UWM historian finds history in Chicago city blocks

Block by block, the citizens of Chicago are making their city a safer, cleaner, happier place.

UWM historian Amanda Seligman explores a neighborly phenomenon in her new book, “Chicago’s Block Clubs: How Neighbors Shape the City.” For more than a century, people of the Second City have banded together to form block clubs, small organizations that tackle the everyday problems of city living that are big enough to be a nuisance but too inconsequential to catch the eye of the local government.

It was a concept that intrigued Seligman – and one that has remained relatively unexplored.

“Even though block clubs are everywhere in Chicago and everyone knows what they are, almost no one had written about them before,” she said.

The book explores the block clubs’ origins in the Urban League and traces them to their modern iterations in today’s community policing programs in the Chicago Police Department. Block club members do everything from cleaning streets to monitoring local crime to building playgrounds. They’re sometimes major outlets for community organizing in the city – especially in areas that don’t have much political clout.

“One big remaining question is whether block clubs can help at all with the gun violence crisis plaguing big cities like Chicago and Milwaukee,” Seligman said. “If neighbors band together in block clubs, can they reduce the overall level of violence?”

Seligman’s book is available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/2cA1ywf in paperback, hardcover, and Kindle formats.

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