Why Woodlawn is coming back strong
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Last week we stood shoulder to shoulder with members of the Woodlawn community to celebrate the latest chapter in a story of neighborhood renewal and redevelopment.
We were at the corner of 61st and Cottage Grove to announce that Jewel has chosen to locate its newest store there – the first full-service grocery store to locate in Woodlawn since Hillman’s closed more than 40 years ago.
The new grocery store will be more than a place to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables, although access to nutritious food is vital for healthy communities.
It will be more than a new employer of 250 people, although those jobs are important to the people who fill them and the families they support.
The new Jewel represents another vote of confidence in the future of Woodlawn, and a sign of the success of policies like the federal Choice Neighborhood Initiative and Chicago’s Neighborhood Now strategy that recognize housing without parks, schools, and transportation is just housing — not a neighborhood.
We are no longer relying on the failed “housing only” policies of the past, and our holistic Neighborhood Now approach is bearing fruit in Chicago communities from Woodlawn to Bronzeville, Belmont Cragin to Little Village, and Pullman to Englewood.
Where the private sector sees the investments the City of Chicago is making, they want to be part of it. Where investors see strong infrastructure and quality housing, they see a good bottom line. That is what they see in Woodlawn today, but the seeds of that success have been planted over time.
The City of Chicago and Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH) have been working in close coordination with Woodlawn residents for many years.
When POAH was approached by the city and local Woodlawn residents to help redevelop Grove Parc Plaza, a three- block stretch of public housing that had fallen into disrepair, we not only saw the potential in Woodlawn, we saw a willing partner in the City of Chicago.
We won a $30.5 million federal Choice Neighborhood grant, and the POAH/City-led partnership turned that investment into $400 million in housing, stores and civic improvements, including more than 800 new units of mixed-income housing and more than 80,000 square feet of new commercial and retail space.
When we announced the new Jewel, we were standing inside MetroSquash, which opened in 2015 and is not just a new world-class athletic facility, but a new non-profit center for academic tutoring and mentoring. It is a safe space for students to go after school, and a community amenity that the whole neighborhood can access.
Up the street from MetroSquash will be the new Woodlawn Station, a mixed-use, mixed-income Transit Oriented Development adjacent to the Cottage Grove Green Line stop, which is also on the cusp of a major redevelopment.
Nearby, the University of Chicago is building a new charter school on 63rd Street that will open later this year, serving hundreds of students and increasing the vibrancy of the surrounding area. And no single development will do more to revitalize Woodlawn than the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, which will break ground next year.
Expanding economic development also enhances public safety, and over the last five years violent crime in Woodlawn has dropped by 27 percent.
The transformation of Woodlawn would not have been possible without the block clubs and community groups, individuals and families who have worked for decades to bring about this historic resurgence.
That is why when we announced the new grocery store last week, while we gathered to welcome the developer, we were there to recognize and celebrate the wisdom and tenacity of the organizations and people who not only had a vision for a renewed Woodlawn but worked to make it happen.
A few days later, over lunch at the Robust Coffee Lounge on Woodlawn Avenue, I had a chance, as mayor, to celebrate another momentous milestone with Woodlawn residents. We not only talked about the success of the recent past, but continued planning for a shared vision of a brighter future.
It is a vision that is rapidly becoming a reality, and a Neighborhood Now success that is a model for community development across the city.
Rahm Emanuel was elected mayor of Chicago in 2011 and re-elected in 2015.
Bill Eager is president of Preservation of Affordable Housing, Chicago Area.
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