Will pure lunacy result in pure hell at Bronzeville’s Rosenwald apartments?

Curbed recently took note of the issuance of a building permit for the $100M+ renovation of the Rosenwald Apartments at 47th St and Michigan Ave in Bronzeville. Plans call for a mix of family and seniors’ apartments and retail space.

Just over two years ago I walked the location with a group of long-time residents. Their consensus on the proposed redevelopment of the Rosenwald was summed up in the words of one of them: “pure lunacy.”

I also walked the neighborhood on my own and spoke with people working at some of the businesses along 47th St.

The residents’ opposition to the project was motivated by what struck me as a genuine concern for what life will be like for families and seniors who move into the Rosenwald. I’ll sum up their thinking and express it in a way they wouldn’t, but that is a fair summary of what I saw, heard and think I know from experience: “pure hell.”

The real tragedy of the Rosenwald redevelopment isn’t the stunning misallocation and waste of scarce resources for affordable housing. It’s the unavoidably foreseeable crushing of the hopes and dreams of the people who move in there.

If you’re inclined to think that the makeover of the Rosenwald will spur redevelopment along 47th St, I’ suggest you spend a day there.


  • TheBronzevillain 4 years

    I live nearby so I’ll throw in my two cents.

    How are the living conditions in the Rosenwald going to so drastically differ from all of the other mixed income occurring in the neighbrhood? Being less than a mile away from Shops and Lofts how can the impression of each be so drastically different? Think of Oakwood Shores in Oakland. What were the great neighborhood ammenities there? Sure, the lake is closer but aside from that, it is not much closer to it’s ‘ammenities’.

    What made this so drastically different? Sure, 47th Street is barren now but looking back at other ongoing or completed developments in the area like Jazz on the Boulevard, Oakwood Shores, Lake Park Crescent, and Legends South you can hardly say this development faces an exponentially worse set of issues.

    The market rate percentage seems to be lowest in this project but with easy access to 47th street bus and about two blocks from Green line, it can not be considered so isolated.

    Plus, the ground floor retail will be a plus. That’s not to say I think it was a great idea to spend all of this money on the project. But I don’t think the Rosenwald 4 All group can argue that this particular development faces unique issues in this part of town.

    Optimism should be a prerequisite for developmental issues in this part of town.

  • TheBronzevillain

    Realism should be the sole prerequisite when you’re enticing families and senior citizens who desperately want to better their situation.

    Residents who lived immediately adjacent to the Rosenwald told me that it’s a world away from Shops and Lofts.

    You mention the 47th St bus. When I mentioned it to local residents, they said they’d be afraid to stand on the corner waiting for the bus. That was from guys larger than my 6’1″ tall.

    I spent a fair amount of time at and around Jazz, Oakwood Shores and Lake Park Crescent when they were advertising clients. I walked those neighborhoods and talked to residents and businesses, just as I did near the Rosenwald. My outsider’s take: they were very different areas with far fewer issues than the area around Rosenwald.

    The ground floor retail at Rosenwald may or may not be a plus – if it ever gets decent tenants, which I view as highly unlikely.

    Employees at other businesses in the area told me they’d leave the area if Rosenwald re-opened. That was their confidence level in how well the project will work for the neighborhood.

    I fervently hope that the project is a success. I don’t see any reason to believe that it will be anything but a disaster and a grotesque misallocation of scarce resources.

  • TheBronzevillain 4 years

    You’re correct, that area of 47th happens to be the least safe area of Bronzeville. And yes, perhaps southsiders lose a sense of reality in terms of housing development if they are quick to praise this project. Looks can be deceiving though. The area around Oakwood Shores and Lake park crescent no doubt looks better but crime around there is similar to that area on 47th. Aesthetically it looks nicer but the reality is that With the two high rise public housing buildings called Lake Parc place and the addition of the Judge Green apartment building on the same blocke, crime is pretty high around 39th and Lake Park there. Lake Park Crescent is a block away and so is Oakwood shores. Crime is worse near the Rosenwald but not exponentially.

    However, there has been relentless pressure from the community groups for more CHA replacement housing often citing ”right to return”. My guess is that pressure moved this project forward. My issue is that not every mixed income development has to be in Bronzeville. And the right to return is just a right to return to CHA housing, not the exact location or even the vicinity of where you were previously placed. Many residents and even our elected officials don’t seem to understand that.

    Miniscule improvements have taken root on 47th:


    43rd street RFP half a mile away should have picked a developer by now but we’re on city time. So, we wait


    A good way to gauge the future of this project would be to take a look at Legends South as it is right down the street.

    I’m slightly more optimistic than you. This whole mixed income replacement housing is an experiment and with relentless pressure from the community for replacement you can see why rash decisions such as this get made. Protesters were out at the Mariano’s groundbreaking at 39th and King to protest that development because more public housing wasn’t being placed in the neighborhood.

    The aptly named neighborhood group “KOCO” is a good example of some of the lunacy that occurs around here. If they would have had their way in the 90s all of North Kenwood would have looked similar to “woodlake village” on Lake Park and Woodlawn Avenues.


    I’m still not thrilled about it but I don’t think it is much different than the other developments.

  • TheBronzevillain

    Beyond the physical state of the area, there’s all the difference in the world between housing that is predominantly owner-occupied (Jazz, Oakwood, Lake Park Crescent) and upper-middle-income, and what will be built at the Rosenwald.

    For what this project will cost everyone moving into it could have been housed in a safe neighborhood with access to good schools, shopping, services, etc. This is not a defensible use of scarce public resources.

    I’m familiar with significant community opposition to this project and have seen no community support for it. Unless you consider narrow political interests a community.

  • TheBronzevillain 4 years

    I don’t want to beat this into the ground because I mostly agree with you. Just not entirely about the specific quality of life issues in the immediate area with respect to past developments.

    I just looked back at the percentages of each unit for affordable, market rate, and subsidized and I admit it’s worse than I thought.

    Community groups are by default part of the community however narrow their interests and the pressure builds when this is constantly occurring in the hood



    It may not be support for this project but it’s supporting replacement housing and that’s what I see this as. The reality is that there is heavy pressure to return CHA residents to Bronzeville (AND ONLY BRONZEVILLE) even though the right to return is not geographically bounded, except for city limits.

    You are right to say that for the cost it should be moved to a safer area considering the cost and the lives of residents. But the logic isn’t there and I suspect pressure from these CHA bandits played a role. That’s why I said optimism is key on the southside because logic rarely prevails.

  • the urban politician 4 years

    Ahhhh, now this was the Joe Zekas that I missed…

    Strong in opinion, a realist to a “t”, and never ready to back down from a good debate.