Does Englewood have any hope of recovery?

A local community development agency tells you that “Englewood, located seven miles south of Chicago’s Loop, is a community rich in history, strong in character and rising again.” That’s hard to believe.

The Englewood / West Englewood neighborhood has few community assets and few locational advantages other than good public transit access. The more than $250 million invested in the new Kennedy King College at 63rd and Halsted, the centerpiece of a community revitalization effort, has had little, if any, positive impact on its immediate area.

There seems to be no end to the violent crime and poverty that have plagued Englewood for decades. When you look at one of Englewood’s many foreclosed wrecks with plywood windows, you need to remind yourself that it’s been in that state several times before. Vacant lots and boarded-up buildings are nothing new here.

Over 19,000 people left Englewood and West Englewood between 2000 and 2010. Englewood’s 2010 population of 30,654 is less than a third of its 1960 population.

In the video I traverse an 8-block stretch of Normal Blvd in Englewood, passing a public library branch flanked by boarded-up buildings. The scenes you’ll see are the normal condition in most of Englewood, although better than some.

Some urban neighborhoods are so deteriorated that it’s impossible to reclaim them without first clearing them. Is Englewood one of them?

See more of Englewood at our YouTube playlist.

ADDED: Norfolk Southern has been acquiring land in most of the area shown in the video, with a goal of extending the freight yard north of Garfield Blvd south to 61st St.


  • the urban politician 6 years

    Why invest in a community when one will not get a return on their investment? Private investment is the cornerstone of any recovery, period. The city can build all the crap they want to build, but it will do little good.

    Why spend tens or hundreds of thousands, or millions, of dollars building or rebuilding when you’ll get little in return but homeless, penniless druggies on your rent roll who you’ll spend months evicting; and if you’re a bank, you’ll pretty much be foreclosing on worthless property.

    This isn’t Englewood’s fault, of course. This is the fault of our leadership in Washington allowing corporate profits to outweigh the importance of jobs. America is a failure. We might as well be living in India, the way the middle class is shrinking. I don’t believe in too much regulation, but you have to do SOMETHING here to protect the middle class.

  • rich 6 years

    Dept of Housing and Economic Development, CMAP, and others are putting together a plan for this area and have published a draft. There’s a nice map of all the vacant land. The goals are unachievable politically correct platitudes. They apparently want increased density (subsidized housing) and urban agriculture, a progressive’s wet dream. What’s needed is massive clearance of a failed area and acknowledgement that the density isn’t coming back. I say consolidate the land, create minimum 75 ft wide lots and zone it single family and make a suburb in the city.

  • KarmaPolice 6 years

    “The Englewood / West Englewood neighborhood has few community assets and few locational advantages other than good public transit access.”

    This is an investment of great value and will pay off in the very near future. As suburbia continues it’s visible decline, abandoned urban cores will prosper.

  • See the addendum to my post. I’d been aware of the railroad effort, but ditzed out somehow and overlooked it in the video and the post.

  • Ben L 6 years

    Intrusive municipal restrictions on lot size and density? Sounds like a conservative’s wet dream to me.

  • Keith 6 years

    In 1997, President Bill Clinton came to Englewood High School a block east of the route traveled by Mr. Zekas. Normal Blvd looks the same then as it does now. The idea of investing in property and not people seems more like Urban Planning 101 instead of Common Sense 101. The community organizers said then, you cannot invest millions in housing and not invest in human capacity. The powers that be did not listen. Lets spend $250 million dollars to build a new college that will anchor growth. Over spending $10 million to repair the old college and using the remainder $240 million to provide some sort of economic engine that would produce jobs, contracts and opportunities? Even a first grader at any school in Englewood would see that the latter is a better idea. I’m curious Mr. Zekas. What is your connection, if any to Norfolk Southern?

  • rich 6 years

    From the draft plan: “These draft goals for the Green Healthy Neighborhood Land Use Plan have been collected from … these will be refined, …to more accurately reflect the values and vision of the communities, the City of Chicago, and relevant organizations and other stakeholders.”
    It appears they’re on their way to designing their version of utopia only to later discover no one will fund it. What a waiste. Nowhere in their report does it say anything about attracting private investment. “Relevant” organizations does not include real estate and financial professionals, only non-profit knuckleheads.

  • SheridanB 6 years

    I think there is a brighter future in Englewood, it just may not be what we may expect. I doubt that it will be outright gentrification, it doesn’t really have the ‘pull’ or attractions that would be/are required (I’m thinking South Shore for that). If the economy improves and there are more jobs for the residents the area will improve. The other scenario I see is industrial growth (like the rail developments) and various research/commercial developments – the area is on two mass transit lines, metra, the Dan Ryan and has very easy connections to Midway and the U of C. Something like what happened on a small scale west of UIC could happen here or even on larger scale.

  • There are beautiful plans for areas of the city going back to 1872 that were never realized or implemented.
    The reality for Englewood and other similar blighted neighborhoods is simple: private capital will be needed to restore/rebuild/re-create these neighborhoods, and until the people who control that money see a reasonable chance for profit in that investment, the areas will not substantially change.

    There are no more public funding initiatives for re-development on the horizon, nor will there be any time soon. The federal, state and local governments are all underfunded and over extended on existing commitments for services, pensions and infrastructure needs already in place. The winds in Washington are hard against the use of public money for these types of programs.

    Add in the public policy and regulatory challenges with zoning and property rights and this becomes a very long term proposition at best.

    Poverty and decay are part and parcel of some of these areas for far longer than re-development ever was.
    Yes, there are some incredible opportunities for improving these neighborhoods, but if you listen to what the real estate development community is saying, the clear message is their capital is going to stay in areas where the infrastructure is sound, the commercial development is already in place, and the risk is less. The “build it and they will come” mentality is gone from the mind set of developers and most importantly, bankers and lenders.

  • Adam_S 6 years

    That part of town is toast. I lived near there for two years, the place is a craphole. As others have said, the only way a community is going to grow is via private investment. The city/Washington can spend as much money as they want, but it will all be for naught. Until the community decides it wants to improve, and does what it needs to do to foster growth (clean up the area, remove petty criminals, etc etc), there is no incentive for private investment to come into the area. Period. And we all know this won’t happen, that community has had decades to police itself, and look where it is in 2012.