Today I went on my much-talked-about tour of the Chicago south side. The judges in my section went on a road trip with some city building inspectors, and we looked at some houses that have either been set to be demolished or will soon have demolition proceedings instituted against them. I got to tag along, by virtue of being a clerk embedded in this section.
We went to some neighborhoods in and south of Englewood, which is one of the most depressed and crime-ridden areas of Chicago. It was interesting to go from block to block and see how the area changed. Some blocks south of Englewood actually looked pretty nice, but apparently even one vacant home can serve as a focus for gang activity and drive out legitimate homeowners. Even in the semi-nice area we visited, apparently there have been some shootings recently. Lovely.
Other areas seemed to be mostly vacant buildings, and some areas had already experienced so much demolition that it seemed like there were small parks - seedy-looking, weed-ridden parks, I guess. There were a lot of residents on their porches watching us drive by. I noticed there weren't too many other cars riding around, so we must have looked like a parade float to them.
That was the other eerie thing I noticed - there were no national chains of any kind. No big grocery stores, no fast food, hardly any gas stations, even. As my friend Faron says, when even McDonald's won't touch an area, you're in trouble. I talked with the judges about this, and they agreed that there is no infrastructure in these areas. Basically the only place that people can shop for groceries nearby are seedy little corner stores where you can buy, as one judge said, "two eggs. Not a dozen - two." You begin to see the hidden costs of living poor.
It was a really interesting experience, and I'm glad I got to see the community impact of the judges' decisions in court. Obviously, it will take more than that to improve these areas, but the housing crisis and home prices in the area have a lot to do with whether companies are willing to come in and invest in an area. At any rate, for now, I'm glad I was there during the day and with a gaggle of judges for protection!
New Plan B
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