There’s a lot of highminded talk about fixing food deserts. Then there’s the reality of actually doing so, as David Roeder reports in a piece at the Sun-Times which bears not only reading, but reading between the lines. Pete’s Fresh Market, a successful south side chain, bought a piece of land on the west side from the city to try to alleviate the food desert in that area. Construction was under way when a group of “professional agitators” showed up demanding work and making threats. Police, however, seemed not all that interested in the agitators, who behaved themselves when the police showed up (surprise); you could almost think that these shakedowns are regarded as a normal part of doing business in that part of town. Pete’s stopped work, and contractor Dunleavy Construction pulled its equipment from the site. With the project stalled, Alderman Robert Fioretti held special meetings to ensure it would keep going— but as the location is moving to Alderman Walter Burnett’s ward shortly, it remains to be seen if he’ll be as vigilant and do as much to motivate the police.
In the meantime, Pete’s is also reported to have fired its original security firm at the site. Did the goal of hiring locally from the community mean that Pete’s wound up with a security firm that was in effect another arm of the same group (there is, of course, another word for group that might apply here) as the community agitators and not to be trusted if it came down to a fight? That would be classic Chicago street politics, to be sure. For now Pete’s seems to be successfully pushing the city to respond strongly, but it’s also demonstrating why it can be legitimately difficult to lure corporations into these neighborhoods in the first place. [Sun-Times]