After I take a photograph of a young couple on the Green Line, the train comes to an unexpected halt at the 35th-Bronzeville-IIT stop. Over the intercom, the conductor informs passengers that due to rail maintenance, we have to depart the train and take a shuttle to the Roosevelt station. Passengers slowly exit the train in a state of annoyed acceptance, bearing the inconvenience that Green Line riders have grown accustomed to. As we pile onto the shuttle I hear grumbles from individuals and families adjusting to another disrupted commute. As people make room for baby strollers and wheelchairs, we sit in silence and endure the humbling experience of a crammed bus ride. When we arrive at our destination and resume our train commute, an elder brother looks at me and says, “You think this be happening on other lines, in other communities? I’ve been riding the Lake Street el for over 30 years. This train has gotten me paid, laid, and dismayed. Gotta love it and hate it. It is what it is.”
The Green Line, formerly known as the Lake Street and South Side Line, is the oldest and only fully elevated line in the CTA el system. The relationship to the Green Line for native Black west- and south-siders is a lot like our relationship with Chicago—complicated. The Green Line is the only line that connects Black west- and south-side communities. However, that connection has come with its share of frustrations. During the blizzard of 1979, Mayor Michael Bilandic ordered all but four Lake Street stops closed, leaving predominantly Black riders to rely on shuttle buses. Black commuters were forced to bear the vexation of cold bus stops and crowded buses while Oak Park residents rode comfortably in heated train cars. In 1994, the largest transit rehabilitation project permanently closed six stations (University, Halsted, Homan, 58th , 61st, ,and Racine), angering Black commuters who had to permanently adjust in order to make it to and from work every day. Once again, the city of Chicago made a decision that directly impacted the mobility of Black Chicagoans. Just another display of disregard enacted by the city, by way of our beloved Green Line.
Because even through all this, there’s still love for the Green Line. It’s difficult to determine if this love derives from pure appreciation of the views, merely convenience, or both. No other el train can grant you the intimacy of the Black Chicago experience that the Green Line can. For Black folks the Green Line has served not only as a vital means of transportation but of congregation and demonstration. Everything from performances, entrepreneurship, protest, and love affairs can be experienced on the Green Line. Nonetheless, nowhere are the implications of redlining and gentrification more evident. At times, it feels that the very thing many Black Chicagoans have come to depend on for self-sustainability and happiness has been utilized by the city as a tool to further subjugate us. From the Green Line’s elevated view, you can clearly see the ramifications of Chicago’s rapid transformation. I have witnessed the demolition of public housing (Harold Ickes and Henry Horner), the erection of communities (the South Loop and West Loop), newly constructed stops (Cermak-McCormick Place and Morgan), and the reconstruction of the Cottage Grove and Garfield stops, and I will be here for the $60 million development of a Damen/Lake stop scheduled to open in 2021. One must wonder, is all this revitalization for the Chicago of now, or the Chicago to come? If the latter, what does that mean for the Black folks who have historically patronized the Green Line? Will we be here to enjoy the new amenities the city and the Green Line will have to offer, or will our memories be that of systemic disregard, juxtaposed with our desire to not only survive, but thrive? No matter the mixed emotions, the Green Line is our line, whether you’re from Austin or Englewood, West Garfield Park or Woodlawn, East Garfield Park or Bronzeville. Good or bad, we must recognize the Green Line as a convenient yet complicated mechanism of this complex city that has gotten us to and gotten us through. v