Englewood Nature Trail stays on track with $3 million in state funding

Chicago as a whole can benefit when long-neglected neighborhoods such as Englewood are sensitively redeveloped.

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An unused railroad corridor in Englewood took a step closer to becoming a nature trail with $3 million in new state funding.

A $3 million state grant puts an unused railroad corridor in Englewood a step closer to becoming a nature trail.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

We’re pleased an effort to turn an abandoned elevated rail line in Englewood into a linear park and trail has moved a bit closer to reality.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker last week announced $3 million in state funds would be allocated to the proposed Englewood Nature Trail, a 1.75 mile railroad embankment that runs parallel to 59th Street between Wallace Street and Hoyne Avenue

The trail is one of 72 projects that will be funded under the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program.

Communities such as Englewood and West Englewood need boosts like these, particularly now that the city is beginning to realize Chicago as a whole benefits when long-neglected areas are sensitively redeveloped.

Editorial

Editorial

As Pritzker said in a statement announcing the ITEP funding: “We’re reversing a legacy of disinvestment that holds us all back, and we’re establishing a new day for the program.”

A green path like the 606

With the state funding, the Englewood project has $30 million in city, state and federal funds needed for the $72 million effort.

Last summer, the project received a $20 million federal grant championed by Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Chicago. Design work has already begun.

The project would be a spectacular follow-up to the $95 million, 2.7-mile 606, built atop a former industrial rail embankment that runs from Bucktown and Wicker Park westward into Humboldt Park. The 606 opened in 2015.

As with the 606, the Englewood effort would be a green path that would accommodate biking, walking and other activities.

The former rail bed’s width ranges from 50 feet to 100 feet wide.

Officials also believe the trail would provide a link to urban farms planned for street-level lots along the route, and other neighborhood destinations, including parks, playgrounds and schools.

The planned trail’s origins date back to 2014 with the creation of the city’s Green Healthy Neighborhoods Plan.

Under the plan, the trail is envisioned as a green spine running through Englewood and West Englewood, linking the neighborhood’s existing amenities and sparking the creation of new ones.

That’s quite a turnaround for a rail line that’s been out of use and — with its 26 viaducts — physically looming over the two South Side communities since the 1960s.

The raised railway was built in 1917 by the Pennsylvania Railroad and for nearly 50 years, the line brought goods to and from the industries that once operated near 59th Street.

The city acquired the rail line from the Norfolk Southern Railroad in 2018.

Englewood trail should be a Johnson priority

There are concerns the trail could cause nearby home prices to spike and set off the kind of re-gentrification that occurred after the 606’s completion.

Indeed, housing prices jumped an astonishing 344% from 2012 to 2019 near the 606’s once more affordable western end, according to a 2020 study by the DePaul University Institute for Housing Studies.

But the vast number of vacant lots near the Englewood trail would likely act as a bulwark against this happening immediately, at least.

And L. Anton Seals Jr., executive director of Grow Greater Englewood — and a prime mover behind the trail’s creation — last year said he and others want the trail to spark economic development, while seeking a community benefits contract to ensure residents won’t be displaced.

Given its proposed benefits, this is the kind of project that incoming Mayor Brandon Johnson should lean into and herald as an example of the kind of transformational neighborhood change the city needs.

Along with the planned CTA Red Line extension, the redevelopment of the former Michael Reese Hospital site and other efforts, the Englewood Trail is the type of big-ticket project to help jump-start portions of the South Side. (Johnson’s task must include bringing large projects to the overlooked West Side, too.)

Sure, these endeavors are expensive and time-consuming. But Chicago needs them to happen so every part of the city can thrive. And in the long-run, they’re far cheaper than the civic cost of doing nothing.

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