University, community explore development policies at conference

By Juliana Wu

Students, faculty, Hyde Park community members, and activists from all over Chicago discussed the University’s role on the South Side this past weekend at Cityspace, a two-day conference focused on future community-development policies.

In his “State of the University in the Community” speech, President Don Randel outlined the challenges that the community currently faces and emphasized that the University should always act in a way that is beneficial to the rest of the South Side.

Randel listed three prerequisites for a successful community—safe streets, good public education, and affordable housing. Of the three, Randel focused on the University’s commitment to improving public education—in particular, the establishment of a charter school in north Kenwood, where students are chosen not on merit but through a lottery. The students, all of whom are black and qualify for free lunches, have outperformed state norms on standardized tests.

While Randel mentioned that the University needed to provide affordable housing options for its staff, he did not address the general housing crisis that the majority of South Side residents face. “The low-cost housing agenda, which is so crucial to the low-income families in this area, will determine whether or not there are poor people living around the U of C in the future. This is where I would like to have heard much more,” said Ryan Hollon, a third-year in the College and a member of Angels of Def, one of the student groups that organized the conference.

The conference began Friday afternoon with a standing-room-only crowd of over 300 who listened to opening remarks from Danielle Allen, professor of Classics and the Committee on Social Thought. Following Allen, Arnold Hirsch, history professor at the University of New Orleans and author of Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960, gave the audience a brief look into urban renewal in the 1950s and 1960s. “The historical overview taught us all about why life on the South Side feels like it does,” Allen said.

On Saturday, the conference took a more practical turn with interactive workshops and discussions run by members of Angels of Def about the immediate future of community development in the area.

“The workshops provided valuable practical knowledge and offered a chance for people working on and affected by the issues from across the city to network,” said Shawn M. Lavoie, a fourth-year in the College and a member of Angels of Def.

Hollon, who helped lead a group in the Creative Community Intervention workshop, still believes that much needs to be done in order to avoid repeating the economic and racial segregation that resulted from urban renewal in the 1950s. “As I learned, right now every neighborhood directly around the U of C is undergoing major changes,” Hollon said. “Working with the practitioners in my group, we identified that in none of those situations today is there satisfactory concern for the low-income voice that went historically unrepresented during urban renewal.”

Since urban renewal, the University in recent years has attempted to improve its image in the surrounding communities and work towards development in these areas. Both Hollon and Lavoie agree that Randel has provided great leadership in the area of outreach to the South Side, but they feel he has not gone far enough. “He has certainly gone farther to promise results than any previous president of the University, but when it came down to specifics and substantive plans, the president fell short of delivering,” Lavoie said.