The Speculative Landscape: Signs of the Times

Chicago has always been in a constant state of flux. With the interest in the renewal of urban living in the last decade, the city is attempting to beautify areas it considers to be blighted, and is pouring resources into building luxury condominiums in every corner of the city, resulting in real estate speculation and a construction boom that is drastically reshaping the physical skyline of Chicago. Just as widespread are the marketing tactics used to advertise new developments that increasingly fill our urban landscape.

Like any advertisement, these real estate signs promise to satisfy an urgent desire for something new and better—luxurious conveniences, style, and newness that cater only to an exclusive echelon, with no regard to an area’s current or past residents. In some cases, the signs erase the social memory of the former neighborhood by completely renaming it. The new development at the almost-eradicated Robert Taylor Homes will soon be known as “Legends.” Public housing at Stateway Gardens will soon give way to a development named “Park Boulevard.”

This erasure goes even further. The signs themselves have become a sign of progress. They hail prosperity and construction jobs from banners, billboards, and bridges. However, “The City that Works” will soon become “The City that Displaces” as Chicago’s working class core gets sentenced to longer commutes to city jobs. Urban theorist Robert A. Beauregard has observed that “the growth and decline of cities and regions require that individuals and investments be mobile, and that the landscape experience incessant building up, tearing down, and renewal.” Thousands of real estate signs throughout Chicago make promises of the good life in a vibrant city, but it is the moneyed few that will inhabit this new, clean Chicago. The city is a palimpsest, in which a new layer of luxurious names are being written over the story of the poor and working classes of Chicago.

Six photos from the larger series are available from the Invisible Institute here>>

AREA will be publishing this series on an ongoing basis and will be developing a full gallery for the next issue