To say that the University has long had a difficult relationship with Woodlawn would be an understatement. The restrictive covenants immortalized in A Raisin in the Sun and the University’s pledge not to develop south of 61st Street are just two telling examples. In recent years, however, the administration has made a genuine effort to reach out. Last month, for instance, the University offered to relocate the 143-plot community garden on East 61st Street and South Dorchester Avenue, which will be displaced by the construction of the new Chicago Theological Seminary building. This offer is indicative of the U of C’s continued commitment to community relations.
Some don’t see it that way. Garden coordinator and community activist Jack Spicer expressed his objection to the relocation in the Hyde Park Herald, saying of the garden, “It’s more than just dirt and tomatoes.” Editorializing on The Huffington Post Chicago, writer and activist Jamie Kalven claims that the relocation amounts to the University ignoring its community. “The question,” Kalven wrote, “is whether the social and civic values woven into the site, qualities that have grown ever richer and more intricate over the years, can simply be scooped up and relocated.” Well, in this case, yes, they can. The garden will find a new home, the gardeners will move with it, and everything will be more or less the same as before.
It’s worth noting that the garden’s existence at its current location has always depended on the University’s generosity. This is not a case of the U of C uprooting private property; rather, it’s a necessary relocation of something on University-owned land that has always been considered temporary. The administration has even offered to cover the cost of relocating the topsoil from the garden to a new site.
Moving forward, however, administrators must go further than simply finding a new site for the garden—a permanent location needs to be established. One of Woodlawn’s greatest challenges is that it has too many open lots with no development in sight. The University should make a serious effort to arrange an alternate site as soon as possible so that the garden can carry on in 2010 with minimal interruption.
With the new dorm set to open in the next academic year, the University’s relationship with Woodlawn will enter a new stage. As it develops south campus—and perhaps extends its reach beyond 61st Street—the U of C’s interests and Woodlawn’s will inevitably diverge. Commercial development south of the Midway is something of a necessity, but not inevitable. A chilly relationship with the community could complicate even the best-laid plans. It is important, therefore, for the University to continue to interact with Woodlawn in an honest and generous fashion.
The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Viewpoints Editors, and two additional Editorial Board members.