Déardaoin, Lúnasa 13, 2009

Oh The Cheap Irony of the Red Line

"Redlining" is a socioeconomic term that refers to the practice of financial and real estate institutions working in formal or informal collusion with local governments to more or less create racial ghettos. The 'wrong kind of people' (Blacks being the most famous and typical example in this country, though there are other groups who who have suffered the same nonsense both here and just about everywhere else.) are herded into the same substandard housing in neighborhoods that are astutely ignored by civil services. Banks will not loan them the money to move out. Real estate companies will not give you a house even if you do somehow get the money. Businesses which offer jobs that pay enough to move out won't offer them to the wrong people, which hardly matters since they would never be able to get to these jobs anyway by attempting to navigate the abysmal local infrastructure.

Chicago, like other cities, bestows the honorary title of "Red Line" on the aorta of its train system. Symbolically linking Wrigley Field to the Cell, the Red connects the well-heeled northern lakefront with the Loop and the South. In the South, it runs along the median of the Dan Ryan expressway, an expressway which was routed where it was specifically to seal off the "Black Belt" from the old "White Ethnic" enclaves, particularly Daley Sr.'s own Bridgeport. The northern terminus of the Red Line is Howard Avenue, also the northern end of the city, with other El lines connecting to the nearest-in suburbs of Skokie and Evanston. (In fairness, the Caribbean enclave surrounding the Howard station is noticeably black and noticeably rough.) The south end of the Red Line is 95th Street, barely more than halfway between 0 block and the south city limits.

95th is the main east/west street on the South Side, dividing the far south from the merely south. The Chicago South Side is of course considered to be one of the great ghettos of the Western World. This is unfair for several reasons. To label a place as a ghetto is to attach to it the morbid fascination of a ghetto, a fascination that typically involves mocking the people that live there. This is unjust when one recognizes that the south half of Chicago is exactly what one hundred years of very deliberate planning by the forces ruling this city have made it into. Those who are poor and stuck in the bad neighborhoods of the South were designed to be. Add to this the fact that it's simply ignorant to dismiss the whole of the South Side as a uniform ghetto, ignoring the complexity of both the South and the city as a whole. There is Englewood and "Murdertown" along the Dan Ryan in the fifties, but just a block toward the lake from there is Hyde Park. The South has good neighborhoods, the North has bad neighborhoods. The Cubs have Black fans, The Sox have gay fans.

But in the Far South, past where the train ends, one does see the large realms of uniform bleakness that outsiders envision south Chicago to be. This is where the factories are. (Or used to be, for the most part.) While the city as a whole is too big and economically diverse to suffer the total meltdown felt by Detroit and Cleveland, the Far South is reeling from the same collapse of American heavy industry that's fucking up the rest of the Great Lakes.

But anyway, after years, years, years, and years of talking bout doing so, the transit authority has voted to extend the Red Line south to 130th street. Also to be extended are the Orange Line from Midway to a shopping mall nearby, and the Yellow Line (aka the 'Skokie Swift' or, if I'm hungover and feeling very evil 'the Jewish boxcar'.)to a shopping mall in that town. The total cost of these projects is around two billion dollars and is expected to take several (more) years to complete. The money is a big concern of course. If only there were someone from the South Side who had any sort of influence in Washington.

According to the Tribune residents who sit in the path of the extended Red Line are screaming for it, which is natural. Skokie residents who live in the path of the extension are complaining about it, which is also quite natural. Even in progressive metropolis such as this; where forced proximity to ethnic groups you didn't even know existed leaves people little choice but to get along, public transportation is still associated with the "wrong element" by the well-heeled. And of course Skokie does have a history of unwanted outsiders just marching through the place.

In the end I think that all of these projects are worthwhile and I'm optimistic that they will go through. The expressways are jammed and there's no room to make them any wider. While we're at it the entire El system could use an overhaul as well as an extension. Trains and tracks are both getting a little bit creaky, and if OUR president is as much as a corrupt Chicago pol as the nutcases say he is, than surely he has some idea of how we truly need a big bundle of billions in kickbacks, for both transportation and other infrastructure. It will go how it goes. I'm sure it will get ugly and stupid sometime soon, but I'm ok with that mostly. The Olympic bid got ugly and stupid very quickly but I still think that's a cool idea.

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