Saturday, July 9, 2011

Will weekend provide evidence of revival for South(east) Side neighborhood?

An aerial shot provided by Google Earth of the old U.S. Steel South Works site, and the surrounding neighborhoods of The Bush (to the west) and South Chicago (naturally, to the south). The red-boxed area is where the concerts are to be staged.

This weekend, my attention is going to be focused on The Bush. And no, I’m not being perverted.

I’m referring to a portion of the South Side that some people regard as merely the northern tip of the South Chicago neighborhood, but which the locals think of as a neighborhood in-and-of itself.

THE BUSH IS located around 83rd Street to 87th Street along the lakefront. The land right on the lake was once the site of the old U.S. Steel South Works plant in Chicago. As for The Bush itself, it provided housing for many of the people who actually worked at the steel mill.

People literally could walk to work.

Now I had one grandfather who worked for a time at that steel mill (my other grandfather worked his entire adult life at the old Wisconsin Steel mill down on 106th Street). Not that he lived in The Bush. He was just a few blocks to the south, in South Chicago proper.

But he was still among those who lived in that neighborhood that is one of Chicago’s original Spanish-language enclaves (along with a lot of other ethnicities) because of its proximity to work.

WITHOUT THE STEEL mill there these days, there just isn’t reason for as many people to live in that aging neighborhood. There are many people all across the Chicago area who used to live in South Chicago, or have family ties that came out of there.

Which is why I find the whole idea of the Dave Matthews Band organizing a major concert festival this weekend in the neighborhood (instead of going the U2 route and staging their Chicago performance at Soldier Field) to be intriguing.

For me, South Chicago (and its sub-neighborhood of The Bush) is the old neighborhood. It is the place where I was born and where I used to go to visit my paternal grandmother (my grandfather died when I was 7).

The idea that thousands of people will be flocking to South Chicago and to The Bush for any reason is something I find unique. Since I am used to that particular neighborhood (along with many of the communities in Southeast Chicago, such as Hegewisch and South Deering) being isolated.

IT IS A place where the locals who have remained there for whatever reason don’t mind that they don’t encounter the rest of Chicago all that often, and may well even prefer it that way.

But such isolation also results in there being little right in the neighborhood for the local residents, who have to make special trips to get just about any of life’s necessities (there’s a reason I haven’t lived in South Chicago in decades).

Could the coming of a weekend series of concerts be what revitalizes interest in the neighborhood? Particularly the site of the old steel plant, which was once proposed to be the site of a Solo Cup facility, and now is talked about as a possible development for housing and maybe even a building that could someday become the presidential museum for Barack Obama once he leaves office.

It sounds overly optimistic to me, particularly since I am fully away of the relative ignorance that most people have about this particular segment of Chicago.

I DON’T MEAN ignorance in a sense that they’re mean-spirited. I mean they’re more clueless. Too many people seem to think Chicago can’t possibly extend that far south.

Considering that the city only goes as far north as 7600 before one hits Evanston, maybe they think the South Shore neighborhood around 75th Street is the far southern city limits (not realizing that the 138th Street separation between Hegewisch and the suburb of Burnham is the true Far South point for Chicago).

I also have been reading the incessant commentary being posted all over the Internet whenever anyone feels compelled to discuss these concerts. The neighborhood is too dangerous. There’s nothing there. Going that far south is a mistake.

All a lot of rants.

WHICH IS WHY I say my attention is focused this weekend on The Bush. I want to see how many people actually make the trip south for the concert, and figure out how many are amazed at the potential for a downtown skyline sighting once they get there.

It really isn’t that far from The Loop to The Bush. Heck, Metra trains take people from downtown to South Chicago every day of the week. Although in all honesty, I don’t plan to be in The Bush for this concert event – largely because I don’t care much for the Dave Matthews Band. And none of the other acts are all that appealing to this fanatic of jazz music.

I didn’t think much of Liz Phair back when she was actually a hip artist back in 1993. The thought of her playing Saturday afternoon isn’t enough to get me to shell out $85.

But for the “old neighborhood’s” sake, I hope a certain sizable segment does, and manages to behave itself while spending time in South Chicago.


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