Transformation of Chicago’s South Side is the theme of an eight-week speaker series, which began this past Thursday with an appearance and address by Timuel Black, a professor at the Chicago City Colleges and longtime writer and historian of Chicago.
The series, organized by Angels of Def, a University student group promoting community awareness, aims to bring attention to Chicago’s continually changing urban scene.
“Oftentimes it seems that students come to this University as scholarly tourists,” said Shawn Lavoie, member of the organization and a third-year in the College. “They see only the surface, they stay for a bit, and then leave, without actually letting the community and the issues facing community neighborhoods make much of an impression upon them.”
Lavoie said he hopes the series will provide a basis for discussing the issues that South Side residents face. Future speakers, which include Fourth Ward Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, U.S. Representative and former Black Panther Bobby Rush, and University Community Affairs vice president Hank Weber, will address issues ranging from the South Side housing crisis, to 1960s urban renewal in Hyde Park and Kenwood, to redevelopment of the city’s abject neighborhoods.
Howard Stanback, slated to speak on May 14 and president of the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities, said that the issues most pressing to the South Side revolve around the housing of minority residents, which has been a continual problem in the city.
He emphasized that in Bronzeville, just north of the University, major impacts include the redevelopment of three public housing projects: Stateway, Robert Taylor Homes, and Ida B. Wells.
“These will be important developments in establishing racial and economic diversity in the city,” Stanback said.
The public and the city have been split on how to redevelop housing properties. In late January, a handful of civic organizations, including the National Center for Poverty Law and the Business and Professional Institute, filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA). They allege that the CHA did not adequately advise residents of demolished buildings on how to obtain housing in non-segregated areas.
Additionally, several city council members opposed Mayor Richard Daley’s ordinance, passed last week, which requires developers to set aside 10 percent of new units for affordable housing. The opposition, which includes Preckwinkle, contends that the plan is “insufficient,” and that a larger percentage should be earmarked for lower-cost housing. Stanback said that while those with lower incomes should be taken into consideration, “the effort right now is to create real mixed-income communities instead of predominantly low-income neighborhoods.”
He lauded the University and community organizations for “creating a housing product that will help the greater South Side community.”
But the move to create a “mixed” community worries some.
Black said he fears that University-led development will lead only to displacement of South Side residents. He mentioned former University president Edward Levi, who once declared that all property south of 35th Street, north of 71st Street, and west of State Street lay essentially under University jurisdiction. Black said he still sees this cavalier attitude prevail today.
“Understanding the nature of power–how you attain it, how you wield it, how you use it–is very important, and the University understands that,” Black said in his address. “It takes a younger generation to plan and to do outreach on behalf of common community interests.”
Peter Landon, scheduled to speak May 22, represents the architectural firm that redeveloped Archer Courts in Chinatown without displacing any residents. For Landon, there needs to be a greater effort to connect urban developments into the “urban fabric.”
“We need to try to bring a commercial and pedestrian fabric back into the urban flow so that they are not an isolated development,” he said.
Landon’s firm, Landon Bone Baker, develops affordable housing throughout the city. It is also involved in much of the work around the site of Robert Taylor Homes in Bronzeville and other city neighborhoods farther south.
“It’s tough to provide for the kind of housing you need for the low- and the very low-income residents, and along with it you’ve got to provide support and places,” Landon said. “There’s a tough challenge ahead and I know you have to have faith enough to go ahead with it.”
The speaker series will continue this Thursday with University Community Service Center director Pam Bozeman. The event, to be held in Pick Lounge, will commence at 7 p.m. Refreshments from the Nile restaurant will follow.
Scheduled Speakers (all events with the exception of April 24 will be held in
122 Social Sciences at 7:00):
April 24 – Pam Bozeman – Director of the University Community Service Center
April 30 – Toni Preckwinkle – 4th Ward Alderman
May 8 – Arvis Averette – community organizer of Woodlawn East Community and Neighbors
May 14 – Howard Stanback – CEO of the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities
May 22 – Peter Landon – founder of Landon Bone Baker architectural firm
May 29 – Bobby Rush – U.S. Representative and former Black Panther member
June 4th – Hank Webber – Vice President for Community Affairs for the University of Chicago