We began this seminar with a discussion of a pair of visionary maps: Daniel Burnham’s Chicago and Haussmann’s Paris. One customarily uses a map to navigate, but both these maps displayed the idea of a city, what a city ought to look like. These were maps meant not only to display space, but to produce space and to produce ideas about space. We have engaged with other thinkers over the quarter who, like Burnham and Haussmann, perceive space as rational, isomorphic, and scientific, but we have also challenged that view with opposing metropolitan hermeneutics. Simmel and Poe studied the city under the presumptions of a rigid taxonomy, classifying individuals and districts along perceived lines of race, class, and wealth. Some of the more contemporary works we have discussed, such as David Buuck’s Site Site City and the BARGE project and Gwendolyn Brooks’ In the Mecca, offer counter narratives to those familiar stories, resituating the reader/spectator and offering perspectives ignored by the dominant metropolitan epistemology.
My atlas entry, Beyond Trendy, took as its prompt one dominant view of Chicago eerily redolent of Daniel Burnham’s maps: the 2003 Central Chicago Area Plan (CCAP). The plan, which outlines steps to “modernize” the city at the beginning of the 21st-century, encourages a singular and parochial way of seeing the city: as approximately seven square miles inside and surrounding the Loop. In the plan, there is little mention of the impact that urban renewal projects will have on the surrounding neighborhoods, and the plan describes a Chicago that is little more than an office space and playground for young, urban, corporate professionals. And so, inspired by David Buuck’s work in Site Site City, I wanted to produce a counter map, one that would at once deemphasize the Loop and tell the story elided by the CCAP.
I settled on Pilsen as the focus of my counter map. Pilsen is a neighborhood that, like the Mecca Flats from Gwendolyn Brooks’ poetry, is frequently spoken for and rarely speaks for itself. Dominant narratives of the neighborhood, produced and proliferated by travel brochures and online, often describe the neighborhood as “trendy” or “fashionable,” dog whistles for gentrifying, and what mention there is of the local culture is generally reduced to a description of the writer’s favorite taqueria. The aspiration of my counter map, then, was to demystify Pilsen: to restore its history and describe its current (and future) struggles.
As I was interested in not just Pilsen’s history, but perceptions of its history and how its history is legible today, I turned to significant events in the neighborhood’s history of resistance and immigration. Pulling news articles from archives at the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times, I located two representative cases of Pilsen’s resistance: the 1877 Battle of the Viaduct, dating back to when Pilsen was a neighborhood of European immigrants and laborers, and the erection of the Benito Juarez High School in 1977, the product of community organizing in the 60s and 70s. In my counter map, which is also a form of counter narrative, I tell the story of these two events, separated by a century of demographic transition and citywide development. Benito Juarez High School was built amidst a struggle against the 1973 Chicago 21 Plan, which shares striking similarities to more recent efforts at urban renewal outlined in the CCAP. I draw this connection and trace Pilsen’s struggle as a continuous strain running through its history, but one elided by much of the popular literature about the neighborhood.
My mapping project ended up taking the form of a story map, but also of a city plan like the CCAP. I think that re-centering the city on Pilsen in such a form, providing its history and demystifying its present, forces one to ask why the city is typically represented otherwise. Like Buuck’s work on Treasure Island, I hope for my map to point out power, to show how anodyne city planning is, in fact, an instrument of displacement. No map is free of perspective and purpose, and it is those in Pilsen, whether they are pushed out of their homes by exorbitant rent hikes or have to fight for basic neighborhood resources, who now deal with the ramifications of a Chicago policy that privileges the Loop.