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April 19, 2013

Always look on the South Side

The path to connecting with our South Side neighbors starts with some steps in their direction.

“Hey, are you Polish?”

This was apparently a pressing question, important enough to warrant the man’s leaping off the house’s porch and running down to the sidewalk where I happened to be passing by.

My facial expression probably said everything, but I answered anyway: “No, Swiss-German. Why?” He gestured at my chest—I was sporting my red class of 2013 shirt. The white phoenix outlined on the front reminded him, he said, of the bird commonly displayed in Polish heraldry.

Impressed, I explained that I was a UChicago student and that the bird was actually a phoenix, our mascot (or something). He nodded and said he wasn’t particularly familiar with the school, despite being from the South Side. We talked for a while longer and, as he turned to leave, he made sure to wish me “good luck in [my] studies at UIC.”

This episode is utterly unremarkable except for one considerably complicating little fact: The whole thing took place about 10 blocks south of the University campus. I walked away embarrassed, but definitely not for him—while this guy knew the colors and insignia on the flag of a country lying nearly 5,000 miles away, he somehow couldn’t quite remember the acronym for a major educational institution a mere 20-minute walk to the north. Clearly we’re doing something wrong.

I’ll admit I’m tempted to waste your time with another vague invective about how the University needs to be more engaged in the community. But that would be trite. And dumb. So how about this.

You. Yes, you there with the Maroon—put down the paper and go for a walk. Or better, a bike ride—did I mention that the University offers free bike rentals? Anywhere south of the Midway is good; bring a buddy if it makes you feel better. What’s that? You have too much work? Seriously, you can just cut out your Netflix watching for tonight—this is important.

As long as you keep your eyes (and mind) open, I can personally promise you that you’ll have a fulfilling experience no matter where you end up. However, if you’d prefer to have a concrete destination in mind, I can recommend the following:

1. Oak Woods Cemetery. If you’re famous and Italian, chances are you’ll be buried in the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence—Galileo, Ghiberti, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Rossini all ended up there. Much to the tourist’s disappointment, however, a monument to Enrico Fermi on the Basilica’s northern wall mentions in rather small print that the illustrious physicist is actually buried in Chicago, Illinois. Where exactly? Find out for yourself by venturing to the intersection of East 67th Street and South Greenwood Avenue. As you’re exploring, be sure not to stumble over the graves of Jesse Owens or Harold Washington. Do pay attention to the languages and ethnicities of the names on the gravestones—a good deal of Chicago history can be read right off of them. And you hardly need to be a history buff to appreciate the oddly moving burial mound and memorial to confederate soldiers in the cemetery’s southwest corner.

2. The Aldi on South Cottage Grove Avenue and East Marquette Road. If you really think you can buy more inexpensive groceries anywhere else in Chicago, I’ve got some cheap land in Florida to sell you.

3. The South Shore Cultural Center at the eastern end of East 71st Street. In case you’ve been persuaded by Susan Patton’s recent letter to The Daily Princetonian, this, it turns out, is a popular wedding spot. It’s not hard to see why: classy architecture, picturesque beach, cozy picnic areas in a nature sanctuary, and a great, if somewhat expensive, restaurant to top it all off! I can recommend it as an ideal study spot for your next lazy Sunday afternoon.

4. Rainbow Beach Park between East 75th Street and East 79th Street. Ever wonder where you’d end up if you slept through all the Hyde Park stops on the #6? Try it sometime—and bring a bathing suit.

There are too many University-affiliated programs operating in the neighboring communities for me to list here; I certainly encourage you to seek them out and get involved if you’re interested. But just being in the communities over the course of a simple walk or bike ride is an important first step toward organically improving our relationship with our neighbors.

Tyler Lutz is a fourth-year in the College majoring in physics and English.

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