Field Museum maps 'social assets' of Chicago's industrialized Lake Calumet region


Study identifies strengths of a community poised for change

A diverse group of residents from the East Side work together on the 100th Street Garden under the Chicago Skyway where 100th Street, Ewing Avenue and Indianapolis Avenue intersect. Field Museum researcher Ines Lagos poses with community gardeners for this photo.
Photo by Hilary del Campo, Courtesy of the Field Museum

Full size image available through contact

CHICAGO--Is the community half full or half empty? Is the Lake Calumet region the wasteland or jewel of the city? While many social scientists have studied the problems of the Lake Calumet region, a team of anthropologists from The Field Museum has identified and described the region's "social assets," or community strengths, and its strong potential for revitalization.

Two years in the making, this award-winning analysis maps out the region's community resources available to improve the region's economic viability and environmental record.

"It is through these social assets people connecting over important issues and values that things are accomplished, organizations are formed, buildings are built, biodiversity is conserved, the environment is protected, and the community is strengthened," said Alaka Wali, director of The Field Museum's Center for Cultural Understanding and Change, which conducted the asset mapping research. "Our study shows how a wide variety of places, organizations and people are connected, and how they are powerful."

Reggie Hughes, community leader in North Pullman and one of the only North Pullman residents on the board of the Historic Pullman Foundation, shows Field Museum researcher Antonia Roberts a row house with an addition, which makes the house roomier but strips it of its historical value.
Photo by Hannah Anderson, Courtesy of the Field Museum

Full size image available through contact

From 2001 to 2003, a team of graduate and undergraduate researchers, assistants, and museum staff conducted ethnographic research in Hammond, Ind., and the Chicago communities of South Deering, Pullman, East Side and Riverdale. These areas are known for their industrial might, which has declined over the past several decades. Today they are full of rich, culturally diverse communities and precious natural areas, including some of Illinois' best-preserved wetlands and savannahs.

The researchers used interviews, participant observation, focus groups, photography, and video to identify and analyze what forces and factors are the most important in the lives of local residents, and how these assets can support strategies for environmental and economic revitalization in the region. They then used Geographic Information Systems technology to compile this information on overlapping maps of greenspaces, churches, active businesses, community gardens, neighborhood festivals and community-based organizations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service funded this research, with additional support from the Price Charitable Trusts and Nuveen Investments.

The results, a vibrant portrait of the community called "Journey Through Calumet," are posted at On March 19, the Association of American Geographers will give this site its "Best Web Site of 2003 Award" at its centennial meeting in Philadelphia. For more information about that award, visit An executive summary of the study will be available March 11, and the full report will be available this spring.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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