May 18, 2011

Northwestern students need to get out more

As a student at the University of Chicago, I live in Hyde Park. People from the city of Chicago, however, tend to criticize Hyde Park as not "really" being Chicago, or at least, not representative of the South Side of Chicago. That is, we are seen to be a neighborhood that's really wealthy while being surrounded by poorer neighborhoods. Claiming to be from the South Side while living in Hyde Park, therefore, can sometimes be seen as being disingenuous.

Not, however, as Northwestern students claiming to be going to school "in Chicago," or even "near Chicago." For you see, while Hyde Park is still an actual Chicago neighborhood, and us UChicago students vote for aldermen and other elected city officials, Northwestern students attend school in Evanston, a suburb half an hour outside of the city by train. Now, some would say that such a distance qualifies them as being "close enough" to the city: after all, it can take half an hour to get to downtown from Hyde Park as well. And until yesterday, I would have been inclined to agree. That is, until this article from the Daily Northwestern's weekly supplement, The Current, showed up on my Facebook news feed.

Living in a city is as much about the arbitrary geographic distinctions as it is about the attitude takes towards the city. Treating the South Side as a collection of neighborhoods that are fine to wander unless it's late at night, for example, means that you have a realistic view of the city and are somewhat properly attuned to living here. Treating all parts of the South Side as crime ridden areas, where people get arrested constantly on the Red Line, and every street corner has crack dealers and drive by shootings, without even realizing that if you go south enough you'll start hitting the other Chicago suburbs, is indicative of an individual that has never really gone to the city.

So let's dissect this article piece by piece, and see what goes wrong. It starts out fine, with the author expressing an interest in trekking down to the South Side. Why she treats it as a mythical place to go, I don't know: I've gone to parts of the South Side near CTA stops of the sort that she is looking for, but they're really not that exciting or interesting. Maybe she's hoping to see a live reenactment of The Wire. It doesn't happen.

After a perfunctory trip down from the Purple line, the author takes the Red line before noticing anything cool, and of course, like all people from the north side, the first thing she notices are Cubs fans:
At Addison, intoxicated Cubs fans swarmed the train in souvenir rain ponchos. The inebriated man nearest to me attempted to hit on an equally drunk girl across the car for several stops but then became preoccupied by a verbal dispute with the man he kept falling on.
When the majority of the Cubbers had left, around Grand, a visual path was cleared to a man sitting kitty-corner to myself, clutching a bottle of corn syrup and meditating in his seat.
 Of course, this part of the Red Line is nothing like the South Side, but I'm sure she'll be able to recount her other destinations before reaching what's really the...
It took me three stops of staring at the corn syrup man to pry my attention away, wherein I realized the car had cleared out just as we began to leave downtown, headed for the South Side. I gripped my seat in anticipation.
Um, what? No mention of Chinatown, or even passing U.S. Cellular Field? You know, that other, giant baseball field where the White Sox play? Did those just vanish?
When we finally reached 95th/Dan Ryan, I stepped out of the train with excitement: This was where I had been waiting to be my entire life — my destiny, if you will. But as I stood on the platform, I inhaled and looked around for a hint of anything exciting and different — almost like Dorothy when she lands in Oz. However, to my horror, all I saw was a Burlington Coat Factory seemingly connected to a Best Buy in the distance. This was certainly not the place I had dreamed about.
I mean, people also buy coats and electronics on the South Side too. Shocking, I know.
As another train rolled up to take me back to Evanston, I walked on somberly at the lack of adventure and amazement. A man boarded my car surrounded by three police officers. I held out a little hope they were arresting him on some sort of charge, but soon it was shattered when they patted him on the back and exchanged stories about their children.
 Ah, this one was actually "our bad." You see, arbitrary police arrests only happen on Tuesdays between 4-6PM.
I rode in the otherwise empty car listening to the four men, whose conversation had transgressed into a debate of Chicago politics, for a little while.
The first looked up, noticing my less-than-shrewd eavesdropping, and said, "Man, this is Chicago: can't expect anything more than it is. And it can't be anything more than you make of it."
 Despite the very likely possibility of this quote being made up, I doubt that the imaginary magic black man could have summarized it any better. Cities are not just divided into gentrified neighborhoods surrounded by places with constantly roving bands of crime, they're real places too. But perhaps the author of this article is on to something, if only it's the simple act of actually going into the city. Maybe Northwestern students should visit sometime: after all, they do live so close to Chicago.

No comments:

Post a Comment