City Bureau’s Spring 2017 West Side reporting team used the former site of the Northwest Incinerator, at Chicago and Kilbourn in the Northwest Industrial corridor, to focus an exploration of issues facing Chicago’s West Side at large. Over ten weeks we researched the history of the incinerator, which was operational from 1971 to 1996, and interviewed West Side residents, community organizers, and environmental activists to get a street-level sense of the role of manufacturing and industrial districts in the area: do they provide jobs? What’s their environmental impact?
Our work culminated in “Reimagining the Industrial West Side,” a community event held June 8 at Inspiration Kitchens, as part of City Bureau’s Public Newsroom series. Nearly 40 people attended — including neighborhood residents, representatives from local community development groups, journalists, an urban planner, an artist, and others. After presenting a brief overview of our project, and screening a video that paired audio recordings from our interviews with video shot from a drone launched near the incinerator site, we led the group in a mapping exercise that asked them to first answer four prompts: What’s in your neighborhood? What’s missing? What would you like to see? What would you like to see disappear?
Then, using the answers as a guide, we asked participants to map possible new uses for industrial space on the West Side. Where could commercial zones go? What about housing? Or greenspace? Where should the existing industry stay? And what specific assets might benefit the community -- a new school, a hospital, a recycling center? As we noted before beginning, we’re not developers and we’re not with the city; we have no power to actualize any of these ideas. Rather, we were looking to get a sense of what’s important to the people who live in Austin, Humboldt Park, and Garfield Park. We wanted to find out what residents are curious about, and what stories need to be told. Based on the lively conversation at all five tables, we have a lot of leads to follow and a lot of work to do down the road.
–Martha Bayne, Spring 2017 Lead Reporter