Pandemic fear infrastructure in Rogers Park, Chicago

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.


fearbenchMuch 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.


  1. It all looks decidedly grim…..and while I too would hope that public gathering would be seen as something positive, I have a feeling that the bar and camera mentality will win as people become both protective of their ‘safe’ space and aggresive in preserving it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We did go through a phase after moving in where we got window bars and a metal back door though after a while I realized that, though we’d never had a break in, we had witness several severe fires, including next door and that by barring ourselves in we were creating a massive fire trap.

      Hope your quarantine is bearable!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. There are bolts and bars here in the towns…because the insurance will not pay out unless there are!
    Out in the sticks we have dogs. Nice people pat them…unsavoury ones do not seem to like the grins on the faces of the two American Staffords.
    Quarantine not too bad so far…one is encourage to stay at home but things are not draconian if you nip out to the bank or the shops. There is a vehicle curfew at night and heavy fines if you are on the road on the wrong day according to the last figure on your nuimber plate.
    Needless to say I have neither cleaned the house nor made sourdough. There are limits.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Perhaps if we are actually locked in I might consider washing the windows. Would have be be quite desperate for that…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I too am a slob – glad to know I am in good company! This is funny and sobering. My little city doesn’t have enough pedestrian traffic for the hostile metal spikes, etc. but I remember them – and the molded seat (for medium asses) in subways and benches.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey slob sister, how about we not organize our closets this weekend?

      My ass is on the higher end of medium so those molded seats put me in perpetual hip rubbing with my fellow transit riders. Not sure how well that will work with social distancing once I stop working from home.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m not sure why people seem to gain a sense of security from fencing. On the contrary, for me it is unsettling: There’s something to be afraid of, then?

    I’ve lived in 3 different buildings since I moved to Rogers Park in 1979. All were chosen partly for the lack of fences and gates.

    But, whatever. You’ve documented the scene quite nicely. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks neighbor! We have so many gorgeous vintage buildings in Rogers Park that can be difficult to appreciate when the are obscured with so many bars and gates. Hope you and your loved ones are staying healthy.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Giving us food for thought again and we don’t have to stand six feet apart in line at the grocery store to get it.

    Your term “architecture of fear” is new to me, but i too have noticed its proliferation since 9/11. It makes me wonder if all the wrought ironwork i so admired, on gates and doorways in Europe, was really just to keep people out? There must have been a fair amount of fear in a time of revolution. But I defer to your art-historical perspective. 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s a good comparison.. Maybe it is like the crenelations of castles that once were to defend against attack and later became decorative elements on buildings. The bars and gates here tend to correlate with areas that are or recently have been high crime. I do hope one day they become purely decorative as well.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Time smoothes the edges of even the sharpest sword.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Yup, lockdowns, lockups.
    Keep safe and healthy, Wife of Bath but still enjoy your home city!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “lockdowns, lockups” NICE!
      I wish the same to you, thanks Jean!

      Liked by 1 person

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