Shifts in Neighborhoods, but also in Perspective


This past week I started my first class at DePaul University. I knew there was going to be some simplicity about already living in Chicago. The cultural shock was a concept I was not going to have to be acclimated to. However, in this metropolis, there are many secrets and experiences left to discover; and so, I took a class called Walking in Chicago, where we learned about what makes Chicago through the most intimate form of transportation you can have with a city: walking. Through walking you get a close up of the lives and the energy all around you, and the intimacy of your experience is what makes a new place, home, even if it is only a change in neighborhoods.

One of the first questions posed in class was “Who are you?”, and it is assumed that you have a deep heart to heart with yourself and come up with a deep answer, but I chose to think in a more proud and happy mindset: I am a Chicago girl. I did not need this profound, spiritual answer, I have always been a city girl, and not just any city girl, but a Chicago girl; and lately that feeling has carried a lot of weight to me, and to my community. The kind of energy and positivity to be so proud of your community is something everyone should experience, and despite the recent negative press, Chicago is still a home and sanctuary to many.

Our first assignment was drawing a map of Chicago, and to be honest it was difficult. You have a vague idea about shape, and you know certain landmarks, but I would be lying if I said I was completely sure of where I put the Loop on my map, or that I did not put the Midway airport too far south west. It makes you step back and think if your “Chicagoness” that you’ve been living was only subject to the neighborhoods you have and have not exposed yourself to, and taking Walking Chicago seemed more and more like it would have an impactful significance to my everyday life.

Rooftop swimming pools are easy to spot as miles of Chicago is clouded by fog

The second day of class started at the John Hancock, one of my favorite Chicago buildings. As we reached the 76th floor, and the elevator doors opened, jaws dropped as the clear glass windows revealed miles and miles of Chicago. Out of the South end window you could see the loop and tiny rooftop swimming pools and as your eyes moved onward, miles of neighborhoods and one family houses. On the West you saw skyscrapers and more land reaching far into the clouds and fog; more buildings, and a more clear picture of Chicago’s genius grid system.

On the East side of the glass walls was the Great Lake Michigan, a beautiful site. The waves from seventy six stories up looked like nylon stretched tightly across a blue surface, with Navy Pier’s Ferris wheel not far beside it. Being so close to Lake Michigan as a child resonated with me while I stood above it, the memories and energy of the water brought up that “Chicago Pride” that had been brewing in me for the past few months. But it wasn’t until I looked out of the North side window that the feeling truly hit me that home was Chicago.

I looked out and saw my favorite place in the whole world: Lake Shore Drive. In the daylight from so high up, the cars looked like ants running along a track trying to get to work. It was such a different feeling looking from high up and viewing it objectively and juxtaposing it to a drive on the road on a summer night, where you can feel that velocity and the wind in your face, in a moment where even though you are the little ant, you feel bigger and better.

View of Lake Shore Drive from the North window


As our class left the Hancock, and we walked through the neighborhoods, you quickly realize that all those buildings that looked exactly like each other from above, were completely different. The frantic traffic from seventy six floors up, was not so frantic at ground level. Walking through Gold Coast, the first neighborhood on our route, you knew immediately that the neighborhood came from wealth. Victorian mansions were displayed with pride and historic facts were on poles for visitors to admire. The architecture was old, and looked like a place wealthy people lived and it wasn’t surprising that that was still true in 2017; but as the walk transitioned from Gold Coast to Old Town, you immediately saw the moment in history where a new wave of people with a different point of view came in. In place of Victorian mansions in Old Town were restaurants, mom and pop shops and laundromats that were needed by the less wealthy immigrants and middle class citizens. The energy in Old Town was different as well, it was much more lively due to the businesses and there were very little, if any, historic poles giving facts.

Throughout the walk there were drastic shifts in the kinds of people who lived in each neighborhood we passed and it was easy to differentiate job and wealth status, diversity and lack thereof. After Old Town was an industrial Goose Island, there were no homes and the only business was trucks making deliveries and crossing bridges, there was no life in the neighborhood and it definitely was not at all like the high end lifestyle of Gold Coast. To transition after Goose Island was the final destination at Humboldt Park. Humboldt Park was lively, a Puerto Rican flag welcomed you to their neighborhood and instead of the quiet demeanor felt in Gold Coast, you could hear music being played and smell Puerto Rican food drifting out of restaurants. Murals about Puerto Rican pride were painted on vacant walls along with murals of Puerto Rican oppression.

Lake in Humboldt Park

I suddenly realized that one of the main shifts in neighborhoods was the decrease of wealth from neighborhood to neighborhood and that the divide between a Caucasian neighborhood and one for people of color was a lonely truck port. It was easy to assume from the view at the Hancock that there was equality, even though it was clear from the walk (and through the media) that Chicago, as diverse as it is as a whole wasn’t all that big on inclusion. Although I already knew this from my eighteen years living in Chicago, it was quite different to see those shifts in neighborhoods all at once. It begs the question “why so segregated?”, and even though part of the fun of exploring Chicago is to see neighborhoods in their separate entities to embrace the rich cultures of each, it would be equally as fun to see communities coming together, sharing their lifestyles with each other.

Experiencing Immersion Week at DePaul through walking Chicago gave a fresh perspective on an already well established opinion of Chicago’s diversity. It questioned my personal view of what it means to be a Chicago girl. I still identify as a Chicago girl, and the pride of living in such a wonderful city is still very much alive, but there is a change on the acceptance of Chicago’s segregation. It no longer seems acceptable to allow your fellow Chicagoans to experience less than what you have, or overlook that it is even an issue. Questions formed in my head about why it is the way it is and what can be done to change that. As a true DePaul student and as a citizen of Chicago, the question now is: “what must be done?”