October 16, 2007

Activists lead Woodlawn tour

Community activist Ebonee Stevenson views the Midway as an “invisible boundary,” separating the residential and commercial neighborhood of Hyde Park from Woodlawn, the community south of 61st Street. This separation inspires Stevenson, a third year at DePaul University, to give an annual tour of the Woodlawn community to University of Chicago students who may be unfamiliar with the area.

On Saturday, Stevenson led the Woodlawn tour group on foot through the northern end of Woodlawn while describing recent activism efforts in the community.

Stevenson, who works for STOP, an activism group that collaborates with South Side organizations like the RSO Southside Solidarity Network to raise awareness for community issues, said that the goal of the Woodlawn tour is “to orient new people about the neighborhood.”

“We believe the more educated you are, the more likely you will be involved in your community while you’re here, rather than stay on the north side of the dividing line,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson presented an overview of the history of Woodlawn, which extends south to 69th Street toward Stony Island Avenue and all the way to 71st Street on South Shore Avenue. Daniela Petuchowski, a fourth-year in the College, also helped guide the tour.

According to Petuchowski, Woodlawn has the lowest average household income of all Chicago neighborhoods, making relations particularly tense between residents and developers, whom she says have over-saturated the condominium market and driven residents who cannot afford to pay higher condo prices out of the neighborhood.

“Everyone has their plan for what they want Woodlawn to be,” Stevenson said as she led the tour past several vacant lots owned by the city and a once-vacant hospital that now displays a large “Condos for Sale” banner. “The residents have their plan, too, but they are the ones with the least input.”

Other tour stops included the Harris Park District, a city-funded recreational center where Woodlawn residents can swim, play basketball, and take classes, and the popular soul-food restaurant Daly’s.

Kerry Schnell, a fourth-year in the College, said she appreciated the varying perspectives on Woodlawn that the tour provided. “I knew there have been issues with gentrification, but it’s always good to hear a different opinion.”

“I’ve worked [in Woodlawn] with the Neighborhood Schools Program, so I’ve seen the area,” Schnell added. “But it’s always been through a van or on a bike, not on foot like this.”