The Human Cost of Nature’s Metropolis

Local photographer David Schalliol gives a glimpse into a small corner of Englewood that’s slowly giving way to the expansion of a rail facility.

David Schalliol, a sociologist and long one of my favorite photographers in the city, recently did a short film for Gapers Block (where he’s the managing editor), “The Area,” about a pocket of Englewood that Norfolk Southern has been eyeing as an expansion for its intermodal rail facility. But without the reset button of eminent domain, that’s a long process; it’s home for a lot of people, if many less than a decade or two ago, and I’ve never encountered any such an expansion into a residential neighborhood that wasn’t fraught—you probably recall the long fight over O’Hare and Bensenville. The NS expansion isn’t there yet: they’re still trying to buy property, and eminent domain hasn’t been invoked, but each person who departs can make it that much harder for those remaining to stay.

It’s a stunning film, capturing the atmosphere that keeps remaining residents in the neighborhood despite the population decline around them. (Update: and it’s from a full-length documentary.)

The Area from The Grid on Vimeo.

In 2011 the Trib covered the neighborhood as Norfolk Southern’s plans became public, suggesting that the population decline, generally assumed to be a sign of collapse, has paradoxically made it a better place to live:

The neighborhood, bounded on the north and south by Garfield Boulevard and 61st Street, and on the east and west by Stewart Avenue and Wallace Street, is sparsely populated after years of hard times. Yet the remaining residents say that with so fewer people, there is a sense of calm after decades of violence.

On some blocks, vacant lots have been converted into gardens, and neighbors gather after work and on weekends for barbecues or quick chats on front porches.

“I’ve gotten to a mindset where it’s just perfect,” said Anthony Rushton, 41, whose house is one of just two left on the 400 block of West 59th Street. “We’re all by ourselves and nobody has bothered us.”

The latest from the project is a proposed land sale of 11.8 acres of city-owned land for $1.1 million (PDF), plus an additional $3 million “to an infrastructure fund that would support local economic development initiatives and the company would work with elected officials and residents to support local hiring goals.”

 

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