The Chicago Park District’s Stephen Bell met me at the entrance to Steelworker Park by the statue of a steelworker family.
The statue was created by local artist Roman Villarreal.
Stephen Bell is responsible for a large area of parkland that covers the south east side of the city. It’s known as the Big Marsh. It includes the relatively new Steelworker Park at 87th and state highway 41.
The current park was once home to U.S. Steel’s South Works.
By the 1970s South Works included 11 blast furnaces, 8 electric furnaces, 12 rolling mills and employed some 15,000 men and women union steelworkers.
Including me. I worked at the 96 inch plate mill.
Now there is nothing left of the mill. Or the jobs of thousands of steelworkers.
Steelworker Park sits on a part of lakefront land created by slag, a by-product of steel making that is produced during the separation of the molten steel from impurities in steel-making furnaces. The slag occurs as the steel is heated and turns molten and then solidifies as it cools.
Bell took me on a walk through the park on a foggy January morning. It was beautiful, even as the remains of the concrete walls of the former slip that contained barges from Gary across Lake Michigan gave it a post apocalyptic feel. Those walls are all that remain of the former steel mill that employed thousands.
The park functions as a kind of metaphor for Chicago and for the city’s contradictions.
It is beautiful.
The park exists following the loss of a basic industry along with the loss of thousands of union jobs that paid union wages.
Walking through Steelworker Park raised the issue for me about where we go now as a city. The city needs to work for the workers who live here and not just the rich and wealthy.
We want parks AND good paying jobs.
Stephen Bell tells me that as a park person he thinks about this all the time.
And he reminds me again that we are in a park that has things to do, enjoy and explore.
You should go.