Thing with feathers

I live now just blocks from the shore of Lake Michigan, the eastern edge of Chicago’s expansive south side — near the site of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, which gave lasting imprint to urban space in this part of town, and the University of Chicago, founded about the same time, which dominates it today. (Dominating the neighborhood in another sense today, more to do with identity * and its conflicts than with space, is association with the 44th president, who with his family still calls it home.) I don’t get out of the apartment nearly as much as I’d like, and only rarely over to the water. My girlfriend, on the other hand, does get over there with some frequency. Yesterday, New Year, I went with her for a late-afternoon stroll.

We went right over to the water, beyond the Lakefront Trail, and walked along and on top of the storm break a bit, headed north, the downtown skyline ahead of us in the distance. All of this, a strip of turf and shore between highway (U.S. 41, Lake Shore Dr.) and lake is parkland, partly the legacy of Gilded Age philanthropy and urban-reformer ‘public spirit’ — the south-side section of it, here, named after Daniel Burnham, principal architect and planner of the aforementioned 1893 arts-&-industry extravaganza. We’ve walked the other direction in past, always, so we saw a few things we weren’t expecting on this occasion. One of the things we saw was evidence of the land’s susceptibility to alteration by the lake, whose changes in level are recurring story across decades and especially (though I hadn’t been aware of it until yesterday) now, moving from 2019 to 2020. As we walked back, we realized that the Lakefront Trail is closed (following undermining and pavement collapse a month ago), in fact — fact we’d missed by walking at first at water’s edge, and fact ignored, in any case, by runners and others out enjoying the warmer-than-freezing day with us.

I don’t have pictures of damaged storm break &c. (Since I’d never walked there before, I didn’t appreciate until later the newsworthiness of what we were seeing.) I did, however, take a few photos of wonderful, whimsical artwork covering the outer walls of a little public restroom, weatherbeaten and decrepitude-ward-creeping, on the path. The paintings’ play with meanings — cultural and natural histories, &c. — of surrounding park-scape and of building itself I thought great fun, in part because it all takes a minute or two to register after the colors and faces and so on catch your eye. Who conceived and executed them is entirely a mystery to me at the moment; online search, so far, only turns up a Reddit thread about a nearby shipwreck mentioning the restroom structure as landmark. Maybe I’ll go back before long and hunt around for some sign of signature. (Anyone reading who has more of a clue than I is encouraged to comment.) Pics could use a little sprucing up, undoubtedly, but I’m presenting them as the phone recorded them.

* Not to be read as ‘identity politics.’

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UPDATE : Haven’t gotten back over to the lake since posting, but this photojournalist’s tweet about further weekend deterioration of the trail where we’d walked that day was passed on to me by my sharp-eyed girlfriend this afternoon:


2 thoughts on “Thing with feathers”

  1. Thinking about this. I was still in the Baltimore area when a project that worked from that premise in a pretty straightforward way, you could say, was getting started. A part of town I knew pretty well (though never lived in). I don’t have the bandwidth to dig into it now, but really would like to understand better how the project was received as it was picking up steam, then, and how it’s fared in the city as proposition about neighborhood-scale attention/infusion, since.

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