With a genealogy dating from the dawning of the sixteenth century, we would do well to give special heed to our historic past, and strive to preserve its memories in our street names as well as in our story. Street names approach immortality. Governments change, political parties die, officials and constituents pass into oblivion, buildings are burned, pavements uprooted, but well-chosen street names usually live as long as the city stands. A street name is a more valuable and a more perpetual memorial than a monument of bronze or granite. They may be destroyed or defaced, but street names live though a city is burned. Everything tends to perpetuate and preserve them - land titles, business notices, social facts, city records, and in fact almost all the details of municipal government unite to fasten them in the memory and hand them down to the future. There are no other names in connection with the life of a city that are so frequently used as the names of its streets; and no other names are so frequently thought of and talked of by both residents and strangers. We are compelled to know and memorize them, and everything combines to repeat and reiterate them. As an instrumentality for preserving the remembrance of individuals and facts, they have no equal.
- Silas Farmer, from a report to the Common Council of Detroit, 1882.
For all my life of living in the southern shadow of Chicago, I've always had some sort of admiration and interest in city life and, consequently, the streets and highways that run through them. When I was 8 or 9 years old, I studiously compiled a list of all the different road signs that I could identify. For road trips, my way of staying awake and curbing boredom was to orally read off as many signs as I could as we drove past them. As age and knowledged progressed, I would come to know many names based off the streets of Chicago, and my perspective of that city was formed by knowing these names. I also noticed how other people related to and spoke of these same names - such as the reactions I would get when I would tell people that I used to live on Western Avenue, for example.
Fast forward a few years and I'm in college, and my tendency to not really pay attention too much in rudimentary classroom activities was still in effect. I always tended to sketch random things, random faceless people beating the shit out of each other, random shapes and patterns, and so on, but one day there were other things in my mind.
At this time it was about 2002, and the popularity of The Sopranos was at an apex. There was a weekly schedule of visiting a friend's house to watch previous episodes on DVD, so at that point, the current in-jokes and conversation had a tendency to revolve around that show and Mafia-like activity in general. Discussing the show with another friend one day - an individual who has his own knowledge of graft - one point that came up is that he didn't appreciate how "fake" that show and other movies about organized crime in general were in comparison to how it actually worked. I argued that movies like The Godfather were more aiming for entertainment than authenticity, but I kept his point in mind. I generally agreed that there were some elements to these fictional works that exceeded reasonable plausibility.
Another area that occupied a lot of my idle thinking was that of videogames and manga, and I noticed how many storylines that easily become popular had a visible unifying theme which the characters have in common. More importantly, this theme was superficial and had no bearing on how the actual story works; to the people in Araki's Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, it's normal for everyone to share names from a Billboard Top 100 chart or a tarot deck. Based on this, I figured that it would be interesting for a game to have characters all with names based on city streets. I went as far as to imagine how certain "traits" of the streets might be personified by human characters taking their names; I always hated traffic on Cicero Avenue, so my phrase to reflect that was to say "Cicero is a bitch." My thinking then was, how would that be shown? How would I get other people to think that "Cicero is a bitch"? Clearly, Cicero would have to be female, and she'd have to be portrayed as a domineering bitch.
At this point in time, my girlfriend (of a few years at that point) was still drawing tremendous pieces of art, but one thing I noticed was that it all tended to be characters and people from some novel or videogame or other previously established character. I've been told that I can write stories well sometimes, so I was trying to find a way on how we could collaborate and thus maybe inspire her to draw something that wasn't just mere cover art. I figured that mere tribute art did not fully reflect her true capabilities and talents. I figured that creating something uniquely new was a way for her to have a full blank canvas - a blank globe - where she could build upon her talents towards art that was fully her own. I wanted her to have the opportunity to design characters and places to her suiting, so she could form a world where she would always feel comfortable in creating more for it, a world where she would always have the ultimate control in how it came to be presented to everyone else.
With all of these things in mind, I hastily sketched five figures - mostly just silhouettes - in various physical forms and states of dress, standing around a pool table, and wrote out five names of familiar Chicago streets under each one. I still thought of Cicero as female and considered the sketch to be of five guys, so I started thinking eastbound of Cicero and wrote out the major streets that I could easily name in that direction - thus they were Western, Kedzie, Pulaski, Ashland, and Halsted. They were shady, shifty people, standing around a pool table, waiting for trouble - they were gangsters. Not necessarily thuggish Italian-American gangsters, to be sure, but they were at least people in "the business" in some way.
After spending some time to imagine distinct general biographies of each of these men, I sent the information and the idea to her - a day later, she had made five mugshot sketches that closely matched the visions which came to my head when I wrote them. It made me shiver with a pure joy that I rarely feel in life at all - it was incredible to me how she was (and to this day, still is) able to take some text that I wrote and form real images that only previously existed in my head. It was then that I felt we truly found and created something new.
Interestingly, the name "Everstreets" didn't come until later. I wanted to try to reflect a continuous cycle of a common theme of certain things happening at certain times of the year, so I thought of having the seasons function as a loosely underlying theme to this effect; death and destruction would come in winter, new life and friendship blooms in spring, the long summer days would be host to the most labor and growth, and fall would come time to harvest the bounty. To hint at this theme I wanted to make a name that reflected a perennial - something that was always there, like an evergreen. So, I figured that an evergreen of the streets would be called "Everstreets".
Since this project began, I've spent years of reading various histories and books about organized crime to simulatenously support my ability to write about a developing city and organized crime running within it. To help her envision and understand what I was looking for in how the city itself looked, I undertook many trips - sometimes with her, sometimes alone - to dense city streets and take pictures of buildings of all kinds. I've always had a general interest in architecture before, but it wasn't until this new emphasis on exposure to different architectural styles as well as researching the history behind these buildings that photography became an active hobby in my life. This is what drives me to photograph urban decay and seek out buildings that are on the brink of destruction - I now have a higher awareness of city history and I want to preserve it before it vanishes. To this end, Everstreets has already changed my life. My research of history provokes me to take more pictures, and the photography drives me to research the history of new things that I encounter there or on the way. I now have a deeper appreciation and understanding of Chicago, Detroit, New York City, many cities between and beyond these, and the United States itself. There are already a few structures that I have taken pictures of which no longer exist, and I appreciate that I was able to preserve them. My personal purpose of writing Everstreets is to form letter of love and appreciation for the history and splendor of the American metropolis.
It is my ultimate hope that by being here and reading this story, you are able to entertain new perspectives and form a greater appreciation of where you live, the cities around you, the streets that link them together, and the history behind it all.
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everstreets © dog$ & Allison L - - directed by $, art & html by L, circa 2003