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West Haven

West Haven seeks mixed-income future

A neighborhood of firsts, the Near West Side was the first laid low by riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968. That sad episode and its aftermath nearly wiped out its main drag of West Madison Street and triggered an exodus of jobs from the once-mighty Kinzie Industrial Corridor.  

But now, as it makes its comeback as West Haven, the same neighborhood has been the first to deal effectively with large-scale urban renewal (think United Center); with the side-effects of transformed public housing (think Horner Homes and Rockwell Gardens); and with challenges from unemployed ex-offenders to spats over how fancy should be the stores coming back to West Madison.

The square mile that is West Haven, bordered by Ashland, Western Van Buren and Lake, is but a corner of the city’s official Near West Side, yet it has experienced far more than its share of changes that have come to all neighborhoods close to the Loop.

Many date the turnaround back to 1987 when residents defeated a Chicago Bears proposal to build a football stadium alongside the new United Center. They won by drafting and defending their own plan, one calling for new housing to replace that cleared for the UC, for a neighborhood library, a refurbished Touhy Herbert Park and, eventually, the James Jordan Boys & Girls Club and Family Life Center.

Ten years later the Chicago Housing Authority kicked off its historic Plan for Transformation by demolishing its Henry Horner high-rises along Lake Street and partnering with a developer to build there the Villages of West Haven townhouses. When many CHA tenants had trouble making the adjustment to independent living it was NWSCDC that stepped up with a series of social interventions that later became a model for CHA resettlement across the city.     

These early successes were a catalyst for the private sector development now filling many of the community’s vacant lots. Several market-rate condominium and townhouse developments have been built, and NWSCDC, working with various city programs, has itself developed nearly 100 affordable homes and apartments. So the Near West Side’s population is again growing, climbing 3.4 percent since 2000 to 48,004 by mid-decade, according to Census estimates; and getting wealthier, with nearly half of all households earning at least $35,000 a year.  

But just as destruction of Madison Street signaled the neighborhood’s collapse, revival of the old shopping district best heralds the comeback.  NWSCDC was instrumental in bringing a branch bank branch, a Walgreen’s and a dental office to Madison and Western. Soon a full-sized grocery store will anchor a larger retail complex across the street.

Nearby, Near West’s Madison Retail Revitalization Initiative has celebrated the recent openings of  Jean Works, which sells overstock designer jeans;  Shoomi: A Shoe Boutique; and  Tonya’s Hush Boutique, which features window art from nearby Dett Elementary.  More stores are on the way, thanks in part to a 2007 study by LISC/MetroEDGE  estimating the neighborhood  packs $91 million in annual  buying power, much of which “leaks” elsewhere for lack of  stores.

Indeed, many of the improvements contemplated for West Haven by NWSCDC in its 2002 NCI Plan (click here) have been achieved. And no one familiar with the energy of the organization, or the potential of the neighborhood, would bet against  similar outcomes for the many improvements contemplated in its updated NCP quality of life plan, released in October of 2007 and titled West Haven: Rising Like the Phoenix.

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