Silly me. I thought I had seen a fair amount of Chicago, biking around. On Saturday, I rode about 13 miles to the northern terminus of the Lake Shore Trail. Then, on Sunday, I saw something that made me rethink my geography. I was headed to a farmers’ market with Ellie, and I glanced at a sign that caused me to do a U-ie. When I got back, I discovered that I was at the geographic center of Chicago. What surprised me was that I was a few blocks south and west of where I am staying this summer. I thought I WAS already south and west of the center of Chicago. Now I find out that I have to go farther south and west to get there? That makes Chicago a whole lot bigger than I thought.
My mistake is reasonable. The zero, zero of Chicago is at the intersection of Madison and State Streets. Street addresses increase to the north and south of there in an orderly fashion. I am at 3337 South Morgan, which, not surprisingly is in the 3300 block. Every address directly east or west of here is also in the 3300s. Bruno’s Bakery is at 3341 South Lituanica, regardless of the fact that Lituanica Avenue is less than half a mile long. I also know that the address 2207 North Clybourn Avenue (home of Pequod’s Pizza, where we’ll be dining Friday) is about 22 blocks north of the loop. The same is true going east or west from State Street.
On my trip north Saturday, I got up to about the 5600 North blocks. In the past, I’ve ridden as far south as South 63rd Street, so I thought I’d seen a considerable portion of the city.
Finding the geographic center of Chicago on 37th Street means that instead of going about 60 blocks north and south of the center, I’ve really gone 93 blocks north and only 26 blocks south of the center. (Actually, since Chicago annexed the land for O’Hare in the 50’s, the center has moved about 18 blocks north and one or two west from there.)
So, the question is: do I attempt to correct the imbalance and head farther south? Nope. Not a chance. Why? My trip a few weeks ago to the Museum of Science and Industry convinced me that would not be a great idea. On that trip, I went directly south (on a bus) to 55th. I knew when I got off that I was not in a great place. It wasn’t horrible – 55th is actually Garfield Boulevard, and the boulevards are generally rather nice, one lane running in each direction separated by wide grassy islands with stately trees and often lined with very nice mansion-like houses. In some neighborhoods, the one I was in included, the scene is dramatically different only half a block away – urban blight is prevalent. I definitely felt out of place. I was on the very northern edge of Englewood, one of the most violent communities in Chicago. I’d be taking my life in my hands if I rode my bike there.
I know my mom reads this. Mom, if you’re nervous, check this out. Bridgeport and nearby McKinley Park (where I was riding Sunday) are among the safest areas in Chitown. I won’t be headed south. A side note: when I rode as far south as 63rd, I was considerably west of Englewood.
What brought a lot of this to the forefront was this article I read today. It is by the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, (self described as “a ministry whose purpose [is] to work for healing and reconciliation in the midst of the violence and alienation of our world”) which I knew was located on the Southside of Chicago. It is a relatively new blog, and caught my eye because all their postings have “Chicago” in the title. Six months ago, it would have stayed below the radar.
Today I looked up where they are: about 19 blocks directly south of where I’m sitting right now. I’ve been within a block of there twice and within four blocks many times. That’s about as far south as I’m going to go. The imbalance will just have to be, and what a gross imbalance it is.