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50 Wards in 50 Weekdays: 7th Ward’s Joana Valdovinos sees potential in her South Chicago neighborhood

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50 Wards in 50 Weekdays: 7th Ward’s Joana Valdovinos sees potential in her South Chicago neighborhood

Joana Valdovinos waits for the train in the South Chicago neighborhood.

WBEZ/Sam Hudzik

Joana Valdovinos is standing on the Metra platform in the city’s South Chicago neighborhood.

“I’m actually going to register for class right now…at Harold Washington [College],” she tells me. “It’s my last semester there.”

Valdovinos, 20, plans to go to University of Illinois at Chicago to get her bachelor’s in business. She’s lived all her life here, in a house off of Russell Park.

“When I was 12 years old, there was more kids on the block, more families, and we would all be outside playing volleyball, basketball, softball. And it was really enjoyable. And it felt like it was okay,” she says. “There was gang-bangers, but not to the point where they were shooting at each other back-and-forth.”

But now, they are shooting at each other, she says. And at others.

“I believe it was maybe a month or two ago, there was a 12-year-old kid who attended [William K. New] Sullivan [Elementary] who got shot in the head randomly,” Valdovinos says. “It was in these streets, by two random people.”

Violence is, as you’d expect, something she wants Mayor Rahm Emanuel to do more to prevent. Just yesterday, around 5 p.m., she says, shots rang out in the park.

“I was in my porch, back-and-forth in my house, watching my little brother playing baseball outside. So, it’s kind of scary hearing gunshots. You think it’s firecrackers because there’s so many, but they’re actually gunshots.”

“It happens periodically and [it’s] something that I dislike about the neighborhood.”

Then I ask a silly question. Why do you stay?

“My grandparents lived in the house next door. They own the house that we live in now….they moved to Indiana, but we stay because my mother…works at O’Hare [Airport], so it’s much easier for her just to catch Lake Shore Drive to work.”

“[We stay] because we have the house and we feel that it’s – besides the gang-bangers…it’s a neighborhood with potential. “

Her neighborhood, Valdovinos says, can be better if it gets cleaned up.

“For example, the new community that they’re trying to build,” she says, referencing Chicago Lakeside, on the site of the old U.S. Steel Southworks plant. “I’ve seen a video on YouTube, shows what it wants to become and if that happens, I think it’ll boost our neighborhood up and decrease the violence.”

Chicago Lakeside, should it carry forward, will take 25 years or more to finish, according to the developer. But Valdovinos has already caught a quick glimpse of a revitalized neighborhood.

“Last year, when the Dave Matthews Band was down here [for a music festival on the U.S. Steel site], it seemed like our neighborhood was a perfect neighborhood,” she says. “The police came around, there was no bumps...on Commercial [Avenue], no type of gang-bangers or anything like that. So it made our neighborhood look desirable and pleasant. “

“But once they left, it went back to normal, which I found interesting.”

The perfect neighborhood. Who doesn’t want that? But Valdovinos isn’t going to wait around for the development to finish, or for a music festival to permanently set up shop nearby. Once she’s a successful businesswoman, I ask her, will she live in South Chicago?

“No, definitely not,” she answers. “I don’t know [where I’ll live]. But just not here.”

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