Meltdown update – Woodlawn’s Renaissance on Kimbark

Woodlawn‘s population, as measured by the Census Bureau, fell from a high of more than 80,000 in 1960 to 23,410 in 2010. The community’s decline was accompanied by a seemingly-endless and costly succession of efforts at revitalization.

We visit Woodlawn periodically, and look in from time to time on property sales in the neighborhood. A series of small condos billed as “The Renaissance on Kimbark” was once touted as a harbinger of lasting change in the area. When we checked on sales at one of the Renaissance developments last October, a unit that had originally sold for $260K was listed, following a foreclosure, at $154,900.

The asking price for Unit 4S at 6615 S Kimbark is now $134,900. Recent resales of other condos in the area indicate that the price might not have reached bottom. Unit 2N at 6501 S Kimbark, pictured above in a 2007 photo, sold for $252,000 in 2007. The 3-bedroom, 2 ½ bath condo is currently in foreclosure and listed as a short sale at $75,000.

Unit 3A at 6609 S Kimbark sold recently for $52,000 and other units on the block have sold below $20,000.

The next development on the block should be named The Dégringolade on Kimbark.


  • Jolyon 4 years

    A snarky but myopic piece of writing. At the most general level, the narrative touches on important truths: population decline and real estate investment price instability. But the use of data points is misleading (e.g., 1960 to present population decline– partly due to flight and disinvestment but also due to broader changes in per household unit density that have occurred across the US; use of price comparisons from before the nationwide real estate bubble burst to early period of bottoming out). Woodlawn is close to the lake, close to downtown, right on Lakeshore Drive and Metra line, borders hyper-priced Hyde Park, and close to major new retail (Whole Foods, etc.). Long term investors will do well here. Those looking to flip should stay away. Snarky writers who ignore aspects of racially based stigma, disinvestment, and depopulation will reproduce those racially encouraged downsides but larger market forces will, over a twenty year investment horizon, prove that Zekas, like most business writers, just reproduces conventional wisdom as insight and have no real long term understanding.

    • There’s nothing misleading about the population decline numbers – except your suggestion that household size changes account for any portion of it worth noting. Look at the large number of vacant lots in Woodlawn if you want to see some of the impact of that decline.

      Long-term and short-term investors have had their hopes for Woodlawn dashed for more than 50 years. Proximity to the lake and downtown gain an investor absolutely nothing in the context of a community in Woodlawn’s depressed condition.

  • Benjamin Boyajian 4 years

    I agree with Jolyon. Also, I have two major issues with the article. First, it claims that Woodlawn has seen many expensive attempts at revitalization that were not successful. I would argue that the opposite is true, and that there was virtually no investment in Woodlawn until very recently. In contrast, many of the neighborhoods that are considered desirable today are so because of the investment that they received in previous years. Second, the article ignores the racial component of foreclosure crisis that has led to low home prices in neighborhoods like Woodlawn. Real estate investors gave sub-prime mortgages to black first-time homeowners who didn’t realize this was a bad idea. As a result, the foreclosure crisis hit these neighborhoods particularly hard, and these neighborhoods are still paying the cost.

    Also, there is evidence that Woodlawn, at least the part of it that has seen investment, is improving. If you look at the census tract from 63rd to 67th bounded by the Metra tracks on the east, the population has increased by 8% from 2000 to 2010, and the poverty rate has decreased from over 30% to 11%. Woodlawn may not be the best choice if you are looking for a short-term real estate investment, but in the long term it has the potential to significantly change.

  • Benjamin Boyajian

    You can “argue” all day long “that there was virtually no investment in Woodlawn until very recently” only if you’re ignorant of the history of this community.

    Woodlawn has seen tons of money flow through The Woodlawn Organization and other community-based organizations. One organization alone, Woodlawn Community Development Corporation, has overseen $300 million in development since the early 1970s, almost all of it government money.

    Get on the ground and walk the census tract you’re talking about and report back on what it looks like. Then come back and talk about the “potential to significantly change.”

    • Benjamin Boyajian 4 years

      First, $300 million spent over the course of 40 years averages out to $7.5 million per year, so it isn’t that much. In comparison, the redevelopment of Harper Court in Hyde Park will cost $240 million. Also, Woodlawn has only seen negative investment until recently, as IrishPirate noted. Since the 1970s, the Woodlawn Organization has really been a tool of the political machine run by Mayor Daley Sr (although it is now more closely allied with UChicago). It has focused mostly on developing affordable housing, which might have been a positive thing if it happened in Hyde Park or the Northside, but it only helped concentrate poverty in Woodlawn (also, I’ve heard that they didn’t maintain their properties very well, so they might have actually accelerated Woodlawn’s decline). As for Woodlawn Community Development Corporation, it is controlled by the TWO and therefore has the same problems. I’ve heard that they also provide social services which may help the residents, but it doesn’t make the neighborhood itself more livable. Under the same logic that your are using, you could say that it isn’t worthwhile to invest in Bronzeville because millions of dollars have already been spent by CHA in the neighborhood (and 20 years ago, you might have used the same argument for the South Loop). On a side note, Woodlawn has also suffered because it hasn’t received the same level of public services and police protection that is expected in white neighborhoods, and by giving substandard public services the city has probably saved money in Woodlawn rather than losing it.

      Also, I have been in the census tract that I mentioned, as well as most of Woodlawn. I suppose that you are referring to the preponderance of empty lots (and a few vacant buildings), as well as a barren 63rd Street. However, other than a few blocks on Kimbark and the area east of the Metra tracks featured in the video, most blocks are fairly intact (I noticed that you conveniently showed a picture of one of the worse blocks). Also, there is plenty of new construction in the area, and new construction in the future can eliminate more empty lots. Similarly, new construction (either retail or a Presidential Library) would rebuild 63rd Street. Woodlawn maybe not be as nice as anywhere on the North side, but it’s not a barren wasteland has you depict it.

      Finally, most of the decline that is evident in Woodlawn occurred from 1960-1990 and not after 1990. The population decreased by 2/3 to 27,000 from 1960-1990 and only decreased by 15% from 1990-2010. Furthermore, the recent population decline is due to the western portion of the neighborhood, and the eastern portion has been stable in terms of population. I agree that Woodlawn is not going to be “the next hot neighborhood” anytime soon, but I also don’t agree with your proposals in previous articles for continued disinvestment or 21st-century urban renewal in Woodlawn and similar neighborhoods.

      • I wouldn’t disagree with most of what you’ve said in your reply.

      • Sherdian B 4 years

        Are you connected with the Bazaar?

  • IrishPirate 4 years


    Joe, you bring out the best in some of your commenters.

    The history of Woodlawn for approximately the last 50 years was dominated by “The Woodlawn Organization” and the late Bishop Brazier. He seemed perfectly willing to see Woodlawn decline in terms of population as long as much government largesse was funneled through his various organizations. He and his organization weren’t solely responsible for the decline, but they didn’t do much to slow it down.

    Tearing down the ELevated CTA to Cottage Grove and keeping the University of Chicago and its police department out of the neighborhood for decades are two prime examples of the damage Brazier and his organizations wrought. I’m searching my tiny brain for Elizabethian biblical language in honor of the late Pentecostal Bishop, community leader and real estate developer.

    Now in recent years the University has expanded south to 61st street and its police department now patrols from 37th to 65th. Those are good changes. Unfortunately the former elevated line to Cottage Grove has not returned. The fire and brimstone of Bishop Brazier’s political power ground it into dust and salted the earth under it.

    Now all that being said I do believe that Woodlawn north of 63rd and east of say Drexel Avenue is poised for some significant positive change over the next decade or two. Hyde Park is slowwwwwwwwwwwwly expanding in reality if not in name and those changes are clearish out to 63rd. South of 63rd? That will be more difficult and it may be an additional generation or two of YoChicago future commenters to tackle those blocks.

    Check out YoChicago in the years 2024-2034 to see how right or wrong the predictions are.

    • Sherdian B 4 years

      I gave somebody a lift home to 61st Street and they had the gall to say they lived in Hyde Park. “But people in Woodlawn say this is Hyde Park” was the excuse. It will be interesting to see what happens in Woodlawn once the economy really improves. I don’t think a presidential library will make all that much difference (who wants to buy in a subdivision near Eisenhower’s Library? Only a scholar perhaps) to development.

      For the record, I think South Shore will become “hot” before Woodlawn for a variety of reasons, not least of which housing stock, transportation and the lake.

      • It was either 1979 or 1980 when South Shore was pitched to me as “the next hot neighborhood.”

        I looked at some terrifying apartments there at the time and easily took a pass.

        • Sheridan B 4 years

          I think it is: there is an increasing number of new residents who are active in the community (such as helping to push out Sandi Jackson among other accomplishments) and there was a smattering of small-scale new construction over the past few years. Several big rental buildings have been sold and are poised for renovations, so I think the trend is positive.

          As an aside, I remember the gap being touted as “next hot neighborhood” when I was a kid in the late 70’s…

  • IP,

    It’s sad that their best is so very lame.

    I’ve always wondered whether Brazier was the good Bishop’s real name or whether he changed it.

    Here’s a look at a small slice of East Woodlawn, just a block from Jackson Park:

  • Captain Video 4 years

    The best way to revitalize the part of Woodlawn adjacent to the University of Chicago is to build the Obama library there. More specifically, at Woodlawn and 63rd there is a sizable area of vacant land, so that the amount of buildings that would have to be razed would be limited. A formal proposal for locating it there has been drawn up. It also includes proposals for some related construction adjacent to it, that would, among other things, physically connect the library site with the university campus.

  • Randall Burns 4 years

    I lived in Woodlawn while I was a student at U of chicago over 30 years ago. Now that U of C patrols have started there, we’ll see a gradual tendency towards more students living there-it is just very close to the U of Chicago campus. I think it would be a great location for the Obama presidential library. Woodlawn has a lot going for it. Just adding a few more jobs woudl be a big help to folks there.