicago, it is apparent that Bronzeville’s has so much to offer. It is interesting to note that when the Chicago Architecture Foundation did its Open House Chicago tours in 2011, providing people with access to the city’s “hidden places,” or sites you would not normally see or be able to get in to, Bronzeville was one of the highest visited neighborhoods in Chicago. The weekend of June 22nd brings the Chicago Gospel Festival to Bronzeville, an amazing opportunity to showcase the community as one of the birthplaces of jazz and gospel.
There is a nascent interest in this community that must be better captured. Bronzeville has been home to highly accomplished Americans who have contributed to the city, the nation, and the world; Americans such as boxer Joe Louis, author Richard Wright, civil right activist Ida B. Wells, jazz musician Louis Armstrong, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, and Ebony Magazine founder John Johnson. The community also offers a myriad of historically significant landmarks, the home of President Barack Obama, access to the unique southside lakefront, and major institutions including the Illinois Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago, and the DuSable Museum to name a few.
Given all of these assets, it is hard to meet a Chicagoan not touched by this community is some fashion through its musical, cultural, and other artistic contributions, its educational and medical institutions, or the impact it has had on the city economy through its business contributions. As Chicagoans, we all have a stake in preserving and revitalizing this community in the same way we benefit from the cultural and culinary offerings of Chinatown, the vibrant Mexican American heritage of Pilsen and Little Village, and the Italian-American contributions celebrated in Little Italy. This revitalization must take many forms, including new cultural offerings, strong business districts, and safe and high-quality housing for a range of incomes.
“The Chicago Transit Authority announced Wednesday it will make $1.8 million in a first-of-its-kind deal to offer fare passes on Groupon, the Chicago-based daily deals website. Groupon is paying the transit agency $1.882 million, or $7.53 apiece, up-front for 250,000 3-Day passes, which it will sell for $9, the CTA said in a release. The deal saves Groupon members $5 off the CTA’s current $14 price tag for the passes, and could be offered as soon as the end of June, CTA said. This is the first time the daily deals site has partnered with a transit agency to sell fares, according to the CTA. “This innovative deal is exciting in many ways,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. “It will generate nearly $2 million of immediate additional revenue for CTA, it will introduce and attract new potential customers to CTA, and is an innovative example of the government and business community working together to benefit the entire city.”—CTA to offer fare passes on Groupon - Chicago Sun-Times
Yasha Levine is an investigative journalist and a founding editor of The eXiled. His newest venture is the S.H.A.M.E. Project which aims to “Shame the Hacks who Abuse Media Ethics.” From Malcolm Gladwell’s highly paid speaking gigs at pharmaceutical companies, to economist Steven D. Levitt’s misrepresentations of research to disprove global warming, we look at the ways our most familiar media analysts might be spinning the facts for their own gain. Tune in at 8:30 CT, on vocalo.org/player
Body Image and Swim Class: Oak Park and River Forest High School, along with several other Chicagoland schools, mandate swimming classes and some require that students wear a school issued uniform. A recent story by the Tribune about the threadbare suits effect on students’ egos got intern and OPRF grad Remy Schwartz reminiscing with some friends.
CAASE: 2 years ago the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation launched a curriculum that focuses on young men as agents of change in the fight against trafficking and exploitation. Executive Director Rachel Durchslag joins us to talk about this and the recent changes in Illinois trafficking law that will more tightly hold traffickers accountable.
The Council: Cassandra Gaddo and Kimbriell Kelly, editors of Today’s Chicago Woman and the Chicago Reporter, throw down on the failure of the Paycheck Fairness Act, coalfield mining and (these got together believe it or not) the definition of porn, and the evolved view on gender that Donald Trump’s Miss USA pageants possess.
“The real obscenity is that people drink that water, that they have no choice but to bathe in it, and to bathe their children in it. You know that, and I know that. But if a massive surface mining operation in the vicinity of your house poisons your water table, and if your well water runs brown with coal sludge and heavy metal particulate, well, that’s just the cost of doing business in America, a cost that will be paid by the Appalachians who only live there. It’s regrettable, at best. You can’t call the police and the state doesn’t want to know. And if you dare to take a picture of child’s exposure to that poison, if you have the nerve to walk into the halls of Congress and show them the obscenity that is a child that must wash herself with poison every day, they will call you a child pornographer. They will call the police.”—
West Virginia coalfield activist Maria Gunnoe was questioned by Capitol Police after testifying in front of the House Committe on Natural Resources. She submitted this photo in a slideshow, which was removed before her testimony anyway.
Chicago risks losing more than 91,000 of its parkway trees — triggering removal and replacement costs of $70 million-to-$100 million over the next five-to-seven years — unless it steps up treatment for the tree-killing emerald ash borer, aldermen were warned Monday.
At the behest of a company that’s been supplying the chemicals needed to treat Chicago trees since 2009, the City Council’s Finance Committee approved a resolution urging Mayor Rahm Emanuel to spend at least $1.4 million in each of the next three years to inoculate ash trees.
In 2003, the emerald ash borer was first discovered in Michigan and Indiana, prompting Chicago to preemptively impose a moratorium on the planting of new ash trees.
In 2008, Chicago set out to treat 80 percent of its 91,000 parkway ash trees over a four-year period. Cutbacks in a Bureau of Forestry decimated by budget cuts in recent years dramatically altered the plan — to the point where only 18,000 trees have been treated with the single injection.