As developers reimagine Woodlawn, South Side residents consider how these changes might impact their neighbors.
Black Chicago history is American history. This month, as we celebrate the accomplishments of Black figures, I want to highlight Robert Taylor Jr., the son of an esteemed Black architect and the first Black chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority.
Yet, there is one part of Taylor’s legacy that was literally erased – the affordable housing project erected in his name. According to South Side Weekly, a nonprofit newspaper that highlights Chicago’s South Side, “[t]he twenty-eight Robert Taylor Homes made up the largest housing project in the U.S. at the time of their completion in 1962.”
This expansive housing block stretched from Pershing Road to 54th Street and provided four thousand housing units, the paper goes on to note. This would mean that four thousand families were displaced by the demolition. In 2015, only a small portion of the homes had been converted into affordable housing, South Side Weekly further reported.
While considering this troubling history, I constantly wonder: what impact did this have on the community? Whenever I speak to people who have lost their homes, there is always noticeable melancholy in their tone.
Tara Madison, a Woodlawn resident, had this tone as she spoke about Cabrini Green, another South Side housing project that was torn down. When it was demolished in March 2011, it would be the last of Chicago’s housing projects to be torn down, said CityMetric, a British magazine reporting on urban affairs.
Now, as Woodlawn is slated for changes, history seems to be repeating itself. “These are not new plans,” Madison said about the prospective Barack Obama Presidential Center. Housing is a human right, Madison too noted. As a ten-year Woodlawn resident, she vows to fight for her community because Woodlawn has become her home.
“This is where I’ll stay,” she stated.
Madison, who serves as an aldermanic aide to 20th Ward Alderman Jeannette Taylor, added that Woodlawn is a mixed-income community. On her block, she said, there is public housing, condominiums, and POAH housing. POAH, which stands for Preservation of Affordable Housing, is a nonprofit group advocating for affordable housing on Chicago’s South and West sides.
Groups like POAH have influenced change, Madison further stated. To Madison, it is possible to have a mixed income community that is not rigged for well off residents. “The examples are in the neighborhood,” she noted. Alas, the city is stalling, Madison posited.
She reflected on how organizers have spent years advocating for a CBA housing ordinance, and the public favored the ordinance in a referendum on the ballot for the last mayoral election, yet the City has not made changes. “Let’s move forward,” she stated.
As Madison spoke, other Woodlawn residents participated in a listening tour hosted by Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development. Lisa Washington, a representative from the DPD, said that one of the department’s aims is to help increase Woodlawn’s carbon footprint. “We want residents to think big…we want Woodlawn to have more of an identity,” she said.
Akilah Perry, a South Side resident, offered a slightly different take. “We really need taxpaying entities,” she said. Yet, in both Washington’s and Perry’s sentiments remained a truth: prioritizing the community. Washington spoke of commissioning local artists to help beautify Woodlawn while Perry focused on jobs that would be accessible to the entire community.
Although Perry is not a Woodlawn resident, she stated, “I’m South Side…I want to know what’s going on in my backyard.” Perry’s remarks highlight the fact that while Woodlawn was the focus of this Open House, these changes will affect the larger Chicago community.
From Hyde Park to Logan Square, gentrification has been a sad reality for many poor Black and Brown Chicagoans. While some see this as an unfortunate casualty of urbanization, others argue that there can be shields put in place to prevent gentrification altogether. One question remains: which side are you on? ~ℝ
JAVANNA PLUMMER, RWEBEL IN CHIEF
Javanna is the editor of "Rwebel Magazine," the architect behind "Rwebel Radio," and the pioneering force of "Xscape." Through her words, Javanna hopes to inspire creativity, passion and forward-thinking.
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