Development and Displacement in South Chicago. The New Downtown and the Same Old Story

The South Side of Chicago may not seem the most likely area to be paired with the word “downtown,” but the plan is already in motion. Lakeside Chicago is a 30-year redevelopment project of the former U.S. Steel mill site located in the South Chicago neighborhood. Spanning from 79th & Brandon to 87th & Greenbay, the 500+ acre area is the largest development project in Chicago. The project is priced at four billion dollars and is spearheaded by McCaffery Interests in partnership with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill LLP, and Sasaki Associates Inc.

Lakeside is advertised by developers as “a city within a city,” “a new community,” and the “downtown of the Southside.” Former Aldermen Sandi Jackson (7th Ward) and John Pope (10th Ward), who share the southeast side neighborhoods, describe Lakeside as the south side’s economic savior. Lakeside’s master plan was first drafted by developers and city officials in 1998 but it was not until 2011 and the Dave Matthews Band Caravan concert, which attracted 40,000 mostly white attendees, that signs and banners began announcing the new neighborhood on the ground.

Flashing the words “Going Your Way,” and “Chicago is My Kind of Town” in bright orange, buses (CTA buses contracted for private service) provided free transportation to the Red Line for concert-goers (mostly white and from the suburbs, the North Side or out of town). Residents of South Chicago, mostly Black and Latino, were not allowed on the buses and instead experienced delays due to the increase in traffic. The contrast of race and residency between concert goers and South Chicago/Bush residents reflects the racial segregation that is one of the uneasy truths about Chicago. (According to the 2011 study The Persistence of Segregation in the Metropolis by John Logan and Brian Stults, Chicago’s Index of Dissimilarity—a measurement of segregation—is 75.9%, the 5th highest in the nation.) Along with transportation, police coverage also increased dramatically for the event. As helicopter spotlights scanned her street a block away from the concert, Bush resident Sheila Williams said that generally police arrive well after emergency calls are placed or simply drive by without stopping, “if they even come at all.”

The choice of artist was strategic. “The Dave Matthews Band will be the ambassadors for folks who’ve never ventured south and have no sense of what a hidden gem this area is,” Sandi Jackson told Jake Austen in Time Out Chicago. “This is really the opening salvo in our opportunity to build a city within the city.”1 The connection between the development project and the concert was not lost on residents, who were excluded from the concert economically (tickets were priced at $85 per day, $195 for all three, and $825 for a VIP pass), much as they are physically excluded from the normally walled up and fenced off site. By Monday, the land was once again sealed off. The only people seen were those collecting the beer cans and water bottles from the trash scattered around the surrounding streets.

South Works broke ground in the 1880s as the south-side branch of North Chicago Rolling Mill Company. In 1901, J.P. Morgan spearheaded the merger of several steel companies, including South Works, into U.S. Steel, the world’s first billion-dollar corporation. At the time, U.S. Steel controlled two-thirds of all steel production in the U.S. and was a dominant force in steel production worldwide.2

The final demolition of one the world’s leading steel factories in 1994 was not only an economic blow for U.S. Steel but also for the residents of the south east side. The Eastern European majority had begun to move out of the neighborhood before steel production started to taper off; Black and Latino residents were locked into South Chicago and the Bush by racial segregation that was compounded, after the end of segregationist housing laws, by the economic devastation that followed deindustrialization. 3 According to a 2000 Poverty Atlas report by the Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights, between 1990 and 2000, South Chicago’s poverty rate had the third largest increase of all Chicago neighborhoods, with about 30% of its residents living at or below the poverty line.

Before Lakeside, the 7th Ward had received no Tax Increment Financing (TIF) money to fund neighborhood projects since 2000. In 2001, the 10th ward was allocated $17.56 million for the construction of a Solo Cup factory, one of three TIF projects since 2000. It never broke ground. These feeble attempts by the City to address the increasing levels of poverty, foreclosures and empty lots within South Chicago are contrasted by the attention given to the former South Works site. It is well known among developers and city officials that this land is the last stretch of undeveloped lakeside property in Chicago. Although much of the project is privately funded, Phase 1 of the project, Market Common, a high-end shopping center, received $98 million in TIF funding from the city in 2010, about a third of its total cost.

The extension and re-routing of South Shore Drive is another component of Phase 1. Bypassing its current route through the South Shore and South Chicago neighborhoods, South Shore Drive will now lead directly to Lakeside, speeding up the travel time between downtown and the south east side. According to the annual Tax Increment Finance Report, that same year, South Chicago had a balance of four million dollars in TIF funds. The only expense, just over $20,000, was for “costs of studies, administration and professional services.”

Near the fenced-off east end of 87th and surrounding the temporary velodrome (also part of the Master Plan) banners read, “Imagine Lakeside.” Others display two photos titled “Present and Future.” “Present” shows the now blighted land of South Works along the lakefront. “Future” features endless rows of white buildings, skyscrapers, and homes alike, a marina with minuscule boats stretching into the lake, and the coveted view of the skyline. The Master Plan includes zoning approvals for approximately 13,575 single-family dwellings and high rise units and 17,500,000 square feet of retail. 125 acres of parkland and a new high school are also part of the plan. According to city officials and developers, the redevelopment of South Works into Lakeside provides an opportunity to revive the hard-hit area by creating new employment opportunities and attracting new residents.

For many residents, the City’s investment in Lakeside is another expression of the historically unequal treatment of neighborhoods and communities. The average price for a home in Lakeside is estimated at $250,000; South Chicago’s medium household income is $31,164. Lakeside developers say that affordable housing will make up 20% of all residential units.

Although the Lakeside project does not require the demolition of housing in the name of development, its implications are no less destructive to the neighborhood and the community. The effects of increased property taxes due to redevelopment has the tendency to push out neighborhood residents who are currently struggling to stay in their homes. Similar situations have played out in the south Loop and in Bronzeville. “I guess they are just going to move us again,” said Danta Parker, a J. N. Thorpe student, as he walked past the banners reading Imagine Lakeside outside the Dave Matthews show.

South Chicago has a high foreclosure rate: 41%, compared to the national rate of 3.3% according to data collected by Blockshopper and CoreLogic. Gage Park and the Riverdale/ Altgeld Gardens neighborhoods have the highest rates of foreclosures, both over 50%. Neighborhood organizations that address the housing crisis include the Hispanic Coalition for Housing, which focuses on mortgage and foreclosure negotiation and lightening the cost of basic services like light, water and gas, and Claretian Associates, formed in the 70s, which rehabilitates buidings into Section 8 housing. Due to the lack of resources and the depth of the economic crisis, few mortgages are successfully negotiated, and homes are continuously foreclosed. The Claretians’ last housing renovation was in 2005. There was room for 29 applicants, and over 16,000 applied. Since then, said Angela Hurlock, executive director of the Claretians, the demand for housing has only increased.

Turning this demand into action, The Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign (CAEC) has expanded its work into South Chicago, focusing on eviction blockades and housing homeless families in rehabbed, foreclosed homes. As J.R. Fleming, chair of CAEC, puts it, “we are basically in moment when the people must enforce the human right to housing.”

Though the effects of Lakeside remain to be seen, the opinions of neighborhood residents express a single point: much more needs to be done by developers, city officials and neighborhood residents to ensure that the differences highlighted in the Dave Matthews concert are not mirrored in the construction of Lakeside. ◊

 

 

1. Jake Austen, “The Impact of the Dave Matthews Band Caravan,” Time Out Chicago, June 29, 2011, http://timeoutchicago.com/music-nightlife/ 14829005/the-impact-of-the-dave-matthewsband- caravan.

2. For a more detailed history of South Works, see Charles Vinz’s article: http://areachicago.org/u-ssteel- south-works/

3. For more on the history of the South Side, see Arnold R. Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).