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Florence Scala

Florence Scala was one of the leading Near West Side activists who fought the city and the University of Illinois in the early 1960s to keep their neighborhood from being obliterated in favor of the University's new Chicago campus. But Chicago being Chicago, with the powerless here being particularly helpless before the powerful, obliteration of the ethnic neighborhood is precisely what happened, and with terrifying speed, leaving Scala and thousands of area residents feeling betrayed and forlorned: by Mayor Daley, the City Council and the University, all of whom were supposed to act on behalf of the greater public good.

Scala concludes her section of Near West Side Stories as follows:

I don't get mad walking through the university grounds anymore. I always feel as though the place is alien, alien territory. Sometimes I've gone to Hull-House because they have had something going on there. The last time I did that was in the evening and as I left the building, there was all of downtown lit up in front of me and for the first time in many years I felt teary-eyed. I thought, you bastards, you took it all, we don't have anything. I'm an alien person here.

Several years ago, while driving south on the Dan Ryan Expressway, I was struck by the highway's odd route. While it hugs Halsted Street in the downtown area, after 18th Street it suddenly jogs to the east, before resuming its southerly route near Chinatown, from which point it hugs Wentworth Avenue for most of its path through the South Side. This strange bend in the road perplexed me for a moment, before I spotted Comiskey Park looming on the horizon.

Comiskey naturally got me thinking about the Daleys, and it hit me. If the Ryan had continued its initial route along Halsted, eventually it would have blasted right through the middle of Bridgeport, the Daleys' ancestral home (before Richie left for swankier digs). I realized there was no way that the senior Mayor Daley would have ever let such a thing happen to his neighborhood. Why not have the road shift to the east and then the south, and displace thousands of Asians and African-Americans instead? Such was Daley's power in those days that he could easily make something of that magnitude happen if he wished, and I have no doubt that's exactly what he did.

"It's not what you know, but who you know" is even more true here than almost anywhere else.

March 11, 2005 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink