Monday, September 28, 2009

The Uniqueness of Hyde Park

by Intern Ted Gault

Barack Obama's election as the 44th President of the United States will forever be the pride of Chicago, but Obama's fame has also brought great attention to Hyde Park, the Chicago neighborhood where the President has spent most of his adult life. Surrounded by some of the poorest and most dangerous areas in Chicago, Hyde Park is a culturally, economically, and racially diverse enclave in the South Side with much more to offer a visitor than Obama haunts.

Before Obama's arrival in the neighborhood in 1984, Hyde Park had already hosted the monumental World Columbian Exposition of 1893, the first self-sustaining nuclear reaction in 1942, and the architectural prowess of architects such as Daniel Burnam, Henry Ives Cobb (designer of the University of Chicago's stunning Inner Quadrangle) and Frank Lloyd Wright. Hyde Park's municipal, and even national, uniqueness doesn't end with historical footnotes; today it is one of the most successfully integrated neighborhoods in the United States.

In the late 1950s, Hyde Park was transformed by a decade of deliberate urban renewal that displaced forty percent of its population. Like many community areas at the time, Hyde Park was facing economic and infrastructural decline, increased crime rates, and general "white flight". Residents of Hyde Park partnered with the University of Chicago to turn Hyde Park into a semi-suburban bastion on the South Side. The aim was to welcome people of all races and religions, as long as they weren't, to put it bluntly, poor. The result of the controversial process was a community that one reporter called "the most racially integrated neighborhood in the nation's most segregated city". With significant populations of whites, blacks and Asians, as well as Christians, Muslims and Jews, Hyde Park has a rich diversity that few other neighborhoods can claim.

Barack Obama won the 2008 election largely by his promise to change politics to better represent the diverse multicultural and racial interests inherent in the United States. Considering Hyde Park's unique traits, it is now obvious why Obama chose to start his political life there. Hyde Park is one of those rare places where one can find people from all walks of life eating in one place; blacks and whites, blue collar and white collar, Christians and Muslims, young and old (See it for yourself at Valois on 53rd). A flagship for his message of racial and religious harmony, Hyde Park was Obama's neighborhood before he even set foot in Chicago.

Ted's summer project was to create a Hyde Park tour, which he gave every Friday during the summer. In the process, he learned a lot about the neighborhood. If you'd like to learn more about one of the most interesting neighborhoods in Chicago, take Ted's tour! Meet at the hostel at 10am on Fridays (be sure to check the events calendar to ensure that the tour is going on).

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