The disappearing red X

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By Arlene Jones

Columnist

I got a call the other day. An amateur photographer was working on a project involving buildings with red X's on them. He had hopped in his car and drove around the South Side of Chicago where he lives and guess what? He couldn't find any. So he gave me a call, figuring the West Side probably had a plethora of buildings with red X's on them.

Sorry, I told him. We don't have a lot of buildings with red X's on them anymore. The majority have been torn down. Some were actually rehabbed, like the yellow brick multi-unit apartment building on Austin at Division. But the majority are gone. Now the West Side, and especially here in Austin, which at one time rarely had a lot of vacant land, has lots of vacant land. Anybody who believed the city was putting the red X's on buildings to alert firemen about hazards, surely now has to wonder why those "hazards" are suddenly so hard to find.

The city of Chicago is in the midst of a resurgence. Nothing better illustrates it than the current location of the Greyhound bus station. Years ago (1990), the bus station was moved from Randolph Street and Clark to a more desolate area near Jefferson and Harrison. The once-predominantly Warehouse District now has people living there, and plenty of shops down Canal Street to Roosevelt Road. The University of Illinois Chicago is expanding its base, including building even more student dorms at Halsted and Harrison. As I sat in front of the Greyhound station, I wondered just how long some of the sleazier characters that station draws will be allowed to exist as the up-and-coming neighborhood takes over?

When will Austin see a resurgence? And when that resurgence does eventually come, will the majority of African-American residents still be here? The only answer is to become a stakeholder in what happens within this community, and within the city. Bystanders never get what those who participate in the race get. Which is the prize. And the prize, right now, is land.

Two major parcels of land on the West Side will greatly influence the future of Austin. The first is just off Chicago Avenue and Kostner. That's where the proposed new police and fire training academy would be built. That proposed new facility would send a message that the neighborhood is going to be different! It would also spur a lot of investment. The other parcel is the old Brach candy site. Union Pacific Railroad purchased the property in March for $12.2 million dollars and without announcing its plans for the land (and just because the railroad didn't announce what they are planning to do, trust me they have plans!).

Pay attention, folks! All those red X's came and left for a reason!

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