Riding the remap

One man pedals the perimeter of Chicago politics in the new 1st Ward.
Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki
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The boundary of the 1st Ward once resembled a poorly drawn cobra. After the decennial remap in December, its outline, like those of many wards, became even more arcane.

“It’s pixelated,” Andrew Bayley says. “Like one of the blockers from Space Invaders.”

In January, just after the City Council approved the new ward map, the former bike messenger, who now works at an architecture firm, used a laser-cutting computer program to turn the map into a handsome, 50-piece Baltic birch plywood jigsaw puzzle.

On a recent hot Saturday, the 32-year-old took another creative swipe at the remap process. He set out from Swim Café on Chicago Avenue in Noble Square to bike the tortuous boundaries of the redistricted 1st Ward—one of the city’s most puzzling pieces—as I accompanied him. “I want to explore the interaction between gerrymandering and the urban infrastructure that defines it,” he explained with a mischievous grin, clutching printouts from the 61-page ordinance that delineates the new wards. Bayley read aloud a sample of the archaic-sounding directionals for the 1st Ward: “Beginning at the intersection of North Hoyne Avenue and West North Avenue; thence east on West North Avenue to the alley just northwest of North Milwaukee Avenue; thence southeast and north along the alley just northwest of Milwaukee Avenue.”

The byzantine boundaries, which often include alleys and place two sides of the same street in different districts, preserve incumbents and a segregated city but not diverse communities, Bayley says, echoing the sentiments of concerned neighborhood orgs citywide. The remap has sown confusion among constituents unsure which aldermen to appeal to for service requests; the new map doesn’t take effect until 2015.

Astride a battle-scarred fixed-gear, Bayley began the 20-mile journey heading west on Chicago and then south on Armour Street. Checking the master document, he navigated east down an alley between Superior and Huron Streets. Bayley zigzagged west into Ukrainian Village, passing a bar with a live mariachi band. The route then led him to Humboldt Park, where peddlers sold carved gourds. Bayley dragged his bike up onto the Bloomingdale Trail and rode west along the abandoned elevated railroad tracks. After he descended, he followed a serpentine route along alleys northeast of Sacramento and Fullerton Avenues.

Bayley had invited Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno to cruise his ward, but the bike-friendly politico was too busy. Over the phone after the ride, the young alderman told me complex ward boundaries may be tricky to comprehend but they make amends for the historic use of gerrymandering as a strategy to keep minorities off of the City Council.

“We’re paying for the sins of our fathers,” Moreno says. The home of his colleague and friend, Ald. Robert Fioretti, was mapped out of the district as the boundary of the 2nd Ward was flipped from the Near South Side to the Near North Side. But Moreno explains he voted for the final map because it achieved the Latino Caucus’s goal of creating 13 largely Latino wards, three more than before. The map also includes 19 mostly white wards and 18 majority African-American wards, one less for a population that fell by more than 181,000 over the last decade.

After six hours, Bayley returned to his starting point and reflected on his trek: “This shows what happens in physical reality when you create a ward that has more to do with politicians’ self-preservation than common sense.”

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