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New homes, gardens mark Woodlawn rebound

Woodlawn is a predominately mixed-income African-American community that for years was seen as a “community of last resort,” despite its prime location. The community is located on Chicago’s lakefront, just eight miles from the city’s downtown Loop area. To the north is Hyde Park and the University of Chicago , and to Woodlawn’s east are the South Shore neighborhood and Jackson Park, one of the city’s premier parks and golf courses.

After years of disinvestment, which sparked community advocacy and development, Woodlawn is now “a community of choice,” says Dr. Leon D. Finney, Jr. chairman of The Woodlawn Organization (TWO). To find out about what's been happening in the community's schools, click here .

In the 1990s 63rd Street was a strip of abandoned buildings and vacant lots. Today, because of community alliances between NCP lead agency WPIC, TWO and Woodlawn Community Development Corp., 63rd Street is lined with the elegant Homes at Blackstone and Columbia Pointe, with single-family homes valued at $275,000.

Residents have joined together to create a more visually stimulating community. Along the streets are bike trails; alleys are well-lit and paved; and where there were once vacant lots, neighborhood gardens now provide residents with fresh organic fruits and vegetables as well as colorful flowers. The private housing market is returning with rehab rental and condo units. And Woodlawn schools have seen great improvements with the International Baccalaureate Program at the Andrew Carnegie School and the African-centered curriculum of the Woodlawn Community School.

The neighborhood population was 27,086 in 2000, down 54,193 since 1960. Woodlawn has seen little racial change since the 1950s, remaining about 95 percent African American.

Historically a rental community, owner-occupied housing is up slightly to 18 percent due to construction of new condominiums and single-family homes. Poverty has decreased. Currently, about 39 percent of residents in the community live below poverty level, with 16 percent receiving some form of public assistance. This is a drop from 1990, when half of the community received public assistance. About 28 percent of households have annual incomes of more than $35,000 and 663 households have incomes above $75,000.

During the NCP visioning session in May 2003, community leaders reaffirmed their commitment to steadily improving the community while also creating affordable housing for low-income residents. By 2008, Woodlawn would have: public schools where residents can send their children from grade school to high school; a strong retail district on Cottage Grove between 63rd and 67th streets; new development, investment and homeownership in West Woodlawn; more social activities that support recreational and educational activities for youth; and the removal of the remaining “el” structure.

Please click to see John McCarron's in-depth neighborhood profile from Re:New newsletter, posted in September 2005.

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