Solidarity in the City

In 1990 the people of North Lawndale in Chicago saw piles of debris begin to build in their neighborhood. That illegal dump would continue to build for six more years as it became a mountain. At some points 6 stories high, the dump was across the street from a school. The story of that dump and the reasons it existed and persisted, are juicy and exciting. But unfortunately, I won’t get into that here.

4 years later, the mountain still growing in North Lawndale, another illegal dump began to grow in another neighborhood of Chicago. Again, it was across the street from a school. That school, however, was not on the west side of Chicago, as North Lawndale is, but on the north. It was also one of the top prep schools in the city, a highly selective magnet school. If you know much about Chicago, the city is perhaps one of the most segregated in the country. And the west and south sides are mostly Black neighborhoods, and on the North side, mostly White neighborhoods.

These two dumps not only were both across the street from schools, they also faced the same kind of push back. In North Lawndale, they “called who’s who to who’s that.” The neighborhood organized, marched, and did all the things a neighborhood movement does to get attention to an issue. They created organizations and night watches to record the trucks that illegally dumped. On the north side of town, the parents at the prep school did all the same things.

Within 3 weeks the dump on the north side was gone. The one in North Lawndale continued to grow.

 Houston, 1970. Just like in Chicago, most dumps in the city of Houston, both legal and illegal, were in Black neighborhoods, like this one in the Sunnyside neighborhood.

Houston, 1970. Just like in Chicago, most dumps in the city of Houston, both legal and illegal, were in Black neighborhoods, like this one in the Sunnyside neighborhood.

This story is incredibly depressing in so many ways. But the thing that struck me was the lost possibility. What would have happened in the neighbors on the north side had a sense of solidarity with North Lawndale? What if they insisted that the city clean up all the illegal dumps? What great possibility for solidarity! Instead it would take 2 more years for the dumps in North Lawndale to begin to be cleaned up.

Houston also has great possibility. What ways do we face issues in our neighborhood that our neighbors on the other side of town also face? Here in the East End, we face so many of the same struggles that those in the 3rd Ward face. Our struggles are so often the same as those in the 5th Ward.

One way we are beginning to work in the East End with other neighbors, is through the Houston Community Land Trust (HCLT). If you have read this blog before, you may be wondering why I keep coming to this. We have a great opportunity to create a beautiful, affordable, sustaining option for housing all around the city. Some have pushed the dream that this could be the largest Community Land Trust in the country! What if we banded together as a city to say yes to these options? What other ways can we lean into each other?

If you want to learn more about the story of North Lawndale, check out The City, a podcast.