ChicagoNorth Side

Do murals denote a depressed community?

by Joe Zekas on 7/14/11

I have a bias about murals: I associate their creation with communities that have declined and are likely to remain in a state of decline. I see them as a classic “lipstick on a pig” move, and can’t think of a single Chicago neighborhood that’s spawned murals after it’s become healthy and stable.

Because of that bias I was surprised to see the announcement from 1st Ward Ald. Proco Joe Moreno‘s office that he and the Wicker Park Bucktown Arts Committee are working on an “Orange Walls Mural” project to bring artist-painted al fresco murals to large blank walls.

Is the murals project a portent of Wicker Park / Bucktown decline, a handout for underemployed hipster artists or something else?

Mural in Bronzeville, Chicago

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

IrishPirate July 14, 2011 at 11:37 PM

The end is nigh!

Abandon All Hope ye who cross Milwaukee Avenue.

Or not.

The aldercritter of the first ward is named Moreno and is of hispanic descent. According to the latest census data the ward is now majority white.

http://media.apps.chicagotribune.com/ward-redistricting/index.html#41.91883864157948,-87.69404566674802,13,1

He’s likely trying to play to his hipster constituency, which I suspect is fewer in number than many people think, and his rapidly declining hispanic base. The hipsters have largely moved out of Wicker Park for Humboldt Park and Pilsen only to be replaced by the baby stroller crowd.

If he wants to remain in office he will likely try to shift his ward boundaries west to encompass a larger hispanic presence. Although, in fairness if he can maintain his popularity among the majority of whites in his ward he’ll likely get reelected again.

It’s interesting in the wards today. We have white aldermen representing overwhelmingly hispanic wards, a hispanic representing a majority white ward, an Asian Indian representing the overwhelmingly white 47th, and a black alderman, Burnett, representing a ward with no majority population.

I looked at the data a bit today and the redistricting process is going to be fun to watch. I just hope it isn’t too expensive for the taxpayers with lawsuits and Luis Guitterez hogging the limelight and acting like the “little rooster” that some of his constituents have nicknamed him.

Generally speaking the northside lakefront wards and the immediately adjacent wards to the west have gained white population and lost hispanic and black population. The NW and SW side wards are seeing an increase in hispanic population. The south and west sides have seen a huge drop in black population.

Every single ward with a black alderman, with one exception in the 18th, is well under the 53,900 people needed for a newly redistricted ward. Even in the 18th the black population decreased a bit as the hispanic population went up.

It may turn out to be a litigious nightmare for the taxpayers, but a whole lot of fun to watch for political junkies.

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Oeht July 15, 2011 at 12:41 PM

Joe – What about the Bloomingdale Mural project? Whether you call the neighborhood West Bucktown or Humboldt Park, the blocks surrounding the mural project are dotted with signs of a healthy community. A neighborhood garden club, home renovation and newly-constructed housing. Public art certainly doesn’t equal neighborhood decline.

Though, I’m pleased you admitted your bias on the issue from the outset.

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Joe Zekas July 15, 2011 at 1:01 PM

Oeht,

The Bloomingdale murals were done, I believe, before the community achieved its current state. If I recall correctly the West Bucktown Neighborhood Association was an all-white group at the time that seemed to have none of the longer-term residents of the community as members and seemed determined to pretend they didn’t exist.

My surprise about this particular mural project comes from the fact that it’s taking place in a relatively healthy community, unlike the more common pattern.

There’s a great mural by Chicago artist Richard Haas in Georgetown, one of the most affluent communities in the US. That one was privately commissioned, as is most of the public art that one sees in upscale communities. You can see Haas trompe l-oeil murals at 1211 N LaSalle and other venues in Chicago, again privately commissioned.

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