Chicago News Cooperative visits West Garfield Park, thinks it’s in Austin

Whenever you read about a West Side or South Side neighborhood in Chicago’s mainstream media you need to double-check the reference. Reporters visit these areas infrequently, and are often clueless as to their whereabouts.

About a month ago, for example, the Chicago News Cooperative (the New York Times’ local affiliate) ran a story based on the fact that 20% of Chicago’s vacant buildings can be found in only three neighborhoods: Englewood, West Englewood and Austin. CNC reporters headed for Austin and reported on a stretch of Wilcox Ave – in West Garfield Park.

Shortly after the story ran I went to West Garfield Park, which is just east of Austin. Homes along Wilcox Ave that sold in the $200s a few years back have resold recently in the $10K-$40K range. A 25 x 125 lot at 4023 W Wilcox, touted in the listing as “ready for your new construction” sold in September for $250, down from $229K in July of 2005 when it presumably had a building on it.

Here’s some of what I saw, scenes similar to those that CNC reported.

The 4300 block of Wilcox is home to some once-beautiful classic greystones, but is now punctuated by vacant, abandoned buildings.

Block clubs, once a powerful stabilizing force in the neighborhood, have been completely overwhelmed.

Signs of absent city services are pervasive.

The area’s blight is evident along major thoroughfares, including Pulaski, where there’s a strong police presence.

It was an in-service training day for Chicago teachers when I visited, so school was not in session.

Somehow I don’t think the shoes hanging outside the church at Adams and Keeler, just down the block from Goldblatt Elementary School, have the same meaning that they do in The Echoaires’ high-energy version of an old spiritual.

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