Building on My Foundation in Non-Fiction Writing: Fall Master’s Class Remembered

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Another semester. Another class. Another step closer to achieving a milestone in life.

Our little piece of mortgaged America located in Avondale, the focus of my essay.

That summarizes an important part of what took place this fall of 2017. Specifically, I completed another graduate-level class, one more academic chess piece so to say toward earning my Master’s degree in English at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

This fall, I joined 11 other student scholars in the “Non-Fiction Writing Workshop,” a course that allowed participants to submit essays, memoirs, journal contributions and other written works as part of the required assignments.  Each class, two works were presented, analyzed and read aloud in segments or entirely.

The professor, himself a very successful author of non-fiction, novels and short stories, encouraged discussion and criticism — but primarily the constructive kind.

My classmates presented poignant, compelling stories of growing up in parts of the nation and under familial dynamics much, much different than mine. Some revealed much more about themselves, their lives and personal relationships than I ever would, except perhaps in fiction.

I respected everyone and their abilities, and I believe I grew as a writer after absorbing the works presented each Monday night.  A community of sorts evolved: Writers charged with keeping the craft and art of the written word advancing through compositions centered on our own experiences and abilities, beliefs and perspectives.

My essay contributions were driven by what I know best: Chicago.

The second and more substantial of the two essays is titled The “Greening” of Avondale, a perspective on the Chicago neighborhood we’ve lived in for 17 years.

Your thoughts on this work are welcomed. And, if you want to read more of my “scholarly” works, please visit my website.

By the way, I earned an A this semester!

 

 

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One Image, One Question: September 24, 2017

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

As this post is about to be published, the temperature outside here in Chicago this Sunday in September, the first official weekend of autumn, is 88 degrees.

Yes, 88 degrees this late in the season.

Do you have a favorite spot to observe the changes around you?

Hey, that’s a bit less July-like than the record breaking mid-90 degree temperatures recorded here and around the Midwest the past few days.

But enough weather talk.

The image above was taken on our front porch, where Susan and I sit often during the warm months to read, drink coffee (and sometimes wine or beer) and watch activity in the neighborhood.

By this time of year, opportunities to enjoy the outside on the porch dwindle.  But, not today.

From this perch, we’ve observed many somewhat subtle but significant changes to Avondale. Most specifically — the people.

Avondale’s proximity to downtown Chicago and public transportation, great housing stock and relative affordability has attracted families and a younger demographic.

Okay, the neighborhood is becoming gentrified.

We observe this in three quantifiable ways:

  • Rising prices for housing, meaning less affordability for many, including long-standing residents.
  • A reduction in gang-related activity, which was prevalent when we moved to Avondale 17 years ago.
  • An increase in people walking dogs! (I’m not kidding; being on a corner, we are at the dog walking crossroads.)

So on today’s question:

Where and how do you observe changes within your community?

Time to get back outside to continue this research. Real autumn weather will be here. Someday.

 

 

Is the “Greening” of Avondale a Good Thing?

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

The images that accompany this post are fairly explicit, yet there’s something beneath the surface. They show what once was a modest home under significant renovation, actually a gut rehab.

Whipple two

The homes that flank the one under rehab also were ungraded in the past few years.

In fact, as depicted, the contractors working on this home have literally raised the roof. The dumpster shown is one of perhaps five dumpsters workers have filled with debris removed from this century-old structure the past four months.

Whipple three

Hope they get the roof installed before it rains. We are in April.

Located just a few doors north of our modest home in Chicago’s suddenly hip Avondale neighborhood, this home once was owned by an elderly women; then it sat vacant for a few years.  For the past two or so years, and man and his family lived there.

Now, it’s undergoing renovation that will cost tens of thousands of dollars.  A neighbor estimated the home will be put on the market for around $650,000.  And, I think he’s right.

Whipple One

Ah, the sign of progress: A dumpster.

On the surface, this project is a good thing for the neighborhood, a good thing for Chicago and a good thing for me.  Rehab projects preserve the character of the neighborhood and contribute to the housing stock. The city gets another property back on the tax rolls — at assuredly a higher valuation than before the work was done.  And, the value of our home most certainly will rise.

But I wonder if examples of this type of “greening” or rebirth — okay, call it “gentrification” –is changing our corner of Chicago entirely for the better. Is Avondale now a “destination?” Or will it remain a neighborhood?

Yes, the neighborhood is safer, quieter and cleaner than it was when we moved here 15 years ago. New merchants are opening businesses nearby, escaping the higher rents in Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Wicker Park/Bucktown and West Town — where I lived for the first 19 years of my life. Yes, there’s a growing sense of community here.

Still, I don’t envision the future owners of this home-down-the-block staying in Avondale for the next 15 years.  Perhaps it’s how society is changing, but to me many people today use a place for what it’s worth, then move on.

Perhaps I’m wrong.

I do look forward to meeting the people who will move into this home-down-the-block. I hope they’ll cherish the home, perhaps as much as the elderly woman who lived there for many years.