Did Obama Change Altgeld Gardens?

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Altgeld Gardens is a housing project in the Chicago area. It has been home to many poor black people for many years. Barack Obama writes about the “Gardens” in “Dreams From My Father.” He describes it as a project that was built in the middle of a cess pool. Granted there  is a sewage treatment plant immediately to the north of it, and polluted Lake Calumet to the Northeast. The lake is also a huge landfill. I grew up in a neighborhood called “Burnside” about three miles to the north of Altgeld Gardens. I learned of the place while I was in high school during the nineteen fifties. Barack arrived there after he finished college in the eighties. It was his first assignment as a community organizer.

When Altgeld Gardens was built, the area was rural. Lake Calumet was not polluted. People went to the lake for boating and to fish. A man from my neighborhood kept his seaplane there. He gave people rides for a fee. The neighborhoods in every direction from Altgeld Gardens were filled with industry. Immediately to the West was Acme Steel, to the North it was the Ford Assembly plant (still there). Sherwin Williams paint company was a short distance to the South. The towns of Riverdale, Harvey, Blue Island, all within a short bus ride were teeming with industry. The Southeast side of Chicago had steel mills lined up end to end along the shores of Lake Michigan. My point is that the Gardens were situated in a nice rural area located centrally between an abundance of jobs. The perfect location for low income housing.

Between the time, I learned of the Gardens and the time Barack went there to work, many things happened. Much of it was created by the Chicago Machine in the name of progress. Lake Calumet became a part of the Saint Lawrence Seaway. It needed to be filled in order to make a deep channel harbor. Coincidentally, Chicago needed a place to dispose of it’s garbage. The machine built a huge incinerator a couple of miles from Altgeld, on the edge of Lake Calumet. It spewed out tons of toxic smoke, and was shut down for environmental reasons. The incinerator property became a landfill. Chicago was growing and needed larger sewage treatment facilities. Again, the Chicago Metropolitan Sanitary District built a new one near Altgeld  Gardens. The steel mills closed because of competition from Korea, and Japan. The same thing happened with much of the industry in the towns around Altgeld Gardens. The people who were satisfied working at jobs that didn’t require schooling  remained, and became dependent. 

The reason I speak of this, is that Barack Obama painted a picture of Altgeld gardens as a place that was deliberately sited in the middle of all these polluted facilities. He makes it sound like the people of Altgeld Gardens were placed there by the whites to get them out of the way. The bottom line is that the people, for what ever reason, chose to stand put when the jobs left. Many of them chose not to educate themselves to take on new jobs. I’m sure the smart ones did leave toward new work. The empty apartments of Altgeld were filled by people who were less ambitious. 

If Barack Obama was truly interested in effecting change that “I can Believe In,” he should have worked with the Chicago political machine to change things at Altgeld Gardens. He had opportunity to do so after his law degree. Instead he chose to affiliate himself with some questionable people. He had even more opportunity to change things at Altgeld after he became State Senator. He couldn’t effect change in a neighborhood, but he wants to change the best country in the world.

BO wants to make “Change We Can Believe In” by redistributing the wealth of fat cats to those who are less fortunate, like the people of Altgeld Gardens. He will give them a cash handout. Will a small cash handout  really change the lives of these unfortunate people? Will it appease three hundred years of oppression? Will it change the attitude a white man has of a black or vice versa? Will it build his self esteem? Will it make him more responsible? Will it buy him an education that is better than the free one he currently scorns?

 I don’t think so.

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