We’re taking a brief look at the state of each of the eight neighborhoods we spotlighted as Chicago’s hottest back in June of 2006. We’ve already revisited Woodlawn, Washington Park, Avondale and Near South Side.
Next on our agenda is South Chicago, and our reporter had these observations:
South Chicago, bounded by 79th Street, 95th Street, the lake and the Chicago Skyway, is a diverse neighborhood with legendary industrial roots that linger, though its role as steel producer to the world ended years ago. The Eastern Europeans who worked in the steel mills remain with businesses like Polka Catering, though the population now is primarily African-American.
Commercial and residential improvements have been underway in South Chicago for years, and the neighborhood, which has had its share of gang and crime problems, has benefited from the citywide real estate boom of the last decade. In 2005, the median price of a single-family home in South Chicago was just $128,706, but that represents an increase of 115 percent over the median in 2000.
That’s not why South Chicago makes our list, however. You can find the reasons, all 578 of them, on the lakefront between 79th Street and 87th Street. U.S. Steel closed its South Works plant in 1992, and the site is the largest chunk of open land slated for development in Chicago. And it sits on the lake. “It’s amazing,” one city spokesperson said. “It’s like a big prairie out there the size of the Loop.”
The city’s goals for development at South Works hit a snag when Solo Cup Company pulled out of its plans to build a plant here, but developer Dan McCaffery hopes to build a mixed-use housing and retail community on 400 acres of the site. McCaffery does not have financing or a solid plan in place yet, but whether or not the deal works for him, this project could mean 15,000 new residents, hundreds of new jobs and a new retail base in South Chicago. We can’t supply a timetable – new housing here could be several or more years away – but in the long term, this project will have a massive impact on a community that’s already improving.
What can we say? In the very long term the South Works project, now known as Chicago Lakeside, if it ever comes to pass may have some marginal impact on a community where housing values have collapsed since 2006.