The Block Club sign, found all over the South Side but few other places, is traditionally a list of things you shouldn’t do in our neighborhood: no loitering, no car washing, no loud music, no ball games, no games, no dogs nesting on the lawns. Often these warnings are accompanied by a painting of a pair of eyes, to let anyone thinking of doing any of these things know that someone is watching. According to the book Chicago’s Block Clubs: How Neighbors Shape the Cityby Amanda I. Seligman, the signs were first erected as public statements of rules set out in club newsletters.
“Placing signs on public roads reinforced the idea that the rules applied to everyone, not just to block club members,” Seligman wrote. “Block club signs were usually homemade affairs, hand-painted on wood and simply erected on pairs of wooden poles. One of the functions of the signs was to inform passers-by of the existence of a neighborhood club. The signs also set out simplified versions of the club’s expectations for public behavior in the neighborhood, usually condemning a combination of illegal drugs, vagrancy, gambling, dangerous driving and car repair.
Most older signs carry these warnings. But there is a new tradition of bouldering club signs. Jahmal Cole, a Chatham resident who founded My Block, My Hood, My City, worked with the Design Apprenticeship Program at the University of Chicago Arts Incubator to encourage young people to paint more colorful, more positive, more welcoming signs – signs whose messages are not preceded by the word “NO”. On a recent trip through Greater Grand Crossing, Avalon Park, Chatham and Auburn-Gresham, we saw both warning signs and welcome signs. Browse the gallery below to see some examples.