At that time, there were two Germanies. China was closed to the outside world. Personal computers did not exist.
Is this pledge, and the anxieties to which it responds, out of date?
I have a feeling it might be. But there's no question that the issue is complicated.
After all, there is expansion through the urban renewal methods of razing and displacing, which did happen in Hyde Park, and didn't happen in Woodlawn; and there are other methods of expansion, through erecting buildings on vacant lots that would otherwise remain magnets for crime, and bringing jobs to a community that will help pay for rents and mortgages.
The University can without a doubt play a role in the latter strategy. It certainly requires sensitivity and open communication with neighbors on the part of the University, but it also requires and openness to change south of 61st Street, with change understood to mean that not all of the people in Woodlawn will always be poor, and that the neighborhood might one day approach the balance of household incomes it has known historically.
Take another look at the above picture of a longtime Woodlawn resident taken near her home. The University, in the end, never did expand south of 61st Street. In fact, it didn't do a thing in Woodlawn during the heyday of urban renewal, when it kept itself busy instead bulldozing solid chunks of Hyde Park.
Hyde Park, comparatively speaking, is now flourishing. Woodlawn has vacant lots the size of city blocks like the one above, not far from where Amadou Cisse was murdered.
The picture is taken from Monday's column by Chicago Tribune writer Dawn Turner Trice, who did the service of pointing out that Amadou Cisse was not the only one murdered recently nearby the University; in fact, two women have been found strangled and burned beyond recognition in garbage cans in or near Washington Park.
Trice spoke with two longtime Woodlawn natives who think the Washington Park homicides would have gotten a lot more media time if they had involved University students. They are probably right. The fact that the Cisse murder got such immediate and sustained attention from the media and from police, Trice argues, is part of why there are powerful racial and class tensions between the University and neighboring Woodlawn to the south.
That's certainly true. But things get a little less clear when the column takes a further turn, and as with so many issues in this part of town, brings it back to real estate. In particular, to the Big Bang of urban renewal, to which so many things around here can be traced back.
Like the idea that, instead of helping to get rid of those vacant lots, provide jobs, and partner with local organizations and developers to build market-rate and affordable housing, the University should be kept out. It all sounds very familiar to anyone who pays attention to Hyde Park politics, because in so many ways the terms of the debate were cast at this historical moment for both neighborhoods.
Trice quotes longtime resident Helen Latimore:
"People still see the University as harboring dreams of taking over our property." Latimore said. "Of waiting until Woodlawn is in such disrepair that all they have to do is swoop down and take it over."
It didn't help that a few years ago, the University hired a planning consultant that recommended the University expand south of 61st Street, which it has long said it wouldn't do. University officials quickly nixed the idea. But not before it reignited the suspicions and the mistrust among some Woodlawn residents.
Woodlawn residents, organized into the vibrant community and civil rights activist organization TWO, helped block University-led urban renewal plans in Woodlawn, and eventually elicited a sort of "61st Street Pledge" from the University in 1964.
But then, in the 1970s, long after most whites had left, most of the black middle class left, too. A neighborhood numbering 81,279 people in 1960, Woodlawn declined to 27,086 in 2000, a loss of 54,193. That kind of loss is not unlike that resulting from the incendiary carpet bombing of a large urban area. It constitutes the death of a neighborhood, if not a large part of a city. The number of vacant lots in Woodlawn and other similar neighborhoods attests to this massive depletion of human capital out of the neighborhood.
But without bringing human capital back in, and allowing investment from outside, things are never going to change.
So does this ban on University development south of 61st Street make any sense today, in the 21st century? Woodlawn may be able to fend for itself, with some of the indirect kind of help and support from the U of C described in a 2006 Chicago Magazine article. And, over the last decade or so, the market has finally started to notice Woodlawn; as the Chicago Reporter notes, "Between 2000 and 2004, the number of single- family attached units sold in Woodlawn tripled."
But this movement represents only a slow nudge towards what Woodlawn used to be. It's been hearly 50 years since things began to slide downhill for Woodlawn, and it may be another 50 before it returns to anything like what it was before it became pocked with vacant lots.
Considering that the University never did tear anything down south of 61st Street, maybe it's time to revisit this old treaty that keeps it behind an asphalt curtain.