1. I meant to do this a while ago, but anyone who’s interested in the kinds of things I write about here – cities, Chicago, race, humans – really ought to read “South Shore State of Mind” by The Illustrated Press, the only Chicago-based purveyor (that I know of) of comics journalism. This piece follows a man from the South Side reflecting on the changes he’s seen in that neighborhood, but you should be looking for their other stuff, too.
2. Completely unrelatedly: I’m writing this at Greenline Coffee, a new cafe that just opened at 61st and Eberhart in west Woodlawn. (For the record: it’s great. If you’re around this area – say, in Hyde Park – it’s a lovely place to sit and read or work for a few hours.)
But what’s really got me distracted from my work is this: I have ridden by this corner most days on my way to the train for the last year. In that time, I have seen exactly zero non-black people on this stretch of 61st. (This section of west Woodlawn is nearly 100% black, and has a mix of attractive, well-maintained blocks and others that are pockmarked by empty lots and abandoned buildings.)
And yet in this cafe, there are no fewer than five white people and two Latinos, along with half a dozen black people. The intersection – at least this corner of it – has suddenly been integrated by the appearance of a single retail business with appeal to a broad base of customers. (Other than this, 61st is pretty empty, retail-wise. Sixty-third has a handful of businesses around here, but mostly of the bargain clothing/drug store/hot dog stand variety.)
I know it’s not this easy, but…man. I don’t often write about this, because I don’t think I have much to say, other than ask questions, but I don’t think it’s going too far to say that the retail deserts in black neighborhoods on the South and West Sides are one of the tip-top most important issues in the city. They’re both cause and effect of so many things: health outcomes, vulnerability to crime, the fleeing of the middle class, and so on. It seems clear that one of the keys to getting people like my commenters to be happy enough to stay – and people of all races from other areas interested enough to visit – places like west Woodlawn is developing stronger retail corridors. And before you think that that’s impossible without more wealth in those neighborhoods, consider that study after study has found that Chicago’s black neighborhoods have far less retail than you would expect, even taking into account local incomes.