On a bright, late-winter Friday that gave off hints of spring (in between cold gusts of wind off nearby Lake Michigan), the Chicago Program’s Hyde Park group showed off their neighborhood to their classmates.
The day-long tour, organized and presented by the students as part of the program’s Core Course, focused on Hyde Park’s “assets” – the organizations and clubs, institutions, parks, schools and churches, businesses and enterprises, residents, and resources that make up the fabric of the community.
On 53rd Street, where a Chicago Program student talks about the Hyde Park Bank.
“Neighborhood exploration is a thread that’s woven throughout the program, building the students’ understanding of the city from the ground up,” said Program Director Robyne Hart, who co-teaches the Core Course with Program Faculty Dorothy Burge.
Every student on the program is responsible for identifying and researching at least three community-based assets, which includes conducting an in-depth interview with someone closely involved with each asset. They upload their asset profiles to a collective Google map, creating a broader overview of their neighborhood.
The neighborhood group works together to fashion their individual contributions into the tour: setting up a site visit, selecting the asset each student will present during the walking tour, and planning a route that takes their guests through different parts of the neighborhood. In all, the aim of the tour is to tell the story of what the group has discovered about their community.
Read more about the Chicago Program and its asset-based framework:
by Robyne Hart & Dorothy Burge
This spring, Chicago Program students are living in apartments clustered in three of the city’s distinctive neighborhoods. The semester participants are split between Hyde Park, on the city’s South Side, and another diverse, lakefront neighborhood – Uptown on the North Side. A group of students who just arrived in Chicago for the program’s spring quarter/trimester are living southwest of downtown in the Pilsen neighborhood. Both the Uptown and Pilsen groups host neighborhood tours, as well.
The Hyde Park tour began at one of the student apartments for an overview of the neighborhood – its history, changing demographics over time, politics, housing, and business community. The Uptown group jumped in with questions and offered comparisons with their neighborhood.
Arriving at the Midway Plaisance, near the spot where the world’s first Ferris Wheel stood, a premier attraction at the World’s Columbian Exposition.
Discussion ranged from everyday concerns, like the reliability of bus service and where to shop for groceries, to larger issues particular to Hyde Park, such as frictions in the relationship between the University of Chicago –which, by its sheer size and reach, dominates the neighborhood – and residents of communities surrounding the campus.
Then it was out on the streets to catch the #55 bus to visit the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, a long-time resource for families providing a wide range of programming – from gym time to cooking and arts to homework help – for youth of all ages.
After a lunch break, the tour reconvened at the Midway Plaisance for a look back at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, an event that brought international attention and millions of people to Hyde Park.
From there, the tour zigzagged across the neighborhood and back. Each student in the Hyde Park group took a turn presenting an asset they had profiled, talking about its history and contributions to the community, and relating what they learned from their interviews.
From churches and community organizations that have helped sustain Hyde Park’s tradition of social activism to educational and research institutions to businesses, both old and new, the tour painted a picture of Hyde Park from a variety of perspectives.
Putting together an effective neighborhood tour is not an easy assignment, both Hart and Burge noted, especially considering that the students have only been in the city and their neighborhoods for a few weeks.
2:16 pm: Corner of Woodlawn Avenue and 57th Street.
“This is a process of peeling back the layers,” said Hart. “They are learning about the history and what brought the neighborhood to where it’s at now, and then trying to gain an understanding of the issues and dynamics and forces that are shaping its future. This is so much more than just reading about the neighborhood or walking around and looking at things, because it gives a much broader context for understanding what they’re seeing.”
“As a result of the tour, some of the students told me they want to sign up to volunteer at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club or they want to go back to one of the sites and talk to more people there,” said Burge. “They’re going to the next level, by becoming more involved and learning more about their community. That’s what we always encourage our students to do.”
Sites on the Hyde Park tour
- Blackstone Public Library – Housed in a landmark 1904 Classical Revival style building; the first branch library built specifically for the purpose.
- Experimental Station – An independent, not-for-profit incubator supporting cultural projects and small-scale enterprises.
- Frederick C. Robie House – Now a museum, the house was designed as a private residence by Frank Lloyd Wright and completed in 1910.
- Hyde Park Bank – An 85-year-old institution in an architecturally-significant building.
Hyde Park Herald
- Hyde Park Herald – Chicago’s oldest community newspaper, covering the Hyde Park, Kenwood, and Oakland neighborhoods.
- Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference – Civic organization active in Hyde Park and neighboring Kenwood; established in 1949.
- Hyde Park Neighborhood Club – Offers programming for children during out-of-school time.
- Hyde Park Union Church – Organized in 1874 and in its current building since 1906, the church has a long tradition of commitment to social justice.
- International House – A residential and program center on the University of Chicago campus for international students and scholars.
On the University of Chicago campus during a talk about the Oriental Institute Museum.
McCormick Theological Seminary – Presbyterian Church (USA) seminary known for its ecumenical commitment.
- Midway Plaisance – City park with gardens, playing fields, and an ice rink.
- Oriental Institute Museum – World-renowned museum at the University of Chicago for the history, art, and archaeology of the ancient Near East.
- Star Status Barber Shop – A newly-established small business in the neighborhood.
- St. Thomas the Apostle School – First established in the 1860s and known for its commitment to racial diversity.
- Chicago Program: Arts, Entrepreneurship, & Urban Studies
- “Community-based Approach Activates Students’ Learning and Agency” by Robyne Hart and Dorothy Burge in the Fall 2013 issue of ACM Notes.