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See the Toxic Beauty of Chicago’s Industrial Zones

Four upcoming walking tours are part of a new art exhibition called Foreign Trade Zone: A People’s Consultancy.

Illinois's international port district, part of a new exhibition called Foreign Trade Zone: A People’s Consultancy.   Photo: Courtesy of the artists

Chicago is home to Foreign Trade Zone #22. Never heard of it before? Neither have most people.

It’s in South Chicago, where East 95th Street begins at Lake Michigan. If you go, you’ll see warehouses, barbed wire, and not much else. It’s the kind of industrial corridor you speed past on your way out of Indiana.

But you should pay closer attention to Foreign Trade Zone #22, according to artists Rozalinda Borcila and Brian Holmes. It’s one of several such corridors, or subzones, that have metastasized throughout our city and suburbs. They’ve collected these sites into an exhibition at Threewalls called Foreign Trade Zone: A People’s Consultancy. Beyond that, Borcila and Holmes are leading free public walking tours around these shadow sites.

Why should the average citizen care about FTZs? Borcila, a grassroots activist for migrant justice, says, “We’re generally under-aware of the trade infrastructure that forms the basis of how we live. These ports and warehouse districts, in part, produce our capacity to live in certain ways in a city like Chicago.” In other words, our daily comforts depend largely on FTZs—places that are not technically on American soil, where international imports such as unrefined oil and mass-produced computer parts land in the hands of U.S. corporations, helping grease the wheels of our global free trade market.

To discover these sites, Borcila and Holmes lead “learning walks,” and since their art project is one part social justice, one part community activism, participants are asked to actively engage in the dialogues. “On these trips, we get disturbed and amazed,” says Borcila. “We meet people who inspire us, we encounter pockets of beauty, and we see some toxic stuff that is terrifying.”

All tours are free and depart from Threewalls at 119 North Peoria. Here are four to check out:

Energy Walk

A carpool to Lemont, Illinois. Includes a walk among the CITGO Refinery, the Sanitary Canal, the railroad tracks, and the I&M Canal.
Saturday, May 17, 11 a.m.–5 p.m.

Choking Points in the Supply Chain

A carpool to the CenterPoint Intermodal Center near Joliet, Illinois. Includes a walk among “North America’s Largest Inland Port,” and the BNSF and Union Pacific rail yards.
Sunday, May 25, 11 a.m.–6 p.m.

Ottawa Sands

Carpool to Ottawa, Illinois. Includes a tour of the Indian Boundary Line and the I&M Canal. A fracking site will be explored.
Tuesday, May 27, 11 a.m.–6 p.m.

Path Dependencies and Learning Walks

A lecture and discussion to reflect on the week’s walking tours, with the artists.
Thursday, May 29, 5 p.m.–7 p.m.

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