This spring, Mayor Emanuel launched an initiative to target investments in specific Chicago neighborhoods using public and private funds. The “Chicago Neighborhoods Now” plan intends to place projects in Englewood, Pullman, Rogers Park, Uptown, Little Village, Bronzeville, and the Eisenhower Corridor to help these neighborhoods achieve their potential. Some goals include creating new jobs, eliminating food deserts, and revitalizing low-income neighborhoods. Specific efforts include developing commercial centers, increasing available housing, and making streetscape improvements.
Some projects have already launched, such as Growing Home’s urban farms that supply local produce for their communities and provide employment for people transitioning out of incarceration, substance abuse, and homelessness. The organization partners with its neighborhoods to educate community members about nutrition and healthy cooking. The Wood Street and Honore farms in Englewood grow and sell produce on site as well as in Lincoln Park, and the Wood Street farm houses an education center on the premises.
The “Shops and Lofts at 47” development in Bronzeville will contain a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market and mixed-income apartments in the three-acre space. The development will create jobs for community members, attract other retailers to the space, and provide fresh foods for neighborhood residents. The overall aim of the project is to strengthen economic growth in the neighborhood.
Streetscape improvements are planned for Rogers Park to increase the attractiveness of the neighborhood’s streets. The projects set for this neighborhood support the goal to create a residential area for Loyola University’s campus. Other projects include creating the area to be more pedestrian- and bike-friendly, enhancing some CTA Red Line stations, and supporting commercial investments in the neighborhood.
Englewood will soon be home to Whole Foods grocery store, which is planned to be built as part of a new commercial development. This will be the second location the grocery store will open in a low-income neighborhood, following Detroit’s opening this past summer. Often criticized as having high prices, Whole Foods plans to lower prices on some products at this location. The city expects the grocery store to attract other retailers to open in the commercial center, which will help revitalize the neighborhood’s economy. Some residents are concerned that building the Whole Foods store will lead to gentrification of the area. This could certainly occur, especially if the store does not engage with the community it is located in. The store is already planning to partner with the culinary program at Kennedy-King College, and exploring options to work with mothers of infants, facilitate cooking demonstrations, and nutrition education. Intentional community engagement between outside companies like Whole Foods is key to prevent gentrification in the area.
Mayor Emanuel’s “Chicago Neighborhoods Now” initiative is a multifaceted project with lofty goals, and the success achieved through this project can drastically transform the city. Neighborhood revitalization is important for a number of reasons. It works with community leaders and members to create change and empower residents. It facilitates economic growth in areas that are beyond the point of being able to overcome plight with their own resources.
Neighborhood revitalization also creates an environment that welcomes integration. Commercial development, increased retail presence, fresh and healthy food sources, a variety of housing options, and attractive streetscapes help a neighborhood become more desirable to live in. Desirability draws all kinds of people to live in an area, regardless of background. Everyone wants to live in a vibrant and thriving community. Revitalization creates an integrated community of residents invested in their neighborhood.
I am encouraged by Mayor Emanuel’s “Chicago Neighborhoods Now” initiative. The city’s investment in Chicago communities will be beneficial for all residents.
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By Casey Griffith, Research and Outreach Coordinator