Project Division Demographic Research

Successful architecture, like successful music, creates a strong sense of community.

The area surrounding Division station is undergoing gentrification. Every other building is for lease and businesses that remain do not appear to be doing well. Compare MB bank’s traditional building to the modern attachment beside it labeled, “Wicker Park’s most exciting new project” and you will find one company’s vision of the caliber of people who deserve to live in this up-and-coming neighborhood.

Walk down North Marshfield Avenue and you’ll notice every third house is dilapidated and for sale while every other house has been upgraded with fresh facades that infuse elements of modernism to the neighborhood’s brick laden aesthetic.

South of Division on Milwaukee, the streets are lined with cheap taco stands and bars. Within a block of the Holy Trinity High School is a Planned Parenthood. North of Division and West of Ashland on Milwaukee some buildings are show signs of new life. Past the community mural celebrating the working class is Tocco, a contemporary bar and pizzeria.

Further down the road is the heart of Wicker Park where trendy shops and small eateries are vibrant in spite of the Sunday morning.

At the heart of this divide is a triangle island that is enclosed by Ashland, Milwaukee and Division. At this juncture, busses 9, 56, and 70 come and go, delivering and picking up predominately blue collar passengers. The homeless congregate around a fountain on this Sunday morning. They sift through garbage collected from the alleys. “Yeah, $4 for 2 pounds,” one says.

On one of the circular benches, a weathered white man strikes up a conversation with an African American. Both appear homeless. A taxi drops off an older couple with luggage for the blue line towards O’Hare. An upper middle class couple push a baby carriage through the Hispanics lining up for the 56 bus.

Around the fountain is text in raised metal letters: For the masses who do the city’s labor also keep the city’s heart. It suggests that this was once a working class neighborhood. Before the recession, did boarded up buildings once house thriving businesses? When people lost their jobs and couldn’t afford mortgages, did the upper middle class seize an opportunity to purchase and rehabilitate affordable housing?

I asked one of the garbage sifters what he was going to do with all this garbage. He said, “We’re gonna use what we’re gonna use and the rest we’re gonna throw away.” Middle class waste finds a second life. The end of one life cycle becomes the beginning of another. So it goes with the housing, businesses and face of the neighborhood. This is the design challenge for the proposed Division circle line station: How can architecture integrate a transitory neighborhood that includes elements of wealth and poverty?

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