Saving Maxwell Street: The People, Power, and the Politics of Urban Aesthetics in Chicago, PhD thesis by Dr. Janelle L. Walker. Submitted to the faculty of the University Graduate School in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Folklore, Indiana University. December 2000.
The Maxwell Street neighborhood on Chicago’s near west side has existed for almost 150 years and the outdoor market which bears the same name has been around nearly as long. It has been home to immigrant and migrant populations and to an historic outdoor market and retail district. It is also the birthplace of electrified blues music. In its last decades, the place was considered rough and dirty by many.
This study looks at how Maxwell Street is being transformed to better fit with the city of Chicago’s new image and new urban aesthetics, at the people who are displaced and excluded from this area of the New American City, at the power relations involved in a decade-long battle over the place, and at how a motivated and well-intentioned group fighting for the preservation of Maxwell Street’s culture slowly became part of the hegemonic “clean-up” of the area. This is mainly an ethnographic study of the people of the Maxwell Street Historic Preservation Coalition and the people of Maxwell Street the Coalition represents – residents, vendors, business owners, employees, shoppers, and musicians – people connected in various ways and in varying degrees to the place called Maxwell Street.
The creation of the new Maxwell Street Market and the university plan for a new campustown and “University Village” are explored within the context of Chicago’s recent clean-up and history of beautification efforts. The organization of production of the struggle over Maxwell Street, the discourse of beautification and displacement surrounding it, and the evolution of Maxwell Street’s physical…