Barriers and stereotypes will hopefully be smashed by Chicago’s segregated residents who unexpectedly became friends in an artistic project.
When Tonika Johnson started photographing houses with corresponding addresses in the city’s north and south sides in her Folded Map Project, she decided to bring the residents together.
The north and the south side of the city are very different, and so thought the people who live in before the project became real.
The North Side is a largely affluent, white area, while the South Side is traditionally African American, and has suffered from poverty and gun violence.
"Map twins" Nanette Tucker and Wade Wilson sit on Wilson's porch on Chicago's North Side. Imager credit, Courtesy of Tonika Johnson/Bloomberg CityLab
“It just naturally evolved into me one day asking one resident if they wanted to meet their ‘map twin’ resident,” Johnson said. “And they said, ‘yes.’ And I was like, oh my gosh, what am I going to have them talk about?”
Johnson had to ask “awkward but necessary” questions such as how much they paid for their house. On the project website, videos of these interviews are linked together with photos of the side of their homes by side to highlight the effect of decades of segregation and disparities in the city- and how things can change when the light is shed on the power of an encounter.
The project and the possibility to achieve integration opened the eyes of the residents of Chicago, from north to south. For instance, Jonathan Silverstein and his wife Paula Hermann, who enjoy many shops, restaurants and food markets in Rogers Park on the North Side claimed:
“I guess it is striking, you know, how lucky we are, and we certainly don’t think of ourselves as living in a rich neighbourhood but compared to some we are very privileged”.
Two buildings that share a same street name and number, South Side on the left, North Side on the right. Image credit Courtesy of Tonika Johnson/Bloomberg CityLab
Their Southside ‘map twin’ Maurice Perkins in Englewood needs to travel very far every day spending hours and hours in the traffic just to find a grocery store.
“They couldn’t even imagine being in a community, or a community not having the things that, it’s, I guess, necessities,” said the local community leader and rapper.
The meeting with his ‘map twins’ was encouraging and very exciting, he explained. “There was, like, a genuine connection, right? It was, like, nothing forced or fake.”
Inspired by the recent U.S. racial justice protests demanding for immediate change, Johnson plans to expand Folded Map into other neighbourhoods, and add resources on her website for people to help desegregate their cities are becoming every day more concrete.
“I’d like to think maybe it’s the start of a movement,” Silverstein said of the project. “I’d love to see more and more people in the city start to build these relationships.”