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After many false starts, Englewood tries again

This is the place urban renewal came to die. It died during the early ’70s, right here in Chicago, at the intersection of 63rd and Halsted Streets. By then, so much had been dying in the neighborhood called Englewood—shopping, housing, young men, hope for the future—that nobody mourned the end of that ham-handed method cities once used to erase their problems.

Which was just as well, because urban renewal often did far more harm than good. Englewood may be America’s saddest example.

Then again, something had to be done about the population plunge that reduced this community to less than half of what it was in 1950; about the flight of merchants from what was, well into the ’50s, Chicago’s second busiest shopping district; about the fires and the demolitions, the board-ups and the blight.

But urban renewal didn’t work. Nor did “slum clearance,” the wholesale leveling of abandoned stores, houses and apartment buildings that left parts of Englewood looking like a weedy Tobacco Road. Nor did it help to “mall” the failing shopping district by diverting car traffic around it with Interstate-caliber loops of concrete. Federal urban renewal dollars were plentiful then, but no amount of clearance or concrete could stem the tide of unemployment and addiction, of dope dealing and murderous gang banging.

Why, then, is there a new optimism about Englewood?

Rebuilding the core

One reason is Mayor Richard M. Daley’s announcement, in late 1999, of a quarter-billiondollar makeover of the 63rd and Halsted area. A relocated Kennedy-King city college will rise there along with a new Washburne Culinary Institute, performing arts center and TV studio for WYCC/Channel 20.

To some this may sound like more top-down urban renewal. But this time it could be different. A local advisory commission is helping steer the college project and locate the new 7th District police station farther west on 63rd. Wieboldt’s and Sears are long gone, but Walgreens plans a store at 63rd and Union and the city hopes to recruit a grocery for the northwest corner of 63rd and Halsted.

Still missing was a community-based developer capable of bringing the all-important residential piece to the mix. Sure, there have been scattered success stories to the east, the most impressive being houses built and rehabbed by partnerships led by St. Bernard Hospital and Antioch Missionary Baptist Church. But their resources are stretched. The housing piece would require a broader, better-capitalized development team.

And the timing couldn’t have been better. It happened that Saul Klibanow, president of Pullman Bank Initiatives, Inc., was looking for partners to do housing on the half-empty blocks that stretch away from the bank’s buildings on 63rd.

“The Kennedy-King project is a great opportunity,” said Klibanow, who previously developed affordable housing in South Shore and Rogers Park for a banking industry arm called Rescorp. “But how do you integrate a development like that into a residential neighborhood? It’s not easy. There’s a chance here to do something with scale. A house here and a house there is a recipe for disaster. Englewood has had too many disasters. We need a success so big that others will join in.”

It was city Commissioner Jack Markowski, whose Department of Housing also was looking for Englewood partners, who steered Klibanow to LISC/Chicago’s senior program director, Andrew Mooney, and to LISC’s New Communities Program.

Teamwork Englewood

The pieces and players fell into place: Pullman Bank Initiatives will partner with St. Bernard Hospital and Greater Englewood Parish United Methodist Church, with support from the two activist alderwomen whose wards meet at 63rd and Halsted—Shirley Coleman (16th) and Arenda Troutman (20th). Technical assistance will come from Lakefront Supportive Housing and Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS), two of the city’s premier housing organizations. Other partners are being recruited.

Called Teamwork Englewood, the coalition will use resources from LISC and the MacArthur Foundation to hire a full-time NCP director, organize a community planning process and begin developing a quality-of-life plan. They’ll be working with the same group of professional planners—Camiros, Inc.—that is drawing up the city’s plan for the area.

What’s next?

“Whatever we do,” said the Rev. Albert Shears, senior pastor of Greater Englewood United Methodist, “I can tell you it won’t look like urban renewal. No more John Wayne from City Hall riding to the rescue. This time, regular folk will be at the table.” Could it be that a new community—their community—will rise from this fabled grave of urban renewal?

Contact: Wanda White-Gills, Teamwork Englewood, 773-602-4508, and Rev. Albert Shears, Greater Englewood Parish United Methodist Church, 773-651-1235.

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