Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Algren's Chicago.

Although the city's done a good job over the last half-century of securing and closing off various unsafe sections underneath their system of elevated train tracks, especially up here on the north side, there are still sometimes big parts (like here for example, near the trisection of Clark, Sheffield and Roscoe) where you can easily get back into the nitty-gritty of the forgotten urban environment, the old-school city of dirty tenements and rickety back stairways. And every time I pass this little section, I always think of the Nelson Algren novel Never Come Morning, which I had a chance to review a few years ago; because it's centered around this "street gang" of sorts, in reality neighborhood kids in 1930s Wicker Park who have nothing better to do than hang around in groups and cause trouble, and in the book they're constantly spending the night in these dark, grubby little hovels they've created underneath the blue-line el tracks over there in that neighborhood, literally because they're in no worse condition than the crumbling immigrant tenements they'd otherwise be sleeping in that night, in that case sharing the apartment with twenty other people and an alcoholic dad who beats them.

And I don't know, I guess it just strikes me in locations like this just how organic and chaotic the maturation of a city actually is, how an urban space doesn't just smoothly all start to get better at once but rather with these little forgotten pockets of "how it used to be" constantly spotting the landscape, these little oases of dirtiness and danger that are literally sometimes just around the corner from a Starbucks, American Apparel, and all the other shiny happy goodness of New Urbanism, like is exactly the case in this photo. (We're just two blocks here from the famed intersection of Belmont and Clark.) It's one of the things I really love about Chicago, how I can experience first-hand almost 200 years of history literally on the walk from my apartment to the grocery store on a random Thursday afternoon, and is something about the city I simply never get tired of.

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