Author: Daniel Kay Hertz
The subtitle of this book is “Urban Renewal and Gentrification in Chicago” and it covers a period that began before I was born and ended prior to me moving to the city. Therefore, nearly every page had a revelation that was new to me. (Isn’t it a shame how local history is largely a mystery?)
I guarantee that after reading this book you’ll never look at the Magnificent Mile, the Gold Coast, Cabrini Green, or Lincoln Park in the same way. Hertz deftly writes about the history and issues that shaped each area, and the aggressive neighborhood groups that, in some cases, bullied their way into preserving (or condemning) them.
For example, consider North Avenue between Halstead Ave and Clark Street. For the most part, buildings on the south side of the street are old construction, while those on the other side are relatively new construction. It’s as if the north side of North Ave was completely bulldozed at some point. Well, that’s because it was. In the book you’ll find out why. (Spoiler alert: to hold the line against Cabrini Green encroachment.)
It might seem that “battle” in the book’s title is hyperbole, but when you get to the part about the violence (including firebombing!) and political maneuvering, it’s an apt choice.
Shortly after I finished reading this book, the Lincoln Yards project came to the forefront of Chicago news. I’m struck at the contrast in how that’s being handled, and a little sad that those who oppose it are settling for ranting on Facebook as their form of “community activism.” Not that I’m suggesting bombs, mind you, but certainly the folks involved in the organizations and efforts described in the book would find today’s situation lame.