Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chicago's 50 wards—the jigsaw version

Posted By on 01.25.12 at 08:00 AM

Who knows how current these things are anymore?
  • Who knows how current these things are anymore?
If I know Chicagoans—and I've been studying the breed for years—I figure most probably just shook their heads in dismay at the new ward map, adopted last week by the City Council.

Like—what the hell can we do?

But Andrew Bayley—a graduate student of architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology—actually did something about the new map.

He took the 50 newly created and peculiarly shaped wards and turned them into a jigsaw puzzle. It's pretty funny to look at it, and it's probably a blast to assemble. You can find it on his website.

But before we get to Bayley's puzzle, let's have a primer on everything you need to know about redividing Chicago's 50 wards.

Legally, we do it after each census because all legislative districts have to have roughly the same number of residents in them.

Logically, it would make sense to simply subdivide the city into 50 square-shaped wards.

But, politically, we can't do that without endangering the incumbency of the current aldermen.

So, bowing to political reality, the aldermen stuck us with this monstrosity, in which the boundaries are gerrymandered in order to give most of the incumbents a good shot at getting reelected.

The net effect is that come 2015, when the new map actually takes affect, thousands and thousands of Chicagoans, who hadn't been paying attention, will wake from their stupor and exclaim—My god! I thought I was in this ward, but now I'm in that one?

At which point, many will call and say: "Ben, you gotta write something about this!"

Ah, yes—the joy of watching Chicagoans wake up to the reality of their city.

In Bayley's case, he will move from Alderman Walter Burnett's 27th Ward to Alderman Proco Joe Moreno's First Ward.

Which means he'll be trading an alderman who loves 1970s soul music for an alderman who loves alternative rock.

Not sure what the relevancy of their musical taste has to do with this. But I was just looking for something—anything—to distinguish one alderman from the other.

Politically speaking, they're two peas in a pod, generally voting however Mayor Emanuel instructs, even if that means jacking up water-sewer taxes, closing mental health clinics, setting aside tens of millions of dollars for the G-8/NATO summit spectacle or cutting hours, staff, and service at our public libraries.

Oh, yes, the library cuts. Just part of the city's larger plan to help our citizens compete against the Chinese for the right to work for Apple by promoting illiteracy.

While we're on the subject of Alderman Burnett, let's take five to give a shout-out to our very own Mick Dumke for his marvelous profile of Burnett in this week's Reader.

Great story, Mick!

Anyway . . .

"I was following this in the news and I couldn't believe how absurd the wards were being shaped," says Bayley. "I thought it would be really fun if you could actually pick up the piece and say—'how did we come up with this?'"

He made the puzzle out of quarter-inch birch plywood. There are so many wonderful shapes. The Second Ward's my personal favorite.

Hey, here's an idea. . . .

If you send him an e-mail, maybe he'll make you a puzzle.

You can have fun playing a parlor game, where you and your friends try to figure out clever phrases to describe the mutated shapes.

Maybe give the puzzle to the kids. It's never too early to teach them about Chicago politics and help them expand their vocabulary: "OK, Suzie: Can you say—gerrymander?"

Better yet—give it to out-of-town friends and family. Let the world know how truly bizarre we are in Chicago.

Read more from Alderman Week:

"My mixed luck with aldermen," by Steve Bogira

"Alderman Ed Burke acknowledges the existence of a mere mortal," by Mick Dumke

"Good old Joe," by Kate Schmidt

"Oh, to have those fighting independents back," by Steve Bogira

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