ChicagoSouth Side

Yet another vision for Woodlawn

by Joe Zekas on 8/31/11

The morning email brought news that a $30.5 million grant has been awarded to the City of Chicago and Preservation of Affordable Housing for Woodlawn‘s Grove Parc Plaza under Housing and Urban Development’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative. We’re told that:

Choice Neighborhoods grants transforms distressed neighborhoods and public and assisted projects into viable and sustainable mixed-income neighborhoods by linking housing improvements with appropriate services, schools, public assets, transportation, and access to jobs.

The grant summary (pdf) informs us that:

In 2007, Grove Parc Plaza, a 504-unit project-based section 8 development built in the 1960s on a 12-acre site in the Woodlawn neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, was threatened with foreclosure due to severe problems with the site. Crime, vacant homes and lots, poor schools, unemployment, and lack of access to needed services and amenities plagued the site and broader neighborhood. Grove Parc residents invited nonprofit development company Preservation of Affordable Housing, Inc. (POAH) to intervene in preserving the affordable units and turning around the site. POAH subsequently formed a partnership with the City of Chicago, the Jane Adams Hull House, the University of Chicago, LISC Chicago, and other community partners to redevelop Grove Parc Plaza and revitalize the surrounding Woodlawn neighborhood. In addition to a wide ranging set of services and neighborhood investments, a total of 965 units are now planned retaining the original affordable units but integrating them with additional workforce, market rate rental and homeownership units. The total direct investment associated with the Choice Neighborhoods funding is estimated at $272 million.

This vision for the Woodlawn community emerged through LISC‟s Woodlawn New Communities Program which initiated a comprehensive neighborhood planning process in 2005 involving a wide range of neighborhood residents, local businesses, nonprofits, churches, and other civic organizations. It includes such neighbor assets such as developing grocery and retail space, a youth center and converting an underused post office into a community resource center. The original Grove Parc site will be 4 completely demolished and redesigned to create a new mixed-income pedestrian friendly corridor connecting the University of Chicago on one end to the Chicago Transit Authority’s “El” Station on the other. In addition, 65,000 square feet of retail and 40,000 square feet of recreational and community facilities are anticipated. Plans also call for renovating a large number of foreclosed properties and building new homes on vacant lots.

You can read some of the dreary history of attempts to improve Woodlawn, and the endless controversies over the community, in this summary from the 2005 Hyde Park – Kenwood Community Conference, and the documents linked there. A Google / Google Scholar search on Woodlawn will lead you to part of the vast literature on Woodlawn, a neighborhood where many a previous vision has vanished from sight.

Will the $272 million “direct investment associated with the Choice Neighborhoods funding” make any more lasting impact on Woodlawn than the other government initiatives poured into the neighborhood over the past 50 years?

The video above is the first part of a brief walk, two years ago, through East Woodlawn. Part two is at YouTube.

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