We’ve been in a quarantine lock-down for six weeks in Chicago. While all my friends seem to be spending their time cleaning and organizing their homes, crafting, learning new languages and growing sourdough starters, it turns out that in quarantine I am still a slob. So rather than magically transforming into a more productive person, I’m focusing on what I’ve always done well, which is being an observer and cataloger of visual information and infrastructure.
The lock-down was extended through May, but residents are allowed outside for errands and exercise as long as we remain six feet from each other. Non-essential businesses are closed. Some restaurants are open for takeout and delivery only. Grocery stores are open, with restrictions. Schools, parks, playground, field-houses, libraries and the lakefront are closed.
In order to enforce the public health restrictions, a infrastructure of restriction is rapidly developing. I’ve been keeping track of the tone, materials and manifestation of that infrastructure where I live, in the Rogers Park neighborhood on the north side of Chicago.
Infrastructure of fear and control is not new in Chicago. I pass many versions of these aggressive gate and camera combos every time I walk to the bus stop.
While forbidding in intent, I often find the smaller installations of securities bars oddly lovely, even baroque.
Much of the new pandemic restrictions are intended to prevent people from sitting or lingering in public so I am seeing lots of seating removal.
This is not new here either. Sometimes this “do not linger” infrastructure is subtle, like our bus benches that have arm rests or bump outs in the center to prevent homeless people from sleeping on them.
Several apartment buildings in my neighborhood have specially built additions made of bars or concrete added to the low walls around entryways to discourage loitering.
Local business are trying something similar, but scrappier, like this optometrist office that covered most of their seating with trash bags and warning signs.
Chair barriers are a common sight.
Supermarkets are limiting entry using readily available materials such as the ubiquitous yellow “Caution wet floor” signs.
The barred doorway has long been a common sight in my neighborhood.
Often these doors have a conflicting tone, projecting fear by their materials and severity, but suggesting quaintness in form, as if one day they might transition into vine covered pergolas inside a relaxing garden.
The city had to close beach and park access quickly and the same barricades used to block streets for parades and protests were put to use.
Netting seems to be a popular choice to bar entry to parks, with zip ties used to hold the nets in place.
I’m particularly fascinated by the resourceful use of zip ties.
There’s a temporary quality to the quarantine infrastructure, leaning heavily on tape and stickers.
We are directed where to stand at the grocery store and bank, and the tone of these signs and stickers is often polite (and for me, comforting.)
Although a harsher tone is also much in evidence.
I’ve lived in Rogers Park for 19 years and the fear infrastructure hasn’t changed much. I’ve seen spiked fences and cameras go up, but not away. After two decades I’m still not encouraged to loiter at building entrances or recline on benches. Once we finally are free from pandemic fear and all the stickers are pulled from grocery store floors and the zip ties are clipped and chairs are placed upright in restaurants, what will happen to the permanent fear infrastructure? I’m hoping we could come out the other side as a neighborhood where public gathering is seen as necessary and humanizing: safe.