Excerpt from the 2009 quality-of-life plan: "In December 2007, the newly elected Alderman, Willie B. Cochran, convened a quality-of-life planning process to begin shaping this new chapter in our history. Through monthly meetings and workshops over the following year, we engaged more than 200 people and learned from each other that Washington Park has many assets still. We hammered out a vision and defined a new path that respects our history while responding to new opportunities.
Ald. Cochran outlines the planning process at an early meeting.
Eric Young Smith
"Now is a critical moment for Washington Park. Thanks to long effort by our churches, property owners and community organizations, the neighborhood is building again. There are new brick townhouses on Michigan Avenue and other streets, freshly rehabbed condominiums in six-flats and greystones, and several recent non-profit housing developments. In 2008, the University of Chicago purchased land and buildings along Garfield Boulevard west of the park, seeking a long-term stake in our neighborhood. And while this plan was being developed, Chicago was preparing its bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games, with Washington Park at the very center of the festivities.
"Neighborhood stakeholders consider the Olympic bid and the University of Chicago land purchases as both opportunities and threats. While they may bring new investment and trigger implementation of projects in this plan, they also could repeat urban-renewal mistakes of the past that displaced residents or reshaped communities without the input of local residents. We intend to be full participants in decisions about our neighborhood’s future, and will use this plan to guide development.
"We face other challenges as well. The loss of some 9,000 housing units since 1970 and a recent wave of foreclosures mean that many buildings are boarded and some blocks have only a few buildings left – or none at all. We have been one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods for many years, with roughly half of individuals and families living below the poverty level in 2000. Five of our six local elementary schools perform in the bottom half of all Chicago schools, according to a 2004 analysis by IFF (formerly Illinois Facilities Fund). And for children and families throughout the neighborhood, safety and gang activity are major concerns.
Building on strengths
Creating an inviting and safe environment is a priority of the plan.
"But the potential remains to thrive once more. CTA Green Line and Red Line stations provide excellent access to downtown. The Dan Ryan Expressway is steps away. We have major employment centers nearby, including the University of Chicago, with 15,000 employees, Midway Airport, and the southwest industrial corridor. And our vacant land represents opportunities for in-fill housing, commercial development and new green space, all of which can be accomplished without displacement of residents.
"Most importantly, both newcomers and longtime residents see Washington Park on the rise. Before the nation’s economic crisis slowed down the housing market, we experienced major new investment in housing by both black professionals and working-class families who want to contribute to the area’s rebirth. The Washington Park Chamber of Commerce was formed to support business development, and churches stepped forward as leaders for the community’s future."