A trip on the Metra Rock Island reveals vast emptiness on the South Side

March 29, 2011

Travel through some parts of the South Side these days. The emptiness is startling.

The void is particularly noticeable along the Metra Rock Island line. I take this line daily between downtown and my house. The ride begins at LaSalle Street station at Congress at LaSalle, where tall buildings peer down on the train platform and ends 20 minutes later in the Beverly neighborhood. In between--largely between Gresham station at 87th and the Illinois Institute of Technology campus at 35th--there is a breathtaking void. 

And not just vacant lots. That's so 1980s. These days, there are entire sections of neighborhoods, ripped up, grassed-over and gone. The now-demolished Robert Taylor and Stateway Gardens housing projects occupied two miles of this space and new housing has been slow to reemerge there. The 2010 demolition of Kennedy King College at 69th and Wentworth left a crater in the city grid (see the photo above) two-and-half blocks wide and three blocks deep. In other areas along the ride, bits and pieces of neighborhoods just ebbed away...

 

The much-discussed 2010 U.S. Census disclosed the city lost 200,000 people over the past decade. That's like the entire population of Little Rock AR, or Des Moines IA just packing up and leaving. The view from the ground not only shows what some of that loss looks like; it underscores the need for something to be done about it as well.