Several mayoral candidates have called for more investment in low-income communities, particularly on Chicago’s South Side. One way to better understand the inequalities between North and South side neighborhoods is to meet someone from the other end of town.
That’s the goal of photographer Tonika Johnson’s “Folded Map” project. Johnson brings together people with twin addresses — someone living at 2800 North Halsted would meet someone at 2800 South Halsted. She recently earned a fellowship from the nonprofit Images and Voices of Hope to expand her project to the West and Northwest Sides.
Johnson stopped by the Morning Shift to talk more about her project, and what it can tell us about the inequalities the next mayor will have to address.
Why people want to meet their map twins
Tonika Johnson: I think that we’re just at a point in our city and history in general where we all have recognized we’re operating in these systems — these systems that were built on racist policies, and just even the layout of our city. And we’ve been operating within the system as residents, and now we’re ready as residents to take a step back and look at these systems that we’ve been operating in and figure out how we as individuals can work together to challenge — actually dismantling these systems. So for me it’s a distinction of residents finally accepting and looking at how they have been influenced in ways unbeknownst to them to live in certain places, to not actually visit certain places, certain neighborhoods. And when you’re caught up in the day-to-day of living you think about that. Especially when you live in a neighborhood that’s well-resourced and has amenities, you stay within your neighborhoods or neighborhoods that [are] similar to it. And that’s a problem when your city is not distributing resources to all neighborhoods throughout the city.
How can city officials help people meet each other?
Johnson: Our city as a whole does not create spaces for integration to occur. It happens with music festivals, but that’s just in the summertime, and that’s centralized in one location, and occasionally in other neighborhoods. But I think that “Folded Map” can be a great demonstration to our elected officials that our residents want to connect to each other. They want to, and there are specific barriers, and it is upon our elected officials to figure out ways to remove those barriers, because residents shouldn’t have to do all this work just to get to know another person from a different neighborhood. And so I really think that, just for elected officials, they can use “Folded Map” to really understand what people want — what they want invested in, so they can create community and space to meet each other. Which is obviously investment in neighborhoods that don’t have it — helping small businesses, entrepreneurs develop those unique businesses on the South and West Sides that the North Side has an abundance of.
Where will ‘Folded Map’ go next?
Johnson: I really am excited to expand the project to include [the West and Northwest Sides] because Chicago’s landscape is so different and so unique that the North and South Side comparisons don’t reflect the unique nature of segregation on the West Side of the city. And oftentimes people, when I tell them that, they’re like, “Oh, are you gonna do, like, east vs west?” No. The western side of the city is still a north-south divide. It is just sadly more condensed. And visible barriers are that much more apparent because you have Avondale, Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Garfield Park and even farther west you have Portage Park and Austin. Like, they’re no more than four miles apart. Whereas North and South, you could say, “Well, it’s just too far. It’s fifteen miles.” But you can’t really use that on the western side of the city. So I really want to have those residents examine that, and really talk to each other about what that means.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to hear the entire conversation.
GUEST: Tonika Johnson, photographer and Englewood activist
LEARN MORE: Photos from the Folded Map Project