50 Wards in 50 Weekdays: 3rd Ward's Oneava Barnes wants more trees and flowers in her ‘quiet’ but ‘bland’ neighborhood

June 28, 2012

(WBEZ/Sam Hudzik)
Oneava Barnes, in front of Hilliard Towers.

Oneava Barnes is much happier with her living situation that she was six years ago. Back then, she lived at the Harold Ickes housing project.


“It was never really a safe place. [I’ll] put it like that. You couldn’t come in like certain times of the night… without being – you know – people approaching you about this or that.”

“It made us stay more in the house,” Barnes says. “If you went somewhere, we had to come back home during the day. Night could not catch us outside, ‘cause we didn’t know what was going on at night.”

Barnes lived at Ickes for 18 years. But it was not safe for her or for her child.

So, when the Chicago Housing Authority shut Ickes down ahead of its demolition, Barnes was happy to move just up the street to the rehabbed Hilliard Towers Apartment. The South Loop complex, designed by Marina City architect Bertrand Goldberg, is one of the CHA’s mixed income sites, for seniors and families.


“This is better,” Barnes says. “It’s quiet, for one thing. Usually, in certain neighborhoods, it’s noisy, restless, it’s just too loud, and too this [and] that. But, you know, this one is quiet.”

“Sometimes the kids get kind of rowdy, but that can be resolved…when you talk to the parents,” she says.  “I have no problem with nobody. My child, she’s happy and she can go to school, come home without any problems.”

Barnes has no job outside the home. She takes care of her daughter, who has a disability.

“That’s my job to take care of her. And make sure that she’s safe, her well-being, that she’s okay,” Barnes says. “She is a full-time job.”

A single complaint from Barnes about her neighborhood: there’s no community park particularly close by.


“Something to make the neighborhood at least a little more cheerful,” she says. “It’s bland, looking like that. Need something cheerful.”

“You know, you like to see at least trees, greenery, things of this sort. I mean, this is what I like to see. ‘Cause if you don’t see no trees or greenery, you say, ‘Well, where am I living?’”

Barnes isn’t blaming anyone for that, and in general she seems to be giving the rookie mayor, Rahm Emanuel, the benefit of the doubt.

“As far as I can tell, he does what he has to do to get the job done,” she says.

Still, she worries about one part of Emanuel’s agenda, the longer school day.


“I mean, I can understand he wants kids to be in school longer to learn more,” Barnes says. “I’d be very careful with that. Because, see, the time that these kids would be coming home would be late, when the winter gets cold it gets dark early.”

It’s an issue of safety. And when Barnes talks about the dangers of the nighttime, you just know she’s thinking back to her days at Ickes.

“Anything can happen. You never know. Waiting there for a bus to come home, you never know. Your child may not make it home.”