Painting a brighter future for Chicago’s blighted neighborhoods

Painting a brighter future for Chicago’s blighted neighborhoods

The Chicago Cultural Center was a hive of activity as designers and architects set up for the first-ever Chicago Architecture Biennial.

Amanda Williams exhibit features a series of photos, showing the abandoned houses she’s painted in eye-catching colors - monochrome purples, blues, and yellows. She hopes the houses can revitalize a community fatigued by poverty and racism.

“On a very simplistic level, I think it achieves that ability to really do more than lip service to this idea that architecture is not just skyscrapers or what I call architecture with a capital-A,” Williams explained. “It is questions of space, and race, and density--and all these things that we talk about in abstraction but are very real. And that people in these areas are experts in and don’t realize it.”

Williams is something of an expert herself. She grew up on the South Side, in Auburn Gresham - where her parents still live.

Away from the excited, is a very different scene at 56th and LaSalle, in Washington Park. It’s full of empty lots - and one eye-catching feature.

“Everybody always wants to know why that house is pink,” Glenda Bush said.

She’s lived in the neighborhood for eight years.

“I don’t like it at all. Gangs and drug dealers. Killings. Racing up and down the street. There’s nothing good over here but a few people,” Bush said

On this block, more than half the lots are empty.

Bush talks about the block in terms of what’s gone, rather than what remains.

“I think this house that was on the corner came down, if I’m not mistaken, last year. That one burned,” she said.

Each of these homes was abandoned, fell into disrepair and was demolished. So Williams’ paint jobs are quite the change.

And Bush thinks, Williams’ plan is working.

“We need to address tearing down abandoned houses, and if people make a statement with paint, just maybe, that’ll happen. I don’t know,” Bush said.

Not everybody likes it - Williams said some neighbors have complained that the houses are an eyesore and draw too much attention.

But, she added, that’s good: at least they’re talking.