City’s latest plan to rebuild South and West sides is admirable, but don’t forget the big picture

Promoting more housing options is a good move, but the public infrastructure that makes a city attractive — good schools, dependable public transit, a solution to crime — is also needed.

SHARE City’s latest plan to rebuild South and West sides is admirable, but don’t forget the big picture

Maurice Cox, commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development, seeks to rebuild portions of South and West sides in a new phase of the city’s Invest South/West program. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times, Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot made the right move with the announcement this week of her three-part plan to rebuild whole swaths of the historically disinvested South and West sides.

The effort is being pitched as the second part of the mayor’s three-year-old Invest South/West initiative, which was designed to revive decaying South and West side commercial corridors.

The Lightfoot administration now wants to focus on rebuilding the residential areas behind those retail districts.

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It’s a good, smart move for the South and West sides — and the city as a whole. Areas of the city that have long struggled because of disinvestment are beginning to get resources, particularly under the Lightfoot administration.

But much, much more is needed. We can’t forget the big picture.

A three-part plan

Lightfoot announced the effort Tuesday during the groundbreaking of a $47 million mixed-use Invest South/West project at 5200 W. Chicago Ave.

The city’s plan is composed of three parts, dubbed Come Home, Ready Build, and Chicago Block Builders.

The Come Home program would promote the building of single-family homes, townhouses, and multiunit buildings on residential blocks close to Invest South/West retail corridors.

Ready Build would create conceptual plans — including cost estimates and architectural designs — to build ground-level stores with residential units above.

Chicago Block Builders will be an online portal with thousands of vacant, city-owned lots for sale in the 10 Invest South/West neighborhoods.

“We want all of those who love the South and West side to come on home,” said city Department of Planning Commissioner Maurice Cox during the announcement.

“Come back home to the communities that you love, and we’re going to provide new housing options,” he said.

It’s a brave — and welcome — stance for a mayoral administration to take. In the 1960s, the city did everything to stem white flight, from building suburban-style neighborhoods around the city’s edges to the construction of Marina City.

But more than 20 years of Black residents leaving the city for the suburbs, Northwest Indiana and the South has been largely met with shoulder shrugs by previous mayors.

“Let it never happen again that another mayor, another administration turns their back on the South and the West Side,” Lightfoot said.

But it’s worth noting that if the city wants people to return to these communities, the mayor’s administration has to continue to push for the public infrastructure that makes a city attractive and livable: good schools, dependable public transit, and concrete solutions to the city’s crime problem.

Without those, the exodus from the South and West sides will continue.

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