HYDE PARK — When University of Chicago researchers sent high school students out to map their neighborhoods last week, many of the kids returned discouraged by the neglect and disrepair they found.
“I didn’t think they were vacant until we knocked on the door and no one came down,” Flores said, who with 45 other freshman made up math credits by mapping the assets in his community on Monday for the South Side Health and Vitality Studies.
The students left the school, at 8255 S. Houston Ave., to trudge up and down 82nd Street and Commercial Avenue and count every broken window, cracked sidewalk and vacant lot.
The kids learned to turn their data into percents and ratios, and University of Chicago researchers got better data on the community assets available to residents in some of Chicago’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods.
“If you search Google, it says there are no senior homes in South Shore," said Karen Lee, project manager. "[But] there are five.”
Google, phone books and other directories overlook about a third of the assets in Chicago’s South Side communities, according to researchers.
Volunteers and local high school students are filling in the blanks and handing the results over to clinics and doctors so they can better recommend services to patients.
Flores compared the U of C maps to Google and he found the researchers' "maps are better because they have stuff Google says isn’t even there.” Flores said he discovered a produce store next to a fish market he didn’t know about.
The project started in 2009 mapping assets around the university, but has now expanded to 13 underserved neighborhoods on the South Side, many now getting a second and third look by volunteer mappers. All the results are going online at southsidehealth.org and are helping researchers identify areas that lack access to fresh food and other staple goods.
Monday was the first venture out for the freshman from EPIC Academy and they reported they found 22 broken windows on six blocks and saw 10 police officers for every 212 pedestrians.
The oversight board for the research was disheartened by the students’ report and encouraged them to think of ways to improve their neighborhoods.
Dr. Daniel Johnson, the lead investigator on the project, added that the students’ reaction to the quantitative data was “disturbing.”
“The people in this room have taken what you said very seriously,” he said.