An ambitious analysis of a singular neighborhood that in some ways serves as a microcosm for all urban neighborhoods.
“We live in neighborhoods, and neighborhoods live in us,” writes Rotella (Director, American Studies/Boston Coll.; Playing in Time: Essays, Profiles, and Other True Stories, 2012, etc.). The concept “describes both a place and a quality of feeling, a physical landscape and the flows of population, resources, and thought moving through it.” The neighborhood he specifically references is Chicago’s South Shore, where he and his parents moved as it was in the midst of transitioning from a mostly white neighborhood to one that is predominantly black. It also changed from a middle-class community into one blighted by drugs, crime, and gangs, one that has seen its only supermarket close and its bank as well, with empty storefronts lining what were once bustling streets and residents doing their shopping far from where they live. Yet its proximity to Lake Michigan and convenience to downtown transportation make it attractive. Consequently, the remaining black middle class fears that it will be gentrified out of the neighborhood, just as white residents fled to the suburbs as speculators warned that their property values were dropping because of the influx of black newcomers. As in much of the country, the recession of 2008 hit the neighborhood hard, and there has been as much tension between haves and have-nots as there has been between black and white citizens. As Rotella paints it, South Shore is a community where the center cannot hold, where the middle class is disappearing, where the well-to-do and the unemployed live in close proximity, and where younger activists who want to build bridges across the class divide meet resistance from older residents who wish to erect walls. The author offers a nuanced narrative, partly personal and partly sociological, that keeps circling back to the same important truths about race, class, community, poverty, and crime.
A thought-provoking deep dive into a neighborhood that remains in perpetual transition.