Between 1920 and 2020, the Chicago neighborhoods of Hyde Park and Washington Park saw enormous changes. Some of these were driven by national movements; some by citywide trends; some by actions taken by our University, as it embarked upon a then-groundbreaking experiment in social engineering that laid the groundwork for "urban renewal" projects across the country. How did these changes play out on a thoroughfare that many of us use every day? What was gained? What (and who) was lost along the way?
A Century on 55th Street (1920-2020), AKA "Co55" is an ongoing undergraduate research project sponsored by Chicago Studies. The project's goal is to gain granular insight into -- and also map/represent -- ten decades of changes in the Hyde Park and Washington Park neighborhoods, including those due to the Great Migration, redlining, White flight, urban renewal, and civic (dis)investment. Our research is building an open-access resource and digital archive that we hope will serve as a stepping-off point for future classes, public programming (including oral history gathering), and further investigation (e.g. of additional corridors/blocks), as well as more thematic and/or creative projects and exhibition(s). We are also collaborating with Expositions Magazine (a student publication sponsored by our friends in the Committee on the Environment, Geography, and Urbanization), who will publish stories from 55th Street and based on the project's work in their Fall 2023 edition.
During Winter and Spring 2023, the project included specialized training in historical research methods led by Chicago historians, archivists, geographers, and urban planners. Participants learned to use an array of resources to investigate un-preserved historic sites in Chicago, including Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, US Census records, historic photographs (both digitized and archived print resources), archival collections, and the archives of Chicago-area newspapers. Research team members, stipended for their work, were responsible for applying each set of new skills to assigned blocks on or around E 55th Street/E Garfield Boulevard between the lakeshore/Shore Drive (1800 East) and the Dan Ryan Expressway. Their research findings have contribute to a dataset of building-by-building information about 55th Street as it existed decade to decade between 1920 and 2020 while building deep knowledge of the micro-histories of a specific city block and its inhabitants. Individual researchers have gone still further, pursuing stories they uncovered with additional archival research, oral history gathering, etc., and are publishing these as articles in Expositions and/or as GIS StoryMaps. During Summer 2023, a mapping team led by UChicago alum Adrian Rucker ('22) has been translating the team's findings into GIS map layers while other students complete foundational research into the built environment, land uses, and businesses along 55th Street during the period of our study. Special thanks to Nico Marchio of the Mansueto Institute for his support of Co55's mapping work.
Although the work of Co55 is drawing to a close in the summer of 2023, we plan to repeat this project with a focus on 63rd Street beginning in Winter 2024. Applications will be solicited in the Fall 2023 quarter, and will be considered on a rolling basis until all available positions are filled. Watch Chicago Studies' e-newsletter for application announcements and deadlines for Co63.