I know for some of you who read this column, turning 21 occurred ages ago. But I’m asking you to put yourself in the position of a young person who is currently turning 21. Now that they can go to bars and have a drink legally, what clubs are available to them in the neighborhood? Sadly, there are few to none!
I have always professed that if there are no places for our young people to go to have a social drink, it’s not going to stop them from drinking or socializing. They’ll just do it on the street corners, or at other gatherings. And truthfully, that is currently what is happening. With no place for these young people to go, they’re inventing their own spots. And included in those spots, are the current “drifting car show” get-togethers on public streets, expressways and private property where young people show off their “questionable” driving skills to others.
Years back, I suggested that the old Brach candy site at Cicero and Race would be the perfect spot to hold the new Chicago casino. Metra and the Green Line both stop there. There are also railroad tracks that tie into Midway Airport and can also be updated to go straight out to O’Hare Airport.
The block site is big enough not only for a casino, parking lot, and hotel, but it can also be a Black entertainment district that could offer concerts, roller-skating and shopping. What I don’t understand is why our local politicians aren’t fighting hard to get that kind of economic development going in an area that hasn’t seen any in over 50 years?
If we continue to allow the Black West Side to host nothing, the inevitable will happen. We are already being gentrified out of East Garfield Park. I know folks have an eye on West Garfield Park, and Austin is the last stop before Black folks are out the city.
Now that may be the game plan, but we need to make sure we do our best to not make it an easy-to-occur plan. And we need something that is going to be a stabilizing force and magnet for this community.
I think the casino would be a great addition. Not every Black person on the West Side has a record. But there are venues that can be part of the casino area that folks with records could possibly work. Also, the events it can host and the land utilized can be an economic engine that could be our salvation. Just building it would create hundreds of jobs.
Even after COVID and the shutdown of the entire world, business is not trying to move factories back to the United States. Record gas prices should be something that puts businesses on notice that shipping things from the Asia to America is costly. Plus the slowdowns at the ports of entry had ships waiting for weeks to be offloaded.
If nothing else, we do have land and we do have potential. Let’s hope some of our politicians utilize that idea and get something of substance going for us. Otherwise, we are doomed. And if you are going to be doomed, remember that on Election Day. With the record number of aldermen trying to run for other positions, voters should be wary of putting back into office people who have shown they really don’t want to be there.
Arlene Jones is a resident of Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. She writes a weekly column for the Austin Weekly News, a Growing Community Media publication.