Change and challenge in Auburn Gresham

December 8, 2011

Bill Healy

There are signs of distress in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood on Chicago’s Southwest Side: boarded-up corner shops, beauty salons, and foreclosed homes. But so too are there signs of hope: restaurants whose customers spill onto the sidewalks on Sunday afternoons, teenagers scouring the library for the right book, and a football team practicing in the park at sunset.

But like lots of places, Auburn Gresham is often lost in a blur of the South Side.

When was the last time you heard about Washington Heights? Morgan Park? And in what context?

I am guilty of lumping neighborhoods together in my mind, too.

I grew up in Orland Park, a suburb southwest of the city, and my grandparents live in North Beverly and Evergreen Park. For as long as I can remember, Auburn Gresham to me was little more than a series of traffic lights on my way down 87th Street to the Dan Ryan.

But the South Side is a patchwork of distinct neighborhoods, filled with the kinds of characters and day-to-day stories that don’t always make headlines.

Auburn Gresham is one of those neighborhoods that is sometimes overlooked. Today we begin a series from Auburn Gresham, told through the stories of people who live, work, and play there.

The preview video here begins on the corner of 79th and Ashland, with students in an after-school program looking out onto a busy intersection.

Through this video – and personal stories you’ll hear and see next week – I’ve tried to bring you into Auburn Gresham to see what it looks like, to hear what it sounds like, and to begin to get an appreciation for life there.

I believe what the late Chicago journalist Grant Pick said about his work is also true in a broader sense - “the people are the news.”

Auburn Gresham comes alive here through the stories of five people: a high school student, a fitness club owner, a House music legend, a 20-something journalist, and an elderly disabled artist.

This video is narrated by Alden Loury, former editor of the Chicago Reporter, who grew up and still resides in the neighborhood.

Welcome to Auburn Gresham, Chicago.

Those stories will air on WBEZ next week and will appear here on the blog with more photos.