Research Spotlight: Visualizing Chicago’s People’s Park in the Archives

Two weeks in the Special Collections at UIC’s Richard Daley Library as a Short-Term Travel Fellow resulted in significant finds for my research on illegal activist-created parks in the late-1960s and early-1970s.  These parks emerged at the intersection of several political forces: anti-urban renewal activism, environmentalism, hippie utopian communalism, anti-colonial land sovereignty organizing, and racial self-determination movements that were made visible in the visual, spatial, and material culture of these protests.

To date, I have examined material in several collections, including:

  • The Russ Gilbert Collection – (with extensive material on socialist periodicals and organizing)
  • The Immigrants Protective League – (offering a broad scope of immigrant assistance over the early-twentieth century)
  • Citizens for a Better Environment – (with extensive material on cases of Chicago-area pollution)
  • Chris Cohen Collection – (later, an alderman for the 46th ward)
  • North Side Cooperative Ministry Records – (with invaluable material on social justice organizing within church coalitions in Chicago)
  • Partial boxes in the Richard Daley Collection – (with mostly supportive documents  and correspondence relating to the 1968 Democratic National Convention)
  • Partial boxes in the Institute on the Church in an Urban Industrial Society Collection – (offering at least a little bit of information on a broad array of organizations, activist groups, and coalitions)

In particular, documents in the North Side Cooperative Ministry Collection and the Institute on the Church in an Urban Industrial Society Collection have been the most rewarding, offering unique primary and secondary sources that trace local urban renewal plans and policies pushed by the pro-Daley Lincoln Park Conservation Association and community outrage against the turmoil caused by urban renewal.

Lincoln Park Press, UIC
See this political cartoon in the Lincoln Park Press in the Institute of the Church in an Urban Industrial Society Collection at UIC Daley Library.

Meeting minutes, correspondence, community event flyers, and the neighborhood newspaper Lincoln Park Press/La Prensa evidence how an activist coalition formed between the Puerto Rican Young Lords, the white, working-class Young Patriots, some local churches, and the Lincoln Park Citizens Survival Front (with leadership from Pat Devine and Jim Reed).

Flyer, UIC
See this flyer in the North Side Cooperative Ministry Collection at UIC’s Daley Library.

Most importantly, these documents confirm the existence of Lincoln Park’s People’s Park – an illegal, activist-created green space built on a vacant lot at the corner of Halsted and Armitage that was constructed as a protest against urban renewal and police brutality.  Evidencing the park’s appeal across political boundaries, a story from the Chicago Sun Times and a later flyer by the feminist Chicago Women’s Liberation Union both site how housewives, hippies, kids, and Puerto Rican nationalists all worked to clear the lot and convert it into a garden and Leftist public event space.

Chicago Sun Times, UIC.jpg
See this document in the Institute on the Church in an Urban Industrial Society Collection at UIC Library

As illuminated by documents in these collections, the creation of this People’s Park on a privately-owned vacant lot emerged within many intersecting layers of repression: black students at Waller High School (across from the park) had just recently led a school boycott to protest racist hiring practices and curriculum, activists were in the process of protesting the expansion of McCormick Theological Seminary into bulldozed property once-rented by Puerto Ricans, and the Young Lords had only months prior commandeered control of Armitage Methodist Church to offer a free breakfast program and day care center.

LPCCC Flyer for McCormick, UIC.jpg
See this document in the North Side Cooperative Ministry Collection at UIC Library.

In addition, the Immigrants Protective League Collection included a pamphlet from the Open Lands Project that enables me to situate the park and activists’ environmental demands within broader discourses concerning access to safe, healthy, open green space in light of mid-century urban renewal upheaval.

Open Lands Project, UIC
See this document in the Immigrants Protective League Collection at UIC Library.

Additionally, the Daley Collection includes the non-digitized closing argument in the Chicago 7 Conspiracy, using similar language of activist territoriality and sovereignty in Yippie activist control over Grant Park during the Democratic National Convention more than a year earlier.

Taken together, my research has revealed new layers of complexity embedded within discourses on power over access to and design of urban space that cross racial, gender, class, religious, and political borders, fueling a cross-cultural coalition of activist park creators within this moment in time.

During the remainder of my visit at UIC I will access the following collections:

  • Remaining boxes in the Daley Collection
  • Remaining boxes in the Institute on the Church in an Urban Industrial Society Collection
  • Chicago Council on Urban Affairs
  • Citizens Alert Records
  • And the Industrial Areas Foundation Collection

More to come!

Teaching Spotlight: Indianapolis Urban Design

During the summer of 2016 I worked with a handful of graduate students in Ball State University’s Master of Urban Design program advising their graduate theses.  Taken together, they all tackled different sites in the Indianapolis-area that could better capitalize on existing yet underutilized waterways to accomplish the following tasks: drive job development, provide housing and social services, improve hydrological function, and create new, environmentally-sustainable urban green spaces.

Mud 2016 cover_image

From our first week to the last, these urban designers improved immensely in communicating and organizing their ideas. These projects are organized with the flow of the White River and its tributaries:

Mud 2016 table of contents_image

Each project begins by addressing the plethora of current problems plaguing the Indianapolis area, including vacancy, pollution, demand for housing, green-area development, and more. Each urban designer offers a cohesive, sourced, and detailed argument as to why their project is the best fit for their chosen site, providing expertly-crafted visuals to demonstrate how their designs will be experienced by Hoosiers on the ground.

2016 Ball State University alums of the Masters in Urban Design program are (left to right): Mohammad Alabbasi, Loaei Thabet, Ellen Forthofer, Sara Weber, Taylor Firestine, Jacob Sanders, Austin Roy, and Kevin Sweetland.

I am so proud – so excited – to share their final works collected in this text and hope to work with them on publishing in academic and professional journals in the near future! Join me in congratulating these urban design professionals on graduating!  Well done, team!

It’s a hefty file (linked below), so here are a few snapshots with their authors and abstracts.

An excerpt of Jacob Sanders’s MA thesis in Urban Design, Ball State University (2016).

Jacob Sanders, “The Exchange at Keystone: A Holistic Approach to Economically Successful Malls”

Abstract: “The mall has long been a key suburban destination and economic driver due to its historic consideration as a place you can hang out, shop for a variety of goods and services, and attend movies. Their stability has wavered in the last 15-20 years as malls have begun losing their customer base due to online shopping increase, cultural and social changes, and an overall feeling that malls do not offer an exciting experience. This study uses Indianapolis’s Fashion Mall at Keystone as a case study for redeveloping malls using a holistically sustainable framework. By redesigning and transforming malls to be environmentally sustainable, economically successful, and socially integrative, these sites will be protected from future downfall.”

An excerpt of Loaei Thabet’s MA thesis in Urban Design, Ball State University (2016).

Loaei Thabet, “Beyond GM Stamping Plant: A Conceptual Masterplan to Redevelop Post-Industrial Waterfronts on the White River”

Abstract: “As many American cities, Indianapolis has turned its back to its waterways. Along with the disengagement and privatization, heavy industrial activities have contaminated the waterfronts while the combined Sewer overflow (CSO) have remarkably degraded the water quality of the White River. In addition to that, current levees capacity fails to contain frequent flooding conditions from reaching to brownfields which factor in degrading quality of water by increasing toxic pollutants levels in the White River. The loss of industry created an opportunity for Indianapolis to rethink its waterfronts by focusing its resources on creating catalyst sites for resilient and successful waterfronts. New sites will include new water-infrastructure to adapt with flooding as well as to build a basis for a unique community and new models of the economy. This multi-layer strategy would not only contribute to improving the water quality of the White River but would transform the future of waterways in Indianapolis.”

An excerpt of Mohammad Alabbasi’s MA thesis in Urban Design, Ball State University (2016)

Mohammad Alabbasi, “Smart Indy: Using a Net Zero Energy Approach to minimize carbon footprint at the Indianapolis GM Stamping Plant”

Abstract Excerpt: “In today’s world, questions abound about how to generate energy and how to use energy…To combat [the damage of climate change] and alleviate systemic problems in Indianapolis’s post-industrial neighborhoods, this creative project seeks to develop the General Motors Stamping Plant into a net zero energy district called “Smart Indy.” This site would make a smooth transition between downtown Indianapolis and the West Indianapolis community, and between the site and the White River, by activating the water edge. As part of the current smart city movement, as defined by the use of technologies to improve the efficiency of services and creating cities that produce energy rather than just consume energy, Smart Indy seeks to minimize Indianapolis’s carbon footprint through an urban design perspective, which includes a focus on architecture, infrastructure, and the use of renewable energy productions. The goals of Smart Indy are: 1) To provide technologies that make the development area a local and global destination, 2) To reduce the annual consumption of fossil fuels by using green energy production, and 3) To make the development area a smarter place for people to visit, live, work, and play. The implications of being smarter will include utilizing new concepts of sharing, such as Airbnb and Uber, using prototypes like the Google self-driving car, and recycling, in addition to the main concept of taking advantage of green energy productions. This site will be close to downtown Indianapolis, as well as accessible, via monorail (to be constructed as part of Smart Indy’s development)….”

An excerpt of Ellen Forthofer’s MA thesis in Urban Design, Ball State University (2016).

Ellen Forthofer, “The River South District: Building Identity by Daylighting Pogue’s Run”

Abstract: “The area just south of the Wholesale District in downtown Indianapolis has been under-performing for decades. What was once home to the strong Babe Denny neighborhood (a neighborhood named for a Parks Department employee and longtime resident of that area) and a vital piece of the White River watershed now contains rampant vacancy, inaccessible public space, decades of housing and job loss, and a fractured water system. This proposal to transform this site into the River South District aims to create a new and lasting identity for downtown Indianapolis through the daylighting of a currently buried stream, Pogue’s Run. Daylighting, a relatively new practice, refers to the act of exposing a portion or the entirety of the flow of a previously covered waterway, usually in the form of removing a stream from an underground pipe and restoring the waterway to open air. Converting Indianapolis’ buried stream into an above-ground promenade and restored habitat will incorporate a correctly scaled community design focused on ecologically sensitive practices, balanced with housing, employment, and activities to attract a diverse range of users to the site. This River South District proposal accommodates a range of activities and uses through its gradient of destinations: an entertainment district, a revived Pogue’s Run habitat, and a vibrant residential neighborhood. By creating places to live, work, and play around Pogue’s Run, the River South District will create a highly integrated and unique site protected from further disinvestment and disconnection.”

An excerpt of Sara Weber’s MA thesis in Urban Design, Ball State University (2016).

Sara Weber, “Breaching the River Edge: Connecting Indianapolis with the White River”

Abstract: “The White River is not accessible to downtown Indianapolis and not being utilized to its fullest potential. The proposed solution for this site is to address the current barriers preventing access, the lack of development on and around this site, and how this development could enhance downtown Indianapolis. The proposal will include both private and public space along the river edge. These public and private spaces will begin to overlap one another so that the private entity does not overshadow the public entity. There will be trails, light commercial space, and river activities for the public that coexist with privately owned space. This provides the amenities of being close to the river and downtown while still providing a private feel to the residential space. This proposal will help to extend the lively atmosphere of downtown into a developing district to the south.”

An excerpt of Austin Roy’s MA thesis in Urban Design, Ball State University (2016).

Austin Roy, “River Key: Re-Establishing Community Identity in West Indianapolis Through Education and Re-Connection with our Waterways”

Abstract: “Historically, the west Indianapolis neighborhood was developed as a residential community that benefited economically and socially from job opportunities that the surrounding industrial development provided for residents of the neighborhood. In the early half of the twentieth century, the residents of west Indianapolis lived in a community driven neighborhood that provided almost all goods and services to support virtually all human needs. The neighborhood provided a school for children as well as transportation opportunities into the downtown area of Indianapolis via horse and buggy, mule and trolley, and later on, street cars. However in the 1970s, construction of Interstate 70 resulted in dividing west Indianapolis into two different halves. The population of the neighborhood was split and the sense of community within the area was lost. This division not only tore the sense of community in two, it also resulted in less demand for products and services sold locally in the neighborhood, resulting in almost all neighborhood shops to leave for the inner city. As the twentieth century progressed, industry, which had for so long supported west Indianapolis, began to disappear, as industrial jobs moved overseas, property values as well as standard of living also began to diminish. In 2011, the retraction of industrial jobs reached its peak when the GM stamping plant, located directly north of the neighborhood closed its doors.”

An excerpt from Taylor Firestine’s MA thesis in Urban Design, Ball State University (2016).

Taylor Firestine, “Theater Blocks: An Urban Design Strategy Modeled on Economic, Social, and Environmental Sustainability”

Abstract: “The Twin Aire neighborhood in Indianapolis, Indiana has suffered decline over the last generation, resulting from years of waning land value, loss of skilled labor jobs, and stagnant or decreasing income. These issues are intrinsically linked to other problems facing depressed neighborhoods across the U.S., including transit inaccessibility and barriers to educational attainment. Given the availability of urban land ripe for redevelopment, the Theater Blocks will initiate a phased redevelopment plan of the Twin Aire Drive-In Theater site under two guiding objectives: 1: Stabilize the Neighborhood through Accessible Social Services; and 2: Facilitate Growth and Reinvestment for Future Success. While the first objective is a short-term endeavor, the second addresses long-term strategic planning for the community. Both objectives contain various goals addressing a host of issues facing the area, including land use, social services and education, parks and open space, and branding. These objectives and their subsequent goals are directed at bolstering the area’s quality of life through a model of economic, social, and environmental sustainability.”

An excerpt from Kevin Sweetland’s MA thesis in Urban Design, Ball State University (2016).

Kevin Sweetland, “The Burnside District: A New Approach to Post-Industrial Development on Indianapolis’s Eastside”

Abstract: “This creative project explores the practical application of urban design strategies to reverse the effects of deindustrialization on Indianapolis’ eastside. If the problem of de-industrialization is not properly addressed, large numbers of inner city people will remain unemployed and the industrial sites that are decomposing in their backyards will continue to destroy the health of the local environment. In lieu of a future defined by hazardous places for wildlife and people, the Burnside District sets a new vision for the eastside’s vacant industrial sites. This project reimagines these decrepit places as valuable community assets that allow people to live, work, and play in their own neighborhood.”

Read their projects in full here: MUD 2016 Final Book

Inspiration: Mapping Chicago from Below

The history of cartography is often remembered as a legacy of white men.  With “imperial eyes” (Pratt, 1992), cartographers granted power to largely northern white nation-states through borders and names with the stroke of a pen. From the age of exploration to mid-twentieth century redlining, maps have shaped people, places, histories, and our identities.  Ultimately, maps visualize a particular subset of information at a particular moment in time.  When analyzed within their particular historical context through a critical lens of power structures, they collectively illuminate a quilt of information about the relationship between people and power.

CityLab’s (@citylab) recent post on “How Women Mapped the Upheaval of 19th Century America” offers a new perspective by evidencing how women engaged in map-making techniques that have been overshadowed.  This article is part of a series by Laura Bliss (@mslaurabliss) who interviewed New York Public Library map historian Alice Hudson who had names of more than a thousand women who had drawn, published, printed, engraved, sold, or traded maps prior to 1900 alone.  Bliss has also paired images with contextual information from Will C. van den Hoonardd’s book Map Worlds: A History of Women in Cartography.  [See this really cool image of maps drawn by Shanawdithit of the Newfoundland Beothuk tribe c. 1829. who plotted memories of her tribe’s movements and collisions with settlers nearly two decades prior.]


This map by Agnes Sinclair Holbrook, “Nationalities Map No. 1,” from Hull-House Maps and Papers, 1895, (Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library), visualizes demographics of nationalities in the Near West Side of Chicago as part of Holbrook’s work with Jane Addams’s Hull House settlement house that served these populations.  From this image we can see patterns of immigrant aggregations in the neighborhood along with segregation.  We can see how immigrants are being categorized – along lines of nationality like German and Swiss and language, rather than along lines of skin color [which evidences historian David Roediger’s argument in his book Working Toward Whiteness that reveals processes of labor organizing and real estate policy that transformed Northern European new immigrants into “white ethnics.”]

If you zoomed out, you could see how close rail lines and the waterways were to the East.   As shown in this stylistically identical map by Samuel Greeley, families in this neighborhood earned an average of $7.50 per week working in nearby factories.

Do you know what a map of this area looks like today?

map near west side chicago

It’s a tollway.  In the mid-twentieth century, politicians embarked on a massive urban renewal campaign to displace historic immigrant neighborhoods and communities of working-class people of color out of the city.  This demolition would make way for a new highway enabling middle-class whites to travel from the suburbs to the inner-city for work. Additionally, huge portions of the neighborhood were demolished as part of UIC’s expansion campaign.  For more on this read Amanda Seligman’s book Block by Block.

Although Holbrook’s work is significant (as well as fun and celebratory in light of Women’s History Month), focused narratives heralding the contributions of select middle-class women often read as more additive than revolutionary – at times reinforcing a liberal feminist discourse of “look, women were there” rather than re-examining how power structures have shaped the histories we hide, exalt, and define as part of our identities.

Ultimately, how can we excavate histories of mapping “from below”?  What can we learn from revealing map-making techniques of migrant farm workers, the enslaved, prostitutes, meth addicts, or Civil Rights Movement activists?  What would current folk cartography reveal about urban power relations today?

Research Spotlight: Skid Row and the Great Wall of LA

great wall.jpg
Photograph by Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times – This is a photograph of a mural in LA called The Great Wall that highlights the experiences of communities of color in America’s history.

In November of 2015 I presented my research on Berkeley’s People’s Park at SACRPH – The Society for American City and Regional Planning History.  Because the conference was based in LA, many panels that put theorists, practitioners, and historians in conversation addressed local concerns over the right of the masses to the city.  One of the most engaging panels included presentations by Cathy Gudis and Eric Avila who, in different ways, evidenced a public visual culture “from below” with rich examples of people staking claim to urban space in LA.


Eric showed his own photographs of The Great Wall – a mural painted on a concrete barrier trailing  2754 feet on Canyon Ave by artist Judy Baca – which offers vivid snapshots in America’s history and experiences of communities of color.  More than just acknowledging their existence, the mural captures struggles over power embedded in urban space, such as this segment that portrays how local and state governments backed with federal funding seized land owned by people of color to build highways, universities, and more.  This segment shows how the state demolished Chavez Ravine, a Mexican American neighborhood in LA, to make way for a new highway and the Dodger’s Stadium that divided the barrios and fragmented the Mexican American community.

36 portraits of Skid Row visionaries by street artist Mr. Brainwash.

Offering a contemporary lens, Cathy shared her own experiences working with the bi-annual Walk the Talk parade held by the LAPD (LA Poverty Department) in Skid Row – home to the largest homeless population in the US.  My own experience staying in Skid Row for the SACRPH conference was eye-opening.  I was absolutely stunned at how many people were living on the street in clumped tent cities.

Photo by Jabin Botsford/ Los Angeles Times: Makeshift shelters crowd San Julian Street in the skid row area of downtown Los Angeles

The parade functions as an affront to cultural norms and policies discouraging citizens and tourists from venturing into Skid Row and talking with its itinerant residents.  Marchers carrying musical instruments and posters showing the faces of dead and still surviving homeless residents process through the neighborhood. The parade is part of a series of events facilitated by the LAPD that engages the community in discussions to identify initiatives and people who have made positive contributions to Skid Row.

walk the talk
Photo by Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times, Walk the Talk parade participants march from Gladys Park led by the Mudbug Brass Band and stopping for sketches celebrating local activists.

What events and places in your community highlight the experiences of people of color in American past and present?