Bicycle Diaries: Journey of discovery

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Journey of discovery

just 6 miles
from home

A few weeks back, Roger Cohen wrote about The Big Apple's local peculiarities in his NYTimes op-ed column. He pointed out something that I've also noticed about The Windy City. You only have to go a few blocks in any direction and the city completely changes both in terms of culture and economics. I've been aware of this lately because og my shift in work from the high-rise Loop to the low-rent near North Side. Cohen experienced the same thing when the NYTimes moved its Times Square offices a couple of blocks southwest into the Garment District. As he describes it,
The former headquarters was trapped in the neon tentacles of Times Square, a once seedy part of town re-imagined as the tourist-filled set for a movie called “New York,” a place where people from out of town loiter six-abreast gazing at the flashing lights while New Yorkers try to dodge the phalanxes of flesh.

The new premises, as I’ve gradually learned, placed us just within the garment district, an area where zoning laws have protected apparel manufacturing space and so held off the developers who would otherwise have turned clothes factories into condos and created yet another gentrified district bereft of seediness, tawdriness, community and that strange high-low alchemy essential to any great city’s mystery and charge.

Unlike Cohen's, my new digs are defined less by industry than by ethnicity. It's the heart of the city's Puerto Rican communities which are generally much poorer than my former workplace just off North Michigan Avenue. However, like Cohen's Garment District, it's an incredibly vibrant area, despite carrying more of the weight of our current economic crisis.

It's an area I knew little about beyond the usual fears and prejudices of your typical Northsider. To be frank the first few weeks were a shock. I take regular smoke-breaks along the street next to our building. Most of the buildings opposite are abandoned or inevitably for rent. There's a city ordinance sign on the corner reminding me and my fellow citizens that its illegal to solicit prostitution in public (I guess then it's OK in-doors?).

But like I said, much of my initial shock resulted from being in a strange, new part of a very large, diverse city. I've started to discover all kinds of hidden, fascinating facets. Hopefully, I'll be able to write more about this as the months go by. For now, I've got to finish this year's Annual Report.

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Blogger grown-up said...

Looking forward to your reflections on this area. There were many good and some bad aspects to my years in Pilsen, before an actual job landed me in Michigan. Of course my old neighbors might be quick to point out that Pilsen is Mexican and Humboldt is Puerto Rican, so who knows how similar they are?

1/12/09 16:52  

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