Discovering the Real Chicago

I had not even been on campus for 24 hours, yet there I was- sitting in a cold classroom with about 20 other people who I did not know. Over this past week I visited over 5 different neighborhoods with this group, the neighborhoods representing different price ranges and cultures. Although all segregated and far apart, they were connected by roads, sidewalks and the people who walked through them. It is not the architecture, the style, the original culture, or the price tag that creates a neighborhood, even though it is a big part, it is the people walking along those streets that make an area a neighborhood. If there is one thing that I have learned this past week while walking through Chicago, it is:

Do not be quick to judge, especially in a city like this.

Unveiling the Old

Chicago was established as a city in 1837, so there is quite a history to be uncovered here. Coming from a city that is nearly 100 years older, I found many similarities that just made the place feel much more like home. It was only day one and we were walking aimlessly through Lincoln Park, the group decided to turn down an alleyway. This is where I found the first hint of the past trying to become the present. Bricks lay beneath the hard, dark asphalt; the bricks dip and crack, allowing the rainwater to pool in the pothole. It was something about the way the bricks faded into the asphalt that made it feel like they were gasping fro air to brush over them and the sun to beam on them once again. Later in the week, the group was on a tour of Rodgers Park, led by Wendy Bright, where we were once again brought down a back road entirely comprised of brick. Wendy had mentioned that it is one of the last streets left like that, as the residents felt like they should not cover up history. To me, it is the history of a city that truly makes it interesting. Looking and comparing a place to how it was in the past to its present state, showing its true colors to any visitor- that is what truly intrigues me.

Alleyway in Lincoln Park

Left in the Dark

OK so maybe we were not literally left in the dark, but Uptown was an interesting place that left me with many unanswered questions. When I mentioned to my parents that we were going to walk around the north side at night, they wanted to confirm that we would not be alone. Everyone knows that “you should not walk alone at night”, especially if you are a girl because it is considered dangerous. Due to this preconceived notion that I should not walk alone, I was a bit wary of our Wednesday night trip to Uptown; however, it turned into one of my favorite walks of the week. The walk began around 6 pm, we started off in an area where gentrification was obvious. Standing in between a newly built Target and Aldi, we were asked about how we thought the residents felt about all of this new construction. Those questions struck a chord with me, making me ask: Who was deciding all of this? Did everyone have the chance to be heard? 
As the sky began to dim, we continued our journey through Uptown. It felt as if we had been walking for ages before we reached Uplift Community High School, walking through the old iron gates you were able to see murals covering the building. Each wall displaying a different scene, but all coming back to the concepts of diversity, inclusion, and equality. It was very inspiring, but it made me wonder what had happened here to prompt this kind of public response. Then we reached our final destination for the evening, Asia on Argyle. It was closer to 8:30, the sun had fully set, shops were closing (if not already locked up for the evening), and the last bit of people were making their separate ways home. The air felt still and there were no cars on the quiet street behind us, we were encouraged to walk down Argyle in silence; we did this in order to place our full attention on the street. There was a break in the buildings, where I saw the “Johnny Vietnam” painting. It was in this silence that allowed me to focus on the artwork and wonder what had happened to Johnny- which I later found out at a festival the following night. An inspirational young man, Johnny “Vietnam” Nguyen, gave his life to save another. Learning the story behind it made me more than happy that even in the dark (both literally and figuratively) in front of this mural, I was giving it the respect it deserved. It was fitting that we walked this neighborhood at night, as i still have many unanswered questions.

One of the murals on the wall of Uplift Community High School
Johnny Vietnam mural at Asia on Argyle

South Side

Not going to lie, but the moment I heard that I was going to be walking around the South Side I thought I might die in my first week of college. Having never heard of Beverly, I was honestly a bit worried about what I was going to encounter on this walk. A 30-minute train ride and a 20-minute bus ride later, we finally arrived in one of the cutest neighborhoods I have had the pleasure of becoming a part of. Walking down the wider streets, surrounded by old Victorian style homes, I began to reminisce a local neighborhood back where I am from called Webster Groves. Both of these places were intricately integrated throughout the years of development. An abundance of character and the reinforced idea of safety engulfed me, making me feel like there was no reason to be worried in the first place. On every corner you heard a child laugh, dogs were everywhere, and the knowledge of the neighborhood’s history was not lacking. Walking corner to corner, you saw the friendliness of the people there and their want for the better of the community. I am still not sure if I was just in shock that the stigma of the south side was false or if I truly fell in love with this neighborhood. It was truly a surprise and a pleasure to visit this one of a kind neighborhood.

An older style home in Beverly