|Remnant of Republic Steel plant whose site will someday have a scrap yard. Photographs by Gregory Tejeda|
WHILE I REALIZE that Lincoln Park hasn’t always been the upscale place for Chicago’s excessively wealthy to live (and at one point in the 1960s was close to evolving into an ethnic enclave for people of Puerto Rican descent), it makes me snicker that such an industrial company was ever located there to begin with.
It is a reminder that lakefront (and riverfront) property once was viewed as prime sites for industry. You could bring in your raw materials on barges and dump your waste into the water.
That is, until all those pesky environmentalists started spewing their rhetoric about the need for clean water and public health. How times change!
Which is why I’m sure General Iron is moving on from their long-time site. They’re no longer going to have to listen to the complaints from area residents who can’t stand the sight of piles of scrap lying around near their million dollar-plus homes and the stench of certain metallic odors that can waft through the air.
|Salt piles amongst area's cleaner substances|
Specifically, they’re moving to a site along the Calumet River in the East Side neighborhood; that part of Chicago where you’re south of Lake Michigan altogether and the eastern boundary is State Line Road (a.k.a., the Illinois/Indiana border). They’re actually going to be on part of the site that once was Republic Steel – the site of that Memorial Day 1937 labor protest that ended with police beating dozens of picketing union members and killing 10 of them.
|Along the Calumet River|
It is a place where the locals are used to certain foul stenches wafting through the air. But since they don’t have “million-dollar homes” in places like the East Side or South Deering, the political people don’t seem to care. Where else would one find a sub-neighborhood literally known as “Slag Valley” because of the piles of iron slag and petroleum coke that lie out in the open near homes – no matter how much the locals complain.
I’m familiar with the area because it is the part of Chicago that is my birthplace. Specifically, the South Chicago neighborhood, but I have cousins who live in all the other neighborhoods that comprise the 10th Ward.
I KNOW FULL well how paying a visit to certain members of the family can be an unpleasant experience – and not because those cousins are annoying. It’s because the stink can be overpowering, and the sight of waste can be unpleasant.
Of course, this attitude is because much of the industry that sparked development of such neighborhoods has long withered away.
There no longer are steel mills working round-the-clock, and local residents justified the unpleasantness of the environment as evidence that they had working-class jobs that actually paid a living wage.
I am the grandson of two such men who worked in steel mills for a living, which is how my family developed an attachment to the area – it was near their jobs. Some of the old-timers who remain claim that old days of pollution were bearable because it was evidence they were employed.
BUT NOW THAT the jobs aren’t so plentiful, some people want to act as though we ought to be thankful for the few that remain. And may well try to act as though complaints about pollution are somehow elitist rants by people who have to right to think of themselves as elite.
When 10th Ward Alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza says, “we’re tired of being the city’s dumping ground” (as she told the Chicago Tribune recently), I’m sure certain others in Lincoln Park are coping the attitude of “better you than me” in terms of having to cope with pollution.
|Envision one-time police car soaring through air|
How polluted is the part of Chicago my family hails from? One can’t help but note the continued failure of plans to turn the one-time U.S. Steel Southworks site into something economically viable – with some hints being that the pollution remaining from the plant that closed over a quarter-of-a-century ago is too toxic for serious development.
A place that too many Chicagoans regard as something utterly ignorable – except for when they stumble onto the old “The Blues Brothers” film and once again see that car-jumping scene over the 95th Street bridge – which is only about 2 miles from the site where General Iron plans to set up its new home by 2020.