Tuesday, February 21, 2012

South suburbs have changed, and people should change their perception w/ it

It has been an intriguing six-day period for the suburban area south of Chicago.
QUINN: Is his talk cheap?

Gov. Pat Quinn has actually deemed the area that is an extension of Chicago’s great Sout’ Side worthy of his attention three times in the past few days.

ONCE WAS TO see that the old Dixie Square shopping center in Harvey was really being torn town, a second time in Hazel Crest to use a local school to announce a series of school-related projects the state would pay for, and a third time on Monday to be present for the unveiling of the new Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Trail signs that will be erected on Tuesday along the Cook County portion of I-57.

Quinn even seems to have some set rhetoric that he uses whenever he is in the municipalities that developed south of  95th Street (or 119th Street, or 138th Street, whichever one you consider to be the southern “end” of Chicago) to make it sound like he cares about the area.

“If you put the south suburbs together, you would have one of the largest cities in America,” Quinn has said – which is sort of true. Depending on how one defines “south suburb” (as opposed to southwest suburb, west suburb, northwest or north suburb), the area can have about 500,000 people – which is almost the size of Milwaukee).

But, of course, nobody puts all those municipalities of 10,000 to 35,000 people each into one cohesive unit. Plus, the same fact could easily be said of the west suburbs or north suburbs.

THEY WOULD MAKE significant cities if they were considered as semi-entities, instead of individual communities -- certainly larger than anything found in "downstate" Illinois.

So I’m not convinced that the sudden surge of attention from Quinn and the state is going to change much of anything about the region – which I will admit I have a special interest in because I have lived there.

Much of my own life has been spent moving back and forth between city and suburb (with the occasional move outside the Chicago area to a politically-motivated community such as Springfield, Ill., or Washington, D.C.).

What makes the south suburbs stand out when it comes to suburbia is the fact that they truly are an off-shoot of Chicago’s South Side – which in recent decades developed neighborhoods that are almost entirely African-American.

SO DURING THE past decade when many of those African-American city residents became tired of city life and decided to move elsewhere, it may be true that some decided to go back “down South” (ie., Atlanta).

But many of those roughly 180,000 African-Americans who left Chicago in the past decade (according to the Census Bureau population count completed last year) are now living in those south suburbs.

Many communities in the south suburbs have developed majority African-American populations. The south suburbs is now just as important a region for black political empowerment as any Chicago South Side or West Side neighborhood.

Which is what causes many people to be scared off of taking the area seriously when it comes to economic development.

IT LEADS TO the very real conditions that Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Ill., likes to talk about when he gives speeches. Invariably, he will talk about how the Bishop Ford Freeway is a messy traffic jam headed northbound during the morning rush hour, but that the southbound lanes are ever so empty.

Everybody feels the need to leave the southern area (and for that matter, the far South Side of Chicago proper) in order to gain any kind of significant employment.

Because of my own ties to the area, it is why I personally am rooting for people like Jackson whenever they talk about initiatives that might actually draw positive attention to the area (such as his plans to turn the area around 111th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue into a national park honoring the old legacy of the Pullman railroad cars that once were built there).

Anybody who ever has been to that area would realize it still has such a historic feel to it that it could be an attraction – just as the few blocks surrounding what once was Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Ill., has become.

UNLESS PEOPLE LET their racial hang-ups get the best of them. That could be the biggest impediment to anything serious being done in the way of development for the area.
Will they become a tribute, or a barrier?

Which is why I am curious to see how the renaming of I-57 from 99th Street down to Sauk Trail near suburban Matteson plays out in the public eye. Lots of people on Monday used ceremonies in suburban Markham to make grandiose statements. But will them mean them?

Or will there be a predominance of people who will take the fact that the one-time Calumet Expressway is now the Bishop Ford Freeway (named for long-time Church of God in Christ presiding bishop L.H. Ford) and that I-57 is now named for the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II fame and interpret that to mean that these two African-American tributes now establish eastern and western boundaries for black suburbia that they go out of their way to ignore?

If that were to happen, that would be the blow most likely to harm us as a society.


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