Walk in My Shoes: Surviving the walk to school. You know I understand the whole “If it bleeds it leads” concept of journalism. Really I do. But, we live on the South Side of Chicago too. I grew up here and all those sunny park pictures that I post of my family on my journal? They’re taken on the same South Side mentioned in this article. There’s more to this city than the blighted areas, and while we’re talking blight and violence let’s talk about how these neighborhoods (which used to be thriving healthy communities) fall apart.
Our society likes to wring its hands and bleat about the poor pitiful children once the shooting starts, but we don’t tend to pay attention to the roots of the problems before everything goes wrong. This latest spate of failed gentrification efforts are going to have brand new bad areas springing up as the residents struggle to make it with no tax base, poor infrastructure, and the same old issues of race and class. It’s ridiculous to paint these pictures of scary bad areas that are the result of some foreign event horizon that no one can understand when we know how places get this way.
For starters you get rid of the grocery stores, instead allowing liquor stores that sell food or whatever little corner stores spring up to be the only place within walking distance to get groceries. Then you take away (or never start) bus routes, and the ones that are in the area have shortened hours and limited routes so it’s difficult for the remaining population to get to work. Oh, let’s not forget schools that lack necessary equipment so the students are ill-equipped to succeed academically in a society where education is key. And of course there’s the added impact of poverty and institutional racism. Why the mention of racism? Well, how do you think we get to the place where only certain neighborhoods are allowed to turn into war zones? It’s no accident that I can get cops in my neighborhood to respond a lot faster than people living in Englewood.
Those conditions form the underpinnings of gangs and their powerful hold in these areas. As the money and the opportunity and the access fade away? People still have to eat, and despite the hype I have yet to meet a gangbanger or a street level dealer that wasn’t hungry, as in literally going to bed without enough food on a regular basis hungry when they decided to get in on the game. Drugs, crime, and poverty go hand in hand, but not for the reasons you’d think they do. It’s survival living and people do a lot of things to make it when the wolf is at the door. Generational poverty plays a huge role because these blighted neighborhoods don’t get that way in a week or a month. It takes time, and the people with resources move out relatively early in the process but there are always people left behind with no way out.
And without a proper foundation at an elementary school level, few or no role models, and of course the stress and trauma of living in an area that’s dangerous all the time the kids in these places don’t have boots, never mind bootstraps to pull themselves out. Or to pull their own kids out once they’re adults. Oh sure there’s always a success story that gets lauded, but the reality is that the combination of luck, support, and intelligence required for those stories to happen isn’t a recipe that’s accessible for every child. And to paint the South Side with such a broad brush instead of talking about the actual issues that lead to these conditions is just further exacerbating the problems. Less pearl clutching and more urban planning is the key here.